ANALYSIS: ‘Outlaws’ ready to gallop
LARAMIE -- Fall camp is on the horizon.
We will pretend here all is right in the world and tomorrow, as they are scheduled to do, 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, we take a look at the guys who carry the rock. Wyoming has featured the Mountain West's leading rusher for two straight seasons. Make no mistake, these guys will be relied upon again to get the Cowboys where they want to go in 2020.
(R-Fr.) Alphonzo Andrews Jr., 5-10, 185, St. Louis, Mo.
(Fr.) Joseph Braasch, 6-1, 205, Columbus, Neb.
(Soph.) Brett Brenton, 5-10, 199, Casper, Wyo.
(Sr.) Jeff Burroughs, 6-1, 233, Yoder, Wyo. (Also fullback)
(Fr.) Caleb Driskill, 6-2, 215, Gillette, Wyo. (Fullback)
(R-Fr.) Jeremy Hollingsworth, 5-9, 205, Longmont, Colo.
(R-Fr.) Dawaiian McNeely, 6-2, 203, Ceres, Calif.
(Sr.) Skyler Miller, 5-11, 234, Torrington, Wyo. (Fullback)
(Sr.) Jahmari Moore, 6-2, 236, Oak Park, Ill. (Fullback)
(Sr.) Trey Smith, 6-0, 218, Madison, Miss.
(Soph.) Titus Swen, 5-11, 198, Fort Worth, Texas
(Jr.) Xazavian Valladay, 6-0, 196, Matteson, Ill.
Gordie Haug (3rd season, seventh overall)
214.8 rushing yards per game (23rd in the nation)
.433 third down conversion rate (32nd in the nation)
.822 red zone percentage (75th in the nation; 21 rush TD, 5 pass TD)
10 rushing touchdowns from RB's (Xazavian Valladay 6, Trey Smith 3, Titus Swen 1)
30 minutes avg. time of possession (48th in the nation)
6 fumbles lost (26th in the nation)
Xazavian Valladay didn't play against Idaho. The sophomore running back carried the ball just 10 times against Texas State. Two weeks later, he didn't take a handoff until the second half against Tulsa. That was purely out of necessity.
Still, Valladay rushed for a league-leading 1,265 yards.
Imagine if he did play in those games? Valladay could've vaulted into the Top-5 best single seasons in program history, joining names like Devin Moore, Gerald Abraham, Ryan Christopherson and Brian Hill.
Think about this -- no one knew what to even expect from Valladay. The year prior he was a third-string back. You might recall that the program lost a number of running backs in the offseason to transfer: Jevon Bigelow, Theo Dawson, Reow Jackson and Kellen Overstreet (retirement).
Nico Evans, the Mountain West's leading rusher in 2018 with 1,325 yards, was also lost to graduation.
Now, Valladay is a first-team All-Conference performer. He's on the Doak Walker Award Watch List. He's the Cowboys' most explosive offensive weapon.
The worry heading into 2019 wasn't his talents, it was his durability and inexperience. Valladay suffered an ankle injury in Week 2 in San Marcos, Texas, that would nag him throughout the season.
He proved all doubters wrong -- in a hurry.
Valladay gashed Missouri in the opening game to the tune of 118 yards on the ground. He opened the offensive scoring with a 61-yard explosion up the middle, nearly untouched:
That was his coming out party. The next four weeks were the low points.
Valladay rushed for just 49 yards on 15 carries. In a blowout victory over UNLV to open conference play, Valladay rushed 13 times for 58 yards.
How good was he over the final seven weeks of the regular season? Try these numbers on for size: 178 carries for 836 yards. That's an average of 25.4 carries per game. He rushed the ball a career-high 37 times at Boise State.
Valladay capped his season standing on a stage inside Arizona Stadium. He was named the Offensive MVP of the Cowboys' bowl game after rushing for 204 yards on 26 carries. He also caught three passes for 91 yards and scored a pair of touchdowns.
He did some pretty special things on New Year's Eve:
Have you noticed anything yet? We've only talked about Valladay.
Wyoming also got major contributions from graduate transfer Trey Smith (44 carries, 227 yards, three touchdowns) and true freshman Titus Swen (67 carries, 337 yards and a touchdown). Smith suffered an ankle injury in Week 4 in Tulsa that cost him the season. Two weeks later, Swen limped off the field in San Diego. He never returned.
The Cowboys' second-leading rusher, quarterback Sean Chambers, was also lost for the year with an injury.
Valladay was forced to be a work horse. And, boy, did he respond.
That MASH unit above is all returning this season.
Smith got an extra year of eligibility, Swen is healthy and so is Chambers. Like last season, Valladay will also get some help from local guys Brett Brenton and Jeff Burroughs.
That's not all.
The running back room is one of the deepest on the roster. By all accounts, Dawaiian McNeely is the real deal. He didn't play last year because of academic issues. We thought we might see the debut of Alphonzo Andrews Jr. in 2019. Though that didn't happen, folks inside the program have also raved about his potential.
The coaching staff brought in just one tailback in recruiting last winter, Joseph Braasch.
Valladay should be the featured back this season, but limiting the wear and tear of a college football season will only help the junior. If Swen and Smith can stay healthy, Valladay should receive plenty of help.
Swen, who will wear No. 2 this season, can do things like this:
You might recall this run by Smith, too. It probably saved the game for the Cowboys against Idaho:
The emergence of a passing game will only aide this group as a whole.
Wyoming's veteran offensive line, along with a plethora of seasoned fullbacks -- Burroughs, Skyler Miller, Jahmari Moore and freshman Caleb Driskill -- should only help those running lanes get wider.
The Cowboys' game plan is no secret. They are going to run the ball -- a ton.
You should know all these guys very well by the time the dust settles.
Does Bohl and Co. want Valladay running the ball 25-plus times per outing? Doubt it. Those days should be in the past.
That's not a bad thing.
The three-headed monster of Valladay, Smith and Swen -- also known as the "Outlaws" -- showed it could be devastating at times last fall. Add McNeely and Andrews to the mix and things could be interesting.
And don't forget the wheels of Chambers or fellow quarterback Levi Williams.
Some fans joke that Wyoming doesn't even need receivers. That stable above is why.
Health will be key for the Pokes in 2020. None of those backs above got through the last campaign without injuries, including Valladay. Depth kept the train on the tracks as the Cowboys finished second in the league in rushing, averaging 214 yards per game.
Like many position groups on this squad, expectations are at an all-time high. And like those other units, it should be.
When is the last time this program had this much returning talent in the backfield?
When has UW fielded an offensive line to match?
Two years in a row, the Cowboys have boasted the league's leading rusher. Bohl will gladly put the season in the hands of a capable running back. Now, he has multiple options.
This corps should be scary good. That's not news to the rest of the conference.
But can they stop it?