Wyoming Football – Breaking Down the ‘Boys: Defensive tackles
LARAMIE -- Craig Bohl and the Wyoming football team are starting spring football a tad late this season.
Last year, COVID-19 put a halt to it all together. So, better late than never, right?
There's a method to Bohl's madness. 1) He wants more time to pass so the virus will hopefully be well under control. 2) He wants to see quarterback Sean Chambers at full strength.
There's arguably never been a more important training camp than this one in Bohl's eight seasons in Laramie. He is "re-engineering" his offense and has a pair of new coaches on that side of the ball, including Tim Polasek, who replaces longtime offensive coordinator Brent Vigen.
April 6 is when it all starts, culminating with the annual spring game May 8. So, what better time to break down this roster position by position?
We've already touched on the Cowboys' safeties, cornerbacks, defensive ends and nickelbacks Now, let's move to the interior and chat about the Pokes' defensive tackles.
Who are they: Jordan Bertagnole (R-Fr. 6-4, 254, Casper, Wyo.), Akili Bonner (R-Fr. 6-4, 237, Carmichael, Calif.), Claude Cole (Soph. 6-4, 266, Palo Alto, Calif.), Jason Davis (Jr. 6-3, 336, Hershey, Neb.), Cole Godbout (Soph. 6-4, 274, Hudson, Wisc.), Alonzo Hall (R-Fr. 6-5, 240, Reseda, Calif.), Ravontae Holt (R-Jr. 6-4, 287, Sacramento, Calif.), Victor Jones (Jr. 6-4, 245, Sacramento, Calif.), Gavin Meyer (Fr. 6-4, 240, Franklin, Wisc.), Mario Mora (Soph. 6-3, 275, Covina, Calif.), Duncan Radakovich (Fr. 6-5, 225, Cody, Wyo.), Caleb Robinson (Fr. 6-2, 265, Omaha, Neb.), Will Evans (Fr. 6-3, 245, Houston, Texas), JJ Uphold (Fr. 6-5, 240, Bakersfield, Calif.)
How they fared in 2020: This group was going to likely struggle. Or so we thought. When Mario Mora and Claude Cole decided to opt out because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, that left a big hole -- two of them -- in the Cowboys' defensive front. Couple that with defensive ends Solomon Byrd and Davon Wells-Ross also deciding not to play. Ouch. A prolonged injury to senior Garrett Crall certainly didn't help either.
Wyoming's front was going to be severely undermanned, though they did have Cole Godbout, Victor Jones and a healthy Ravontae Holt in the opening-day lineup.
Against Hawaii in Week 2, however, Holt went down with another season-ending knee injury, his third since arriving on campus. Jones was suspended with three games remaining on the six-game schedule, too. Freshman defensive end Cameron Smith was also dismissed from the team for violating team rules. Things weren't looking good up front.
But who could tell?
Wyoming's makeshift defensive tackle unit aided in holding opponents to just 123.5 yards on the ground per game. That was good enough for 21st in the nation. That's not all. The Cowboys' defense was also in the Top 25 in the country in tackles for loss (46 - 13th), sacks (17 - 25th) and overall defense at No. 16.
So, just who were these guys?
You can start with Godbout. Despite playing just five games because of contact tracing, the Wisconsin product was the team's fourth-leading tackler with 30. He also recorded a sack and batted down a pass.
Another major reason for UW's success up front was because of the emergence of Jordan Bertagnole. The redshirt freshman walk-on from Casper also tallied 30 tackles and added 2.5 sacks. He recovered a fumble, too. Through the first three games of the season, Jones was arguably one of the Pokes' top defenders. He posted 13 tackles to go along with 1.5 sacks and a pass breakup before being suspended by Bohl.
True freshmen Caleb Robinson and Gavin Meyer were even forced into duty. So were upperclassmen Jason Davis and Justis Borton. Alonzo Hall even saw some time in 2020. It was truly an all-hands-on-deck operation at times for position coach Pete Kaligis.
Analysis: This was truly a patchwork job by Kaligis and Bohl in 2020. With all the suspensions, injuries and opt outs, this group was destined for a setback, right? Not to mention the graduation of team captain Josiah Hall and the dismissal of Javaree Jackson.
Bertagnole? Who in the world is that? We soon found out.
Like we've mentioned in this series, opportunity is all that matters. That can be a scary thought at first, but now Wyoming knows what it has in Bertagnole, Robinson, Meyer and Davis. The coaching staff probably didn't want to rip off that Band-Aid quite yet, but they were forced to. Now, the Cowboys are better off for it.
Godbout has continued to impress. He is as solid as they come. Sure, he's undersized at 6-foot-4, 274 pounds, but his base -- likely learned on the wrestling mats in Wisconsin -- has served him well in his two seasons in Laramie. He should be a staple inside for the next three years.
Bohl says Holt is making yet another comeback. The overwhelming census from the team and staff is that the redshirt junior is the squad's most talented interior lineman. If he can somehow stay healthy, this group has depth for days with the 2021 return of Mora and Cole. Then there's the versatile Jones. He can bang away in the trenches or go around the edge as a pass rusher. Bohl said this offseason that Jones has work to do if he wants to rejoin this team, but all indications are he is making the correct steps to make that a reality.
I want you to think about what this line could potentially look like on Sept. 5 when Montana State comes to town: Byrd, Godbout, Holt, Crall.
When those guys need a breather: Jones, Mora, Bertagnole, Wells-Ross.
Oh, you guys are tired: Jaylen Pate, Robinson, Cole, DeVonne Harris.
I can go on.
Last year, this might have been the most shallow unit on the Cowboys' roster. Not anymore.
Questions: Can Holt really comeback from another devastating knee injury? The big man from Sacramento has had about as much luck as Sean Chambers in that unfortunate category. His teammates love him and believe in him. Just like they do the QB. Of course, with opt outs could potentially come rust. Can Cole and Mora slide right back into the mix and be as effective as they were in 2019? Despite all the turmoil and obstacles 2020 brought to this program, this group continued to grow and shine under first-year defensive coordinator Jay Sawvel. Think about it -- he doesn't even know what he really has at his disposal yet.
He'll soon find out.
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