CHEYENNE – Let’s take a quick look at Wyoming’s non-conference football schedule.
Who do they have coming back? Where are their strengths, weaknesses? What are the chances the Cowboys come out with a win?
There are plenty of questions surrounding the Wyoming football program in Craig Bohl’s sixth season. Let’s see if we can at least get an early look at what the Cowboys will face in their first four games of the 2019 campaign.
Idaho Vandals, Big Sky Conference (FCS), 4-7 overall in 2018
WHAT DO YOU NEED TO KNOW:
Despite the losing season and the mass exodus of players during the offseason, Idaho does have some talent and depth.
You can find most of that with the big ugly guys manning the offensive line.
Noah Johnson, a 6-foot, 4-inch, 300-pound senior, is the anchor of the line. He was named to the FCS preseason All-America Team. Johnson didn’t just come out of nowhere, either. He was an All-Big Sky first-teamer last season, and in 2017 he was a second-team All-Sun Belt selection during the Vandal’s final season as an FBS program.
“I can’t wait for the season, honestly,” Johnson told reporters this spring. “It sucks that it’s so far away. I really like the improvement, effort and attitude we bring to practice every day. We come to practice to get better.”
Idaho returns eight offensive lineman who played during the 2018 season. Look for names like Logan Floyd, Conner Vrba and Seth Carnahan to join Johnson in attempting to keep Vandal signal callers upright and open holes for an inexperienced corps of running backs.
“Whatever team hits the other team’s quarterback most usually wins,” Idaho head coach Paul Petrino said this spring.
If this offensive line is gelling like the local newspaper and players say they are, Idaho could be a force up front.
“A deep, experienced offensive line has been setting the tone for the Vandals all spring. The line reminds Petrino of the one that took Idaho to victory over Colorado State in the 2016 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl,” The Spokesman-Review wrote this spring.
The Vandals also possess another secret weapon. One that might come in handy in 2019.
Junior punter Cade Coffey is the other Vandal player that made the FCS All-America team. Last season he averaged 44.1 yards per boot, which ranked him fifth in the nation.
“He’s special,” Petrino said to reporters. “We’ve got to keep getting him better, too.”
RETURNING OFFENSIVE STARTERS:
Idaho’s offense put up 31 points twice last season.
With the revolving door at quarterback, thanks to inconsistent play and injuries, it’s no wonder they are outside the Top 50 looking in.
Mason Petrino got the bulk of the snaps under center, though he shared time with Colton Richardson. In the final game of the season, a bad loss at Florida, redshirt freshman, Nikhil Nayar, got some playing time, too.
Who will be the starting quarterback at Penn State on opening day? We don’t know that yet. Petrino isn't saying.
But whether it's his son, who suffered a shoulder injury last season, or Richardson, who was forced out of two games with a head injury, staying healthy will be key.
Both of the Vandals top rushing threats – Isaiah Saunders and Tyrese Walker – are gone. Saunders graduated and Walker left the team.
That’s an on-going theme. We will get to that in a minute.
Dylan Thigpen missed the entire 2018 season with a leg injury and Jack Bamis split time between linebacker and running back for the Vandals. Not an ideal situation.
This season, Petrino will rely heavily on Thigpen and Roshaun Johnson to carry the load. Johnson played in all 11 games in 2018 but rushed for just 99 yards on 18 carries. Aundre Carter, a bruising back at 238 pounds, could also play a part, especially in goal-line situations.
So where is the Idaho offense going to come from? Good question.
They do bring back plenty of talent and depth on the offensive line and will have a pair of outside receiving threats that can make plays in Cutrell Haywood and Jeff Cotton. The duo accounted for 100 catches last season, and both reportedly had a great spring. D.J. Lee is also a speedy pass catcher who could see plenty of playing time, and All-Nevada high school player, Sean McCormick, could also see some time in the slot.
Can a quarterback consistently get it to those guys though?
And can the rushing attack help balance the offense?
It didn’t work often last season.
RETURNING DEFENSIVE STARTERS:
You remember Mike Breske, right?
He was the Cowboys assistant head coach and defensive coordinator under Joe Glenn from 2003-08. Under his leadership, Wyoming finished the 2006 season ninth in total defense.
Well, now he’s entering year five at Idaho. And he’s hoping to find a little magic in a defense that was ranked outside the Top-50 in the FCS ranks in 2018.
In the spring, Breske took his first punch to the gut when seniors Ty Graham and Denzel Brantley left the program. In fact, more than two dozen players have left the Vandals program this year alone.
He will be leaning on transfers like safety Satchel Escalante, defensive end Austin Holt and linebacker Jalen Jenkins to turn this defense into one that doesn’t give up 37.5 points per game.
Junior outside linebacker Christian Elliss is back. He is considered the speediest of that corps, and senior cornerback Lloyd Hightower is expected to set the tone in the secondary.
“Ya’ll are going to see a big difference in the fall,” Hightower told The Spokesman-Review newspaper this spring. “We’ve got that fire this year.”
Idaho fans better hope so, because the schedule is daunting – to say the least.
Last season, the Vandals showed that they weren’t big fans of athletic quarterbacks who can tuck it and run. That doesn’t bode well for their trip to Laramie in September.
Idaho State’s signal caller made a mockery of the Vandals’ defense last season in a 62-28 win in Pocatello. Tanner Gueller ran for 81 yards and had the Idaho defense so off balance, he also threw for 492 yards and eight touchdowns.
The Big Sky is loaded with athletic quarterbacks. So is Wyoming.
HOW 2018 WENT:
Petrino’s Vandals went 4-7 last season, winning three Big Sky Conference games over Portland State, Southern Utah and North Dakota. All three of those games, plus Idaho’s win over Western New Mexico, were played in the comforts of the 16,000-seat Kibbie Dome in Moscow.
2018 marked the first year of FCS competition for the Vandals, who dropped down from FBS after the 2017 campaign.
In both FBS matchups last season – Fresno State and Florida – the Vandals were outscored 142-23.
HISTORY WITH IDAHO:
Wyoming is 6-1 in the all-time series, but three of those contests have been decided by seven points or less, including the Cowboys’ 1996 home opener.
Wyoming would finish 10-2 that season and earn a berth in the inaugural WAC title game in Las Vegas, but a feisty Vandals’ squad nearly tripped up the senior-laden Pokes that afternoon. If it wasn’t for six Cory Wedel field goals, UW doesn’t survive, 40-38.
If UW loses that game, who knows how that season unfolds.
The Cowboys have won six straight over Idaho, including a 42-10 win in Laramie in 2013. The year prior in Moscow, it took some last-minute heroics from Brett Smith for the Pokes to escape the Kibbie Dome with a 40-37 victory.
Idaho’s lone win in the series came way back in 1921. The Vandals won 31-3 in Moscow.
Last season marked the first year of FCS competition for the Vandals.
It didn’t go quite as planned.
Idaho was pummeled by Fresno State in its first meeting with an FBS team in the season opener.
Like, 79-13 pummeled.
That loss was sandwiched between a 63-10 loss to Florida in The Swamp in the season finale.
The Vandals rebounded in week two to knock off visiting Western New Mexico, 56-10, but never found consistency in year six of the Petrino regime. They never won back-to-back games in 2018, and most losses were of the blow-out variety.
Idaho is not projected to do much this season, either. No national magazines are predicting a playoff appearance.
The Vandals’ schedule might have something to do with that.
Pertrino’s boys will head to Happy Valley to take on Penn State for the season opener Aug. 31. Then they come home for a meeting with a Central Washington team that went 8-3 last season. After the trip to Laramie, Idaho has a meeting with the 2018 FCS runner-up Eastern Washington Eagles.
Eastern Washington is also the preseason favorite to win the Big Sky.
Idaho also has match ups with FCS Top-25 teams Weber State and Montana.
It could be another long year for the Vandals.
GAME DAY INFO:
WHO: Idaho at Wyoming
WHEN: Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019
TIME: 3:00 p.m. MST
WHERE: War Memorial Stadium, Laramie, Wyoming (capacity: 29,181)
ROSTERS: Wyoming I Idaho
BETTING LINES: TBD