BREAKDOWN: Costly penalties have plagued Pokes in ’21
LARAMIE -- Wyoming has committed 38 penalties through its first seven games.
Seem like a lot?
In the grand scheme of things, it really isn't.
The Cowboys rank 31st in the nation in fewest penalties, averaging just five per outing. That number is skewed a bit thanks to an uncharacteristic day in East Hartford when the visitors were flagged a season-high10 times for 99 yards in a 24-22 victory over UConn.
Want some perspective here?
UAB and Toledo are tied for the most penalized teams in the nation. The yellow hankies have hit the turf 76 times each for those two programs. UW has been hit with 38. In fact, the Cowboys are tied for the second-least flagged team in the Mountain West Conference alongside UNLV and Boise State, which are behind only Air Force (32).
Why are we writing a story about this, you might be asking yourself.
That's a fantastic question.
While the Pokes aren't getting nailed with a flurry of flags, they are getting taxed at the absolute worst times.
"Penalties are frustrating for us simply because we try to be disciplined," Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl said during his weekly press conference. "If you are going to play our style of ball where you're holding points down and you're not exposing the ball, throwing the ball down the field like coach (Mike) Leach does at Mississippi State, penalties come into play and they've been untimely."
Let's take a look at some of these crucial miscues.
Through the first three weeks -- wins over Montana State, Northern Illinois and Ball State -- the Cowboys committed four penalties in each game. Very few of those flags led to anything substantial on the scoreboard aside from a Ravontae Holt facemask that extended a go-ahead touchdown drive for the Bobcats late in the season opener. MSU marched 75 yards on five plays and took a 16-12 lead with 2:17 remaining in the fourth quarter.
A pair of pass interference calls also extended two touchdown drives for the Cardinals during a 45-12 rout in Laramie two weeks later.
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Trouble really started to brew in New England. It came on the Huskies' first drive of the game.
Keyon Blankenbaker was nailed with a pass interference call on a 3rd-and-3. Five plays later, UConn placekicker Joe McFadden split the uprights from 28 yards out to give the home team an early 3-0 lead. Those were the Huskies' first points on an opening drive all season up to that point.
The Cowboys featured a seven-play, 33-yard drive of their own to start this one. On a 3rd-and-9, quarterback Sean Chambers hit Isaiah Neyor for 16 yards, putting the ball inside the UConn 25-yard line. That is until Titus Swen was tagged with an offensive pass interference call. That left the visitors facing a 3rd-and-24 from their own 45. An illegal block on the next play sunk the Pokes and Ralph Fawaz was on for the first of four punts on the day.
Late in the first quarter, UW cornerback CJ Coldon was flagged for an unnecessary roughness call after slamming a UConn wide out to the turf. That gave the Huskies an automatic first down at the Wyoming 42. Tyler Phommachanh hit Jay Rose for a 42-yard touchdown pass to give UConn a 10-0 lead.
The next possession for Phommachanh and Co. also ended in points.
Instead of a series-ending interception into the arms of Wyoming safety Esaias Gandy, UConn possessed the ball at the UW 18. That was thanks to a roughing-the-passer call on Holt. McFadden would extend the lead to 13-0 five plays later.
Those penalties all hurt the Cowboys. But they weren't done shooting themselves in the foot just yet.
On the ensuing drive, Wyoming's offense lined up for a snap inside the UConn 2-yard line. One false start call and a Chambers incompletion led to a 24-yard John Hoyland field goal. That was the second false-start flag on that drive.
The mistakes didn't end there, either.
You remember the Huskies' 15-play, 64-yard touchdown drive late in the fourth don't you? That series was aided by three pass interference calls on the Cowboys' secondary. Coldon picked up the first one on a 4th-and-9. Azizi Hearn was hit with the next one on a 3rd-and-10. Safety Rome Weber earned on in the end zone on a 4th-and-goal.
The Huskies scored a touchdown with 12 seconds left and decided to go for the win. Why not? Luck seemed to be on their side. Weber battled away the two-point conversion heave to preserve the UW victory.
Wyoming added six more penalties on the road at Air Force, none bigger than on a 19-yard scramble by Chambers on a 3rd-and-18 on the first play of the fourth quarter. Senior guard Logan Harris was flagged for holding behind the play. Instead of having the ball at the Falcons' 24-yard line -- trailing by just seven -- UW was punting from its own 44 two plays later.
The Cowboys finished with six penalties for 40 yards that night in Colorado Springs. The most bizarre being a delay of game on Wyoming's first play from scrimmage.
The following week at home against Fresno State, Wyoming appeared to have the Bulldogs stopped at the 6-yard line after an incomplete pass off the right arm of Jake Haener on 3rd-and-goal. The visitors' field-goal unit was trotting on the field.
That's when the flag flew.
Weber was hit with a roughing the passer call that was later deemed a targeting call. He was ejected and the Bulldogs were in the end zone on the following play. That seven points turned out to be plenty in the Cowboys' 17-0 setback.
In last week's 14-3 home loss to New Mexico, seven flags were handed to the Cowboys, accounting for 39 yards.
Wyoming was flagged for a false start at the Lobos' 9-yard line midway through the second quarter. A four-yard rush from Xazavian Valladay and a Levi Williams incompletion later, UW settled for a 27-yard field goal. A roughing-the-passer call on Victor Jones extended New Mexico's ensuing series. The ball went from the Cowboys' 20 to the five and Jones was ejected for targeting. An offsides penalty on the defense on the next play moved the ball inside the UW 3-yard line. Aaron Dumas took care of the rest, giving the Lobos a 14-0 lead.
Wyoming was also hit with a holding call on a 3rd-and-1 in the third quarter. Swen picked up six on the play. They would punt two plays later. And who could forget the false start on the final kneel down of the first half?
"I can't tell you, I think it's a mistake when coaches just want to blame lack of productivity (saying we're) snake bitten and we have bad luck with those penalties. I think that's short sighted. I do think a couple of those penalties really came at costly times and that's got to be a message to our players. So that's the way I want to address it."
While turnovers have taken a fair share of the blame in the Cowboys' current three-game losing streak -- and it should -- Wyoming has also done plenty of self-destructing in the penalty category.