ANALYSIS: Expectations sky high for UW’s defensive ends
LARAMIE -- Fall camp is on the horizon. We hope.
We will pretend here all is right in the world and in early August the Cowboys will hit the practice field in Laramie to kickoff the seventh season under head coach Craig Bohl.
Wyoming finished 8-5 overall in 2019, including a 4-4 mark in Mountain West play. It all culminated in a 38-17 victory over Georgia State in the Arizona Bowl.
So, let's breakdown the current roster by position group.
Who are the play makers? Who's returning? Is there depth?
Today, let's check in with the defensive ends, arguably one of the deepest position groups on the roster. Oh, and they have a new coach. He might just might be the perfect fit for this bunch.
(Soph.) Jack Boyer, 6-4, 220, Arvada, Colo.
(Soph.) Solomon Byrd, 6-4, 247, Palmdale, Calif.
(Sr.) Garrett Crall, 6-5, 233, Hicksville, Ohio
(R-Fr.) DeVonne Harris, 6-4, 217, Big Lake, Minn.
(Jr.) Victor Jones, 6-4, 245, Sacramento, Calif.
(Soph.) Teagan Liufau, 6-3, 232, Fort Collins, Colo.
(Fr.) Oluwaseyi Omotosho, 6-2, 225, Houston, Texas
(R.Fr.) Jaylen Pate, 6-3, 241, Chicago, Ill.
(Fr.) Cameron Smith, 6-4, 230, Parker, Colo.
(Jr.) Davon Wells-Ross, 6-5, 214, Omaha, Neb.
Marty English (1st season, coached at UW from 2003-11)
18.5 sacks (Solomon Byrd 6.5, Garrett Crall 4.5, Davon Wells-Ross 2, Teagan Liufau 1, Josiah Hall 3, Victor Jones 1.5)
11th in the nation in rushing defense
1,392 yards allowed
107.1 yards per game
6th in the nation in red zone defense
Allowed 16 touchdowns on 45 attempts
Through the first eight weeks of the season, Garrett Crall and Solomon Byrd combined for 11 sacks. Davon Wells-Ross added two more. Teagan Liufau registered one.
Josiah Hall, who graduated in 2019, had 2.5 sacks through the first three weeks of the season, including 1.5 in an opening upset of Missouri.
In other words, the Cowboys' featured one of the top pass rushes in the nation -- early on.
Crall and Byrd failed to get to the quarterback in the final three regular season games and in the bowl win over Georgia State. No one else was having any luck in that department either.
Wyoming lost two of its last three before routing the Panthers in Tucson.
These guys showed they weren't one-trick ponies throughout the 2019 season though.
Crall finished with 55 tackles. Byrd added another 45. These guys can torment offensive tackles, but they were also a big reason the Cowboys finished 11th in the nation in rush defense, allowing just over 100 yards per contest.
That pass rush, it still finished No. 49 in the country with 31 total sacks, second behind only Boise State (40) in the Mountain West Conference.
Depth players played a major role in the defensive ends' success in 2019. They have even more of that to spread around this fall.
Marty English has some serious fire power at his disposal in year one back on the sidelines in Laramie.
English has been an outstanding defensive coordinator throughout his career on the Front Range, imagine what he can do when he just focuses on defensive ends?
Let's not beat around the bush -- this unit is expected to do big things this fall. Expectations are high, and they should be.
Byrd led the Cowboys in 2019 with 6.5 sacks. Twice last season the speedster from California tallied 2.5 sacks in a single game. It's really no secret why. Watch him abuse Tulsa's right tackle. First he puts him on skates with brute strength, then he slithers by and punishes Zach Smith.
Byrd caused a fumble on this play. He also recovered it:
AJ Cooper, Byrd's position coach in 2019, joked about the time No. 51 saw his first action in a college football game as a freshman. It was on the road against Missouri and Byrd was "bent over backward" on the first snap. Cooper exaggerated that the back of his helmet touched his heels.
That was the last time that would happen.
Cooper wasn't ready to crown Byrd Wyoming's latest great pass rusher last fall, but he admitted he has all the traits.
Craig Bohl said the team keeps a "factor score" during games. The name speaks for itself, but it's a rating system that basically tells the tale of how much chaos a player brings when he's on the field.
Byrd was constantly pegging the top of the team charts.
Here's an example of why:
He wasn't too shabby in run support -- or the celebration department --either.
His partner in crime, Crall, finished 2019 with 4.5 sacks. The long-haired, relentless walk-on from Hicksville, Ohio, caused plenty of damage in the run game, too.
Crall is a motor guy. His energy is infectious.
Watch him stunt here against Idaho before exploding through the line of scrimmage and plastering Mason Petrino:
When Logan Wilson was asked who he thinks will have a breakout season in 2020, Crall was his unanimous choice.
Wells-Ross showed promise during his sophomore season, registering a pair of sacks in a beat down of UNLV. He also picked up 13 tackles and forced a fumble. The Omaha product's biggest transformation has come off the field. When Wells-Ross arrived on campus in 2017, he barely tipped the scale at 190 pounds.
The Wyoming media guide now lists him at 214.
More weight, more power. Wells-Ross already has the speed to get around the edge. Can he become a bigger force in run defense? Time will tell:
Teagan Liufau and Leevi Lafaele saw action last fall and will provide depth at the defensive end position. So will Victor Jones, who plays on the edge and in the middle of the Cowboys front four.
And speaking of depth, here's a name that everyone should learn -- Oluwaseyi Omotosho. The incoming freshman from the Houston area was a late "steal" for the Cowboys during recruiting season, quite literally. His letter of intent came buzzing through the fax machine in Laramie around 8:30 a.m. on the morning of signing day.
"We clocked him a couple of times in the low 4.5 and under 4.5,” Bohl said of Omotosho's 40-yard dash. “He has a big frame, great explosion, and we got to see him in the one-on-one drills. We are fired up about him. We think he’s a really, really talented player.”
I asked Bohl if he reminded him of Carl Granderson out of high school. Bohl said Omotosho is already bigger and faster. He could be even better. Louisiana Tech, Liberty and Kansas State saw that, too. But they were too late to the party.
Omotosho is a "zero star" prospect. Here's what Bohl had to say about that.
"Whoever gives out those stars -- and this is going to sound like an arrogant statement -- but I think I forgot more than they know,” Bohl joked about the experts who hand out star-ratings.
Leading the conference in sacks.
Top 10 in the nation in getting to the quarterback.
At least one player, if not two, finishing with double-digit sacks.
Is that asking too much? It shouldn't be.
This group is seriously talented. They have speed, size and the temperament for the position. Add English, who has mentored a few guys in UW history with the last name Knapton, Hendricks and Unrein, among many, many others.
It can't be overstated -- English's sole focus on one position group could be a major difference maker. His former players rave about his coaching style and approach. They agree that the way he teaches the game can be consumed by the most veteran of players or the greenest rookie.
Bohl and Co. love to get after the quarterback, but it's a must that you are assignment sound and make plays in run defense. These guys check both boxes. Not only could it be a special season for the guys on the outside, if the Cowboys hope to be a contender for the Mountain West title -- which the media picked UW to finish No. 2 in the Mountain Division earlier in the week -- they will need to put up numbers and get results.
A solid pass rush affords a defense the opportunity to take chances. It also helps young players on the back end develop quicker. That is good news for a young secondary who will be expected to grow up in a hurry.