3 Quick takes: Where’s the creativity?
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo., -- Stubborn.
That's the first word that comes to mind when I think about this Wyoming offensive attack.
Today, that stubbornness reared its head once again.
"We were going to have a hard time moving the football and we certainly did,” Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl said after the Falcons dominated the Cowboys 20-6 on a windy, wintry day in Colorado Springs.
Against one of the top rush defenses in the nation, Wyoming (7-4, 4-4) just kept trying to plug away. They tried and tried. And failed and failed. Air Force practices against the run every day. They allow just 107 yards on the ground per outing.
Sometimes you just have to wave the white flag. That day wasn't today.
Xazavian Valladay, who has arguably been the Pokes best player over the last month of the season, saw a five-game streak of eclipsing the 100-yard mark go by the wayside. He carried the ball just 14 times against the Falcons. He tallied 38 yards.
As a team, Wyoming rushed the ball 33 times for just 114 yards. That's an average of just 3.5 yards per carry. True freshman quarterback Levi Williams by far had the best day on the ground for the Pokes, racking up 79 yards on 15 carries.
But don't let those numbers fool you. Nearly 40 of those came on one run alone. Then Williams was replaced by starter Tyler Vander Waal, who threw a costly interception two plays later, thwarting the Cowboys lone offensive threat of the game up to that point.
It was windy. The television announcers mentioned it dozens of times. Gusts of 40 miles per hour swooped through Falcon Stadium. That will affect a passing game.
But where is the creativity?
Where are the end-arounds, screen passes and quick hitters to the tight ends?
Air Force quarterback DJ Hammond sure looked comfortable lofting a 75-yard scoring strike over the middle to Ben Waters to put this game out of reach late.
Fifth-year tight end Josh Harshman caught 12 passes in the past two games, by far his best production in a Cowboys uniform. Today, he caught one pass for 30 yards. And why do the Cowboys go away from what is actually working? Williams hit a pair of easy slant passes to Ayden Eberhardt and Austin Conway. That was good for two straight first downs. A Williams run up the gut made it three consecutive.
That drive led to the Cowboys first points of the game. Cooper Rothe capped the 16-play marathon with a 26-yard field goal.
“We played hard, but we can probably execute a little bit better than what we did,” Bohl said. “It was a great effort, but we can certainly play better."
The Pokes were finally in business.
For the first time all afternoon, the Falcons (10-2, 7-1) went three-and-out. A muffed punt had the Cowboys sitting pretty at Air Force's 47-yard line.
Then it was Williams turn to toss a pass into traffic only to see it land in the arms of Air Force safety Jeremy Fejedelem. The senior also secured the interception mentioned above. And for good measure, he also blocked a Wyoming punt.
Air Force would push its lead to 13-3.
Williams completed just 6-of-11 passes for 84 yards. Vander Waal was 4-of-7 for 27 yards. Those numbers might fly against UNLV, Nevada and Colorado State, not in Colorado Springs against the proud new owners of a 10-win season.
Against CSU last week, the two-quarterback system worked. It kept the Rams defense off balance and brought another element to the Wyoming running game by inserting Williams.
Today, it all seemed out of sync. With a bowl game likely approaching, it might be time to figure this thing out under center. Vander Waal almost figured it out for them in this one. His head violently bounced off the cold turf in the second quarter. The sophomore looked woozy as he swerved toward the Cowboys bench.
He returned for the final drive of the first half. Vander Waal was inserted once again late in the fourth. This time he got his hand stepped on and was forced to leave the game.
It's time for a plan. You know, like if the running game isn't working, for instance?
Maybe steal a page out of Troy Calhoun's book.
Guess what, Air Force's running game wasn't working all that well today either. The Falcons racked up just 162 yards on the ground, well below their average of 304 per outing.
They got the ball on the perimeter. They did a reverse pass that gained 20-plus yards. They hit the big play in the passing game that effectively ended this one.
It's worth a shot.
“I thought their defensive front did a great job of being disruptive," Bohl said. "We had a hard time staying man-on-man. We popped a couple of plays down there, but we couldn’t come up with enough movement to stick a couple plays in the end zone.”
You said it, coach.
Cowboys will miss Halliburton
This will come as zero shock to anyone who follows this team, but Alijah Halliburton is a football player. He does it all.
Today, he racked up a game-high 13 tackles. Once again, he was all over the field, laying the wood to Air Force ball carriers. Today was the sixth time this season Halliburton has landed double-digit tackles.
The senior safety was injured with just 2:04 left on the clock. As he grimaced and slowly made his way to the sideline, Hammond hit Waters over the middle for a 75-yard dagger.
What if Halliburton was in there? Who knows.
I'd like to think Halliburton would've at least caught Waters from behind. Maybe the ball is overthrown because Halliburton is on his hip?
Woulda. Coulda. Shoulda.
This defense is just different with him in the lineup. I know I have posed this question many times this season, but could you imagine if Wyoming had Halliburton in the starting rotation for all four years?
To his credit, he patiently waited as Andrew Wingard and Marcus Epps fulfilled amazing careers in Laramie. He could've left. He didn't.
This team will miss plenty of seniors who played their last regular season game in a Wyoming uniform today, Halliburton is right near the top of the list.
Hey Craig, can we rethink this Facebook thing?
As most of you know by now, I was not able to make the three-hour trek to Colorado Springs today. I wasn't alone.
When my alarm went off at 6 a.m., I looked out the window and saw all I needed to see. The road closures were the death nail.
This isn't about me though.
This is about the medium I was forced to watch this game on. Mountain West commissioner, Craig Thompson, thinks the new wave of American sports fan wants to watch commercial-free football games on social media.
Boy, is he dead wrong.
That was painful from start to finish. Aside from the fact that the announcer couldn't pronounce Vander Waal or Cole Godbout throughout the contest, I feel like I watched the game in slow motion. It was plugged into my television. There were no other windows open.
It skipped. It was slow. It was miserable.
If this is what you, the sports fan, wants by all means let it be known. I loathed every blurry second of it. Next time, I'm hooking a sled to the back of my 100-pound bloodhound. I'll do whatever it takes to get to the stadium.
Once again, this isn't me just being salty about missing this game -- though I'm less than thrilled -- this is about the future of MWC football and sports in general.
Thompson must seal the deal on a new television contract and fast. Not only is it miserable for the viewer, it's essential to the growth and sustainability of the league. Television equals big money. Facebook equals big headaches.