ANALYSIS: Ravontae Holt returns to a loaded defensive front
LARAMIE -- Fall camp is on the horizon -- we hope.
We will pretend here all is right in the world and Aug. 7 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 look at the interior defensive line. There is a big name missing from this unit, but there's also a major addition coming in the form of healthy Ravontae Holt.
This group surprised many in 2019. Can they do it again?
(R-Fr.) Jordan Bertagnole, 6-4, 254, Casper, Wyo.
(R-Fr.) Akili Bonner, 6-4, 237, Carmichael, Calif.
(Sr.) Justis Borton, 6-2, 282, Wheatland, Wyo.
(Soph.) Claude Cole, 6-4, 266, Palo Alto, Calif.
(Jr.) Jason Davis, 6-3, 336, Hershey, Neb.
(Soph.) Cole Godbout, 6-4, 274, Hudson, Wisc.
(R-Fr.) Alonzo Hall, 6-5, 240, Reseda, Calif.
(R-Jr.) Ravontae Holt, 6-4, 287, Sacramento, Calif.
(Jr.) Victor Jones, 6-4, 245, Sacramento, Calif.
(Fr.) Gavin Meyer, 6-4, 240, Franklin, Wisc.
(Soph.) Mario Mora, 6-3, 275, Covina, Calif.
(R-Fr.) Wade Picray, 6-3, 240, Monticello, Iowa
(Fr.) Caleb Robinson, 6-2, 265, Omaha, Neb.
Pete Kaligis (12th season, seven as defensive tackles/ nose guard coach)
8.5 sacks (Javaree Jackson 3, Cole Godbout 2, Mario Mora 2, 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
When Ravontae Holt went down for the season with an ACL tear in fall camp, it was time to scramble to the depth chart. We knew of Javaree Jackson.
That was about it.
With mighty Missouri coming to town in a couple weeks, we would be introduced -- on paper -- to names like Cole Godbout, Mario Mora and Victor Jones.
You remember the opening scene of the movie Major League when the grounds crew is talking about the Indians' roster.
"Who the **** are these guys?"
Yeah, it was like that.
How will these young, undersized guys hold up against a Tigers' offensive line that was averaging roughly 6-foot, 5-inches and more than 300 pounds across the board?
Forget that, how will these guys hold up, period?
Craig Bohl calmed some fears. He didn't seem concerned. Neither did their position coach, Pete Kaligis. Jackson was adamant that the depth was there. We just hadn't seen it yet.
"Next man up," was the rallying cry.
Those three guys mentioned above had exactly zero starts under their collective belts. Was there reason to worry? You bet. Missouri scoring two touchdowns at breakneck speed to begin the season didn't help, either.
Then, something clicked.
Jackson became one of the Cowboys' top run stoppers, tallying 35 tackles and three sacks in 12 games. He also forced a fumble and picked off a pass. It was a beauty, too, tipping a Jordan Love pass, diving through the air and snagging the ball before it hit the turf.
I would show you the video highlight but it might just disappoint you. Jackson was removed from the roster for an off-the-field incident in mid-December. He won't return in 2020.
Here's some footage that might crease a smile though.
Godbout had a big year for the Pokes as a redshirt freshman, racking up 34 tackles and a pair of sacks.
"He’s a gritty guy and understands technique," said Wyoming’s former defensive coordinator, Jake Dickert. “He’s a fighter, a battler. Those things held true from what we saw on tape. He’s one of those guys that each week we need to play him more. That’s good for him and good for us.”
He can also do this:
Godbout was a pleasant surprise. So was Mora.
The California product finished the season with 22 tackles and a pair of sacks. He also forced a fumble. He was another rock in the middle of the Pokes' front four, shucking blockers and spending plenty of time in the opponents' backfield:
The tackles were a big reason for Wyoming's success against the run in 2019. Wyoming never allowed a 100-yard rusher in any of its 13 games. Georgia State did the most damage, racking up 199 yards on 38 carries in the Arizona Bowl.
The Cowboys held Border War rival Colorado State to just 48 yards on the ground. New Mexico managed 49 and Texas State hit 50. Godbout, Mora and the gang even limited Air Force to just 162 rushing yards. That's 136 yards under the Falcons' average.
For the second time in three years, Holt's season ended with a "pop."
A torn ACL would force the redshirt junior to the sidelines for yet another year in Laramie. This one hurt -- literally and figuratively. His teammates rallied around him as he laid on the practice field in pain.
Meeting with the media that afternoon, you could see the impact on the faces of Holt's fellow defensive tackles.
"It was pretty tough seeing that,” Jackson told 7220sports last August. "He had so many goals that he wanted to achieve this year. Going down with a knee again just pushed them back another year. He was really looking forward to this season. We talked about it every day."
"It was really sad," Godbout added. "I love that guy. We are close friends. He was grinding and going to have an amazing season. He was going to be All-Conference, for sure."
Fast forward nearly a year and Holt is once again primed for that big season he lost. Logan Wilson told me Holt is an NFL-caliber player. Now, he just has added motivation, Wilson said.
The 6-foot, 4-inch, 287-pound California product should immediately step in to a rotation that will include Godbout, Mora and Jones. In many ways, he should make up for the loss of Jackson, though doesn't it make you ask yourself -- "What if Jackson and Holt were both back?"
Yeah, me too.
Holt brings quickness and grit to a lineup that is already full of those characteristics:
Holt has a nasty streak and shows up with bad intentions. He can overpower blockers and get his hands free in a hurry:
And speaking of hands, Holt will add another tall body to the interior line. Expect many more plays like this:
Here's a couple of more players to keep your eye on in 2020.
Alonzo Hall fits the mold of a player who could step up and see plenty of reps in the fall. Hall played in just one game last season and was able to keep his redshirt status.
Hall, who was named the Los Angeles Division I Defensive Lineman of the Year after his senior year of high school, was heavily recruited by Arizona State, CSU, Fresno State, Iowa State, Louisville, Nevada, New Mexico, San Jose State and UNLV, among others. He was rated a three-star player.
Claude Cole played in 10 games for the Pokes in 2019. He registered six tackles.
Gavin Meyer is another name that could be heard over the loud speakers inside War Memorial Stadium. The true freshman comes to Laramie from Wisconsin and wears the No. 94.
Could he be the next Godbout? Well, he has about 30 pounds to catch up with the current nose guard. Bohl likes to redshirt guys, but in a pinch, Meyer could be that call up. He was rated the 15th best player in Wisconsin and received interest from Big Ten schools like his home state Badgers, Michigan State, Minnesota and Iowa.
"Wyoming fans need to know that I’m the hardest worker out there, trying to get better everyday," Meyer said back in December. "It doesn’t matter if I’m starting, second team, scout team or injured -- a day at a time -- I’ll be the hardest worker out there you can be."
Sounds like a Bohl recruit to me.
Let's be real -- this unit would look a heck of a lot better with Jackson in it. However, the return of Holt is huge. And from all accounts, he is ready to step in and help this defense to not skip a beat.
Kaligis is known for getting the best out of his players. Case in point: Chase Appleby.
Appleby was undersized. For a couple of years in Laramie, he skated by but rarely saw the field. Kaligis made it a mission to get the most of out Appleby. We saw how that turned out.
Boise State and CSU got a firsthand look:
In other words, these guys -- young or veterans -- are in good hands. Kaligis will have them ready to go.
Mora and Godbout received invaluable playing time last season. They were thrown into the fire and all they did was become one of the top duos in the Mountain West. Add Holt and Jones, who fluctuates between tackle and defensive end, and you have something that we didn't think the Cowboys would have a year ago -- depth.
Not just depth, but experienced depth.
This unit was looked at as a weakness before the 2019 campaign. Who could blame anyone for thinking otherwise?
Now, this group has all the makings of becoming one of the best lines in the country. Not just this year, but in years to come. Justis Borton is the lone senior in this group.
So, what should you expect?
Lots of running backs shaking their heads as they return to the bench. Anything less would be a major disappointment for these guys.
READ ABOUT THE REST OF THE UW DEFENSE HERE:
* Expectations sky high for UW’s defensive ends
* Chad Muma has some big shoes to fill
* Coldon, Hearn lead young corner group into 2020
* What will safeties look like in post-Halliburton era?