3 Quick takes: UW’s secondary takes a sledgehammer to doubters
LARAMIE -- There's a new tradition in the Hawaii football program.
When they win a game, like they did last Saturday night in Fresno, they lay a rock down in the middle of the locker room and hand a sledgehammer to the MVP of the game.
Last week, that man was Chevan Cordeiro.
Hawaii's quarterback sprinted through the Bulldogs' defense all night long. He scored twice on the ground and led the 'Bows in rushing with 116 yards. The sophomore also used the three-hour affair as target practice, completing 20-of-31 passes for 229 yards.
The flat black rock featured the Fresno State mascot. Cordeiro lifted the hammer over his head and smashed it to bits, sending his teammates into a frenzy.
It is symbolic. It's crushing the goal -- and the opponent.
If I was a betting man, I'd think that stone -- featuring Wyoming's famous Steamboat, bucking horse and rider -- was already being prepped for a smashing when Hawaii players and coaches turned on the tape of Nevada's Carson Strong carving up the Cowboys' secondary in Week 1.
The Wolf Pack's signal caller threw for 420 yards and four touchdowns.
The youngsters on the back end of the Pokes' defense had other ideas Friday night inside War Memorial Stadium.
CJ Coldon and Azizi Hearn were glued to Hawaii wide outs all night long. Cordeiro completed just 11-of-26 passes for 110 yards and an interception. Give credit to guys like Esaias Gandy, Braden Smith, Keyon Blankenbaker, Cameron Murray and Keonte Glinton, too.
And don't forget about new defensive coordinator Jay Sawvel and first-year cornerback coach, Benny Boyd.
How bad was the visitor's passing attack?
Midway through the second quarter, Corderio had tossed for minus-8 yards.
Yes, you read that right.
Wide receivers Jared Smart and Rico Bussey Jr. led the way last Saturday in northern California. Smart caught seven passes for 89 yards. Bussey Jr. snagged a team-best eight balls for 86 yards.
Smart reeled in four grabs for 32 yards in Laramie. Bussey Jr. -- goose eggs.
"At times, we'd get a bit of a rhythm going running the ball," Hawaii head coach Todd Graham said postgame. "We just couldn't throw the football. We struggled. They did a great job mixing up their coverages."
They sure did.
Some fans -- and media members -- were ready to bury these guys after the Nevada debacle.
Where's a sledgehammer when you need one?
Wyoming 31, Hawaii 7
Levi the leader
The ball rested on the Hawaii 3-yard line.
Wyoming had a first down. This one was about to be on ice before halftime with the Cowboys already leading 10-0 and dominating in nearly every statistical category. Two failed runs, a strip sack and a missed field goal later, Hawaii was racing 80 yards in just six plays.
The Pokes' slowly trotted into the home locker room. Hawaii -- and the momentum -- headed for the Fieldhouse dressing room.
"I was really concerned about it," Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl said about the sudden swing. "... At half we talked to our team. We addressed that.
"... Sometimes when you lose (momentum), it's hard to regain it."
Bohl isn't the only one who addressed the fellas. So did redshirt freshman quarterback Levi Williams, who was starting his first career regular season game.
"It started with Levi," UW's junior running back Xazavian Valladay said. "He's leading this group now that Sean (Chambers) is down. He stepped up and has been a great leader of our Offense. Levi, he gives us confidence."
What did the youngster from Texas say?
"I just told them we just need to keep working and pushing -- and that they are going to break," Williams said. "Hawaii is a great team, but I know that our team is a tough one. That's one of our staples. I just told them 'they are going to break eventually and, when they do, we need to capitalize on that.'"
Williams completed 9-of-18 passes for 112 yards and added seven rushed for 29 yards in the win.
That word above, well, that was the goal for this Cowboys' offense.
In the opener in Reno, it was. But that was mainly by necessity.
Wyoming ran the ball 35 times in the 37-34 overtime loss. Because they trailed throughout the first three quarters, Williams put the ball in the air 31 times.
Friday, Wyoming's attack was about as lopsided as the final score.
That was 59 rushing attempts compared to just 18 throws.
"... The game was a power football game," Graham said. "... It was a war. I mean, it was a war."
Valladay alone carried the ball 32 times. All five of the Rainbow Warriors' ball carriers combined for 31 rushes. Trey Smith added another powerful punch to the Pokes' offense, registering 89 yards on 20 totes. Both Valladay and Smith found the end zone twice.
The game plan worked against Hawaii, but is it sustainable?
We asked that same question dozens of times last year as Bohl's team continued to pound the ball on the ground.
Injuries mounted. Like, out-for-the-year ones.
It happened to offensive guard Eric Abojei. It also happened to running backs Titus Swen and Smith. For the second straight season, the constant beatings ended Chambers' redshirt freshman season. Valladay was hobbled throughout the year. So was linemen Alonzo Velasquez and a variety of other contributors.
"The biggest thing is we were able to control the line of scrimmage, especially on offense," Bohl said "... We generated a lot of runs by the line moving. The tailbacks, both played extremely hard and ran hard tonight. That was the big difference between this ball game and the last one."
The rushing attack kept the Cowboys in every single game in 2019. It also hampered them in their first four losses, which came by a combined 15 points.
Can the passing game really lie dormant for nearly an entire game only to click when it's crunch time?
Nope. They haven't proven that -- yet.
The Pokes couldn't complete the comeback at Tulsa, San Diego State, Boise State or Utah State. Why? They couldn't make plays down field. Eventually, those teams catch on and fill the box with eight-to-10 defenders to stuff the run. They dare Brent Vigen's offense to throw.
"This is one of our trademarks," Bohl said. "If we can handle the line of scrimmage, run the football and play defense, that's a great winning formula."
We've seen this blueprint before.
When it works like it did Friday, it's truly a thing of beauty. When it doesn't, it can be the difference between just being a bowl team or contending for a conference title.