Wyoming Football – Breaking Down the ‘Boys: Wide Receivers
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' defense. You can find those right here:
Now, let's move to the offensive side of the ball and chat about those speedsters on the outside who will play a major role in the makeover of this passing attack -- the wide receivers.
Who are they: Alex Brown (Fr. 6-4, 190, Spring, Texas), Joshua Cobbs (Fr. 6-4, 196, San Antonio, Texas), Tony Evans Jr. (Fr. 6-2, 185, Lancaster, Texas), Gunner Gentry (Jr. 6-3, 208, Aurora, Colo.), Tyrese Grant (Fr. 6-0, 180, Daingerfield, Texas), Ayden Eberhardt (Sr. 6-2, 195, Loveland, Colo.), Chance Hofer (Soph. 6-0, 208, Green River, Wyo.), Devin Jennings (R-Fr. 6-2, 189, Houston, Texas), Ryan Marquez (Soph. 6-1, 194, Arvada, Colo.), Chris Ndushabandi (R-Fr. 6-0, 178, Colorado Springs, Colo.), Isaiah Neyor (R-Fr. 6-3, 210, Fort Worth, Texas), Will Pelissier (Fr. 6-3, 200, Big Horn, Wyo.), Jaylen Sargent (Fr. 6-2, 170, Logan, Utah), Wyatt Wieland (Soph. 6-1, 197, Colorado Springs, Colo.)
How they fared in 2020: Let's start with some positives, a word that hasn't been used often when it comes to Wyoming's passing game since a guy named Josh Allen walked across the stage in 2018 and became an NFL quarterback.
Isaiah Neyor, a postseason All-Mountain West Honorable Mention selection, was a bright spot for this squad in the COVID-19-shortened six-game season. His 31-yards per catch would've been tops in the nation -- if only he had caught more balls. The redshirt freshman from Texas hauled in just eight passes for 248 yards. He also had a long of 54 against New Mexico.
Neyor solidified himself as a legit deep-threat option for Levi Williams in '20. Wide receivers coach and newly named passing-game coordinator Mike Grant expects Neyor to take the next step and become the leader of this mostly inexperienced group this fall.
"For him to have the year that he had, as far as yards per catch, it just holds a bright future for the young man," Grant said back on March 1. "He's got the right attitude. You know, most receivers want the ball. He does that. But he's also a good teammate and a team player right now. He'll just do whatever it takes to have those opportunities come his way."
Speaking of opportunities, Ayden Eberhardt got his in a Week 3 matchup with Border War rival Colorado State. The senior snagged seven passes against the Rams for 132 yards. He also had a long of 56. Eberhardt was only targeted nine more times over the final three games. He finished the season with 16 catches for 252 yards.
Now, the not-so-good news.
Wyoming's offense passed for just one touchdown in 2020. That was a 22-yard strike from Williams to Gunner Gentry in a season-opening overtime loss to Nevada. Out of 127 FBS teams that fielded a team last year, Wyoming's passing offense was ranked No. 113, averaging just 153.3 yards per game through the air.
Gentry caught just two passes all season. Dontae Crow, who is no longer with the team after entering the transfer portal, snagged seven for 78 yards. The only other Cowboy wide out to catch a pass was Devin Jennings. That was one for seven yards.
Analysis: Sure, losing starting quarterback Sean Chambers on the third play from scrimmage in 2020 didn't help things, but the team's passing woes highlighted a much-larger issue.
In 2019, Wyoming was ranked 11th out of 12 teams in the conference in passing offense. The year prior, they were 12th behind even Air Force, who runs a triple-option attack. In 2017, even with Allen under center, the Cowboys were ranked ninth, averaging just 177.2 yards per outing.
Bottom line: Whatever has been going on isn't working.
Neyor showed flashed last fall. So did Eberhardt.
Wyoming was and will always be a run-first team as long as Craig Bohl is roaming the sidelines in Laramie, but even he has admitted time and again that the passing game has to be better. Much better.
This group was never able to get into any sort of rhythm. Whether that's due to play calling, time in the pocket or separation on the outside, the stats tell a tale. Once again, Wyoming featured one of the best rushing offenses in the nation in 2020. Once again, the Cowboys were dreadful in the passing game.
We did get a sample size of what some of these guys on the outside can do, but there are still plenty more questions than answers with this group.
Questions: The finger pointing has been liberal to say the least. -- and it's mostly warranted.
Was it Brent Vigen's offense that caused this four-year regression? Was Allen -- and his offensive weapons -- just that much better? How about the offensive line. They gave up 15 sacks in just 24 quarters of football. Can these receivers even get open? Most have expressed the difficulties in the various "route trees" the former offense featured. Can the current quarterbacks on this roster consistently put the ball in their bellies?
A lot of moving parts have to do what they are supposed to in order to have a successful passing attack. Will they under the leadership of new offensive coordinator Tim Polasek? Time will tell.
If you are old enough you'll recall, Wyoming was once referred to as "Wide Receiver U." Names like Ryan Yarborough, Marcus Harris and Jovon Bouknight made that possible. We likely won't see record-breaking performances anytime soon, but can this unit become a real weapon and give balance to this offense, something that has been severely lacking since Allen, Tanner Gentry, CJ Johnson, Austin Conway and Jake Maulhardt were in the huddle?
No one is asking for a Mike Leach type of air raid that Bohl likes to joke about. Productivity and consistency would suffice. It would likely put this team over the top, too.
A lot like it did in 2016.