Big and nasty
LARAMIE – Keegan Cryder said there are two main differences between Wyoming’s offensive line now and the group at this time last season.
First, this summer wasn’t filled with fun in the sun.
Cryder, who was a freshman All-American at center last season, said the unit
spent time in the weight room. They worked out together, ate together and even
They also hold each other accountable. Text messages led to daily
Secondly, Cryder gives credit to their new leader – offensive line coach, Bart Miller.
“He’s given us a new identity,” the 6-foot, 4-inch,
297-pound Littleton, Colo., product said. “He demands that we are dominant and
There is another underlying factor that makes these guys
rally around Miller.
“One thing that I admire about him is after almost every
meeting or practice, he finishes by telling us how proud he is of us and how
proud he is to be our coach,” Cryder said. “I think he wants to be here. He
loves us. He cares about us and wants something special for this group. His
drive and heart for us as players and people is incredible.”
The Cowboys offensive line reciprocated that in a 37-31 opening week upset of highly favored Missouri. The starting line – Cryder, Logan Harris, Alonzo Velazquez, Eric Abojei and Rudy Stofer – blew open holes for Wyoming running backs all night long. The Cowboys recorded 297 rushing yards, averaging 7.1 yards per carry. Xazavian Valladay had a 61-yard touchdown jaunt. Quarterback Sean Chambers followed that with a 75-yard scoring run on the very next offensive play.
Look at this dominance:
But maybe the most important stat of the night came in the
form of a zero. As in no sacks allowed.
Monday afternoon before the opener, Harris, a 6-foot, 3-inch,
303-pound guard from Torrington, spewed confidence. Some might have called him
He didn’t flinch.
“They are just another team,” he said of the Tigers, who
were an 18-point favorite. “We aren’t scared of anybody. They can be beat like
anyone else. I think, if our technique
is sound and we are physical, we will dominate.”
After talking with their position coach, it’s not hard to tell
where this confidence comes from.
At every stop Miller has made during his young coaching
journey, the offensive line improves. New Mexico State did. So did Ohio.
Florida Atlantic had a dominate front, too, under Miller’s leadership.
He has also led some of the nastiest known units in the
nation in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Air Force.
“It was a big win for the program and a big win for our guys, especially the guys up front,” said Miller, who was hired by Craig Bohl in February. “I think they proved to themselves, the team and the fans that they can be a force and knock people off the ball. A team as good as Mizzou -- and you could ask them -- they were in a dog fight and got moved around up front.”
On the sideline Saturday night, the offensive line, backups
and starters, had a different look about them. Their heads were held a little
higher. The intensity on their faces was unmistakable. They had a different
swagger about them.
Miller noticed, too.
And it wasn’t just on the sideline.
“That’s the way you have to play the game. You have to have
the edge,” Miller said. “We won’t be the most talented every week but can be
most physical. We can be the meanest, toughest, nastiest guys on the field.
That takes no talent.
“That’s not an arrogance or cockiness, but every time you
take the field and you put your hand on the ground, you know you are going to
win. That guy across from you might have a million stars behind his name and
might have a bigger conference patch on his shirt, it really doesn’t mean a
The coaching staff named Abojei the lineman of the game after Saturday’s performance. The 6-foot, 5-inch, 354-pound guard was the main catalyst in springing Valladay’s touchdown scamper. Abojei moved his man to the side and slid to the next level where he not only took out the linebacker, but the oncoming safety.
Watch big No. 69 get out on those blockers:
Abojei exemplifies a Wyoming lineman.
He has plenty of tools, especially physically, but needs
some fine tuning. For Abojei, that transformation happened quickly. Throughout
fall camp, he was behind Patrick Arnold at the left guard spot. After a poor
scrimmage, Abojei re-dedicated himself. He got stronger, worked on footwork and
became a “dominant force,” according to Miller.
This Saturday, Wyoming (1-0) will travel to San Marcos, Texas, to take on the Texas State Bobcats (0-1). In week one, Texas A&M hammered the Bobcats, 41-7. The Aggies amassed 246 yards on the ground against TSU’s three-man front, averaging 6.4 yards per carry.
Miller said those numbers can be deceiving.
In the first half, he said, Texas A&M never really got
their rushing offense going. It wasn’t until the Aggies started to wear down the
visitors and the score started to climb that holes began to open.
“They are stout up front,” Miller said of the Bobcats. “We’re
going to their house, it’s their home opener with a new staff and it will be
hotter than blazes. It’s a great challenge for us. We have to play well to have
Cryder, who entered the media room Monday wearing a brown “Slam
the Rams” basketball T-shirt, said the confidence is at an all-time high right
now. He added that if the line does what they are supposed to do, expect much
of the same when it comes to the results in San Marcos.
“We are building a new standard here at Wyoming,” Cryder
said. “Having zero sacks should be the standard. So should 300 yards a game.”