Making the grade: UW vs. CSU
LARAMIE — We all get graded, right?
Whether it’s in school, at work or your significant other, we are always under some sort of pressure to learn and produce results.
So, let’s see what Wyoming’s final grades were after a 17-7 home win over Colorado State in the 111th Border War.
Levi Williams made his Wyoming debut in Friday night's win and didn't disappoint. The true freshman from Canyon Lake, Texas, was inserted into the lineup to aide in the Cowboys rushing attack. He also filled in for Tyler Vander Waal, who suffered an ankle injury in the third quarter. Williams and Vander Waal both scored on quarterback sneaks. That's all it would take to claim the Bronze Boot for the fourth straight season. Vander Waal completed 6-of-13 passes for 56 yards on a frigid night in Laramie. Williams threw the ball just twice, completing both for 25 yards. Like usual, Wyoming kept the ball on the ground, managed the clock and wore down the opponent. That was never more apparent than on the last play from scrimmage when Williams broke numerous tackles and rumbled 19 yards deep into CSU territory. Vander Waal took the knee and the fans took to the field. It wasn't always pretty, but it was effective. Williams carried the ball 13 times for 49 yards and picked up crucial third-down runs.
RUNNING BACKS: A
Coaches weren't even sure if Xazavian Valladay would play in this one. He has battled a nagging ankle injury since a Week 2 win at Texas State. His right knee was in a brace all week long. That comes with the territory when you carry the ball 148 times in just five weeks. Friday night, Valladay didn't just play, he once again carried the Cowboys offensive attack. The sophomore toted the ball 27 times, finishing with 159 yards on the ground. That was Valladay's fifth straight game eclipsing the 100-yard mark. He also surpassed the 1,000-yard mark, giving head coach Craig Bohl his fourth 1,000-yard rusher in six seasons. The yards, once again, weren't easy. Valladay took a pounding, yet still managed to find holes in the Rams lowly defense. Williams definitely helped take the load off Valladay, but it was still a workhorse performance from the Cowboys soft-spoken star running back. Gordie Haug, Wyoming's running backs coach, said Valladay will spend most of his week in the training room, preparing for Air Force Saturday. Expect Valladay to be the focal point of the Pokes attack once again in Colorado Springs.
WIDE RECEIVERS/ TIGHT ENDS: B
Four different receivers caught passes from Vander Waal and Williams Friday night. The ball was slippery and hard as a rock. Austin Conway and Raghib Ismail made some catches look way too easy. Both playing in their final game at War Memorial Stadium, each finished with three catches. Conway finished with a team-high 35 yards receiving. Ismail finished with 24. Ayden Eberhardt and Josh Harshman also snagged a pass in the win. In fact, Eberhardt set the tone in this one, flying down on the opening kickoff and plastering the CSU kick returner. The ball popped loose. The Rams recovered. These guys were busy blocking for most of the night. They are used to that. The Wyoming rushing attack picked up 192 yards and a pair of scores on the night. A big reason why is the blocking on the outside.
OFFENSIVE LINE: B
The Cowboys front five was physical, and at times, downright dominant. On Williams touchdown plunge in the third quarter, center Keegan Cryder took CSU's nose tackle about four yards into the end zone. He got him on skates and planted him. Frank Crum, the young tackle from Laramie, also flattened his man to the ground on that play before getting up to celebrate with Williams. Logan Harris, the Torrington product, opened holes for Valladay all night long. It was truly a team effort from the big guys up front, who once again were the offensive MVP. Wyoming did give up five sacks and eight tackles for loss in this one. That is uncharacteristic of this unit. Both Wyoming signal callers went down with injuries, too. That was the lone mark on this group. That can't happen against Air Force.
DEFENSIVE LINE: A-
Try these numbers on for size: 30 rushes, 48 yards, average of 1.6 yards per carry. That's what the Cowboys defensive front allowed Friday night. CSU couldn't run, yet they kept trying. That played right into the hands of Javaree Jackson, Cole Godbout, Mario Mora and crew. Wyoming only got to Patrick O'Brien one time all night. That was a shared sack by Josiah Hall and Jackson. But they did flush the Rams junior signal caller out of the pocket and force him to be mobile, something he isn't known for. The Cowboys made the Rams one-dimensional throughout. CSU head coach Mike Bobo said that took away the visitor's game plan. Wyoming's rushing defense is ranked seventh in the nation, allowing just 93.7 yards per carry. So, I'm not quite sure why that was the Rams' game plan, especially with the success they were having through the air? The lone mistake from this group came late in the second quarter when Mora stuck his cleat into the gut of CSU tight end Trey McBride to push him away. That brought on a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty. CSU was facing a 3rd and goal from the seven-yard line. The automatic first down put them inside the five. O'Brien connected with Warren Jackson minutes later for the Rams only score of the game.
Logan Wilson capped his home career with an interception late in the fourth quarter. He slipped on the play "which sucked," according to Wilson. He might have been able to score if he could've kept his footing, which would've given him five defensive touchdowns. That would be the lead among active players. Wilson's 10th career interception just added to the brilliance of his eight-tackle performance. Wilson never lost a game to Wyoming's hated rivals. If the Cowboys can knock off Air Force Saturday, Wilson and the 13 other seniors will be the lone group in Wyoming history to sweep both Colorado rivals four years straight. It was an emotional night for Wilson. After the win, fans stormed the field and the team ran to the southeast corner of the stadium to retrieve the Bronze Boot. Wilson slowly walked to midfield, smiling and taking it all in. Monday, Wilson was named one of six finalists for the Butkus Award, which is given to the nations; top linebacker. He is the only member of the list who doesn't play at a Power-5 school. Cassh Maulia, who was also playing his final game in Laramie, finished the night with four tackles. Chad Muma landed one. Ben Wisdorf, the senior who was injured against Boise State, came out in a wheelchair for his final introduction to the home crowd. To make matters even more special, his brother, Jordan Wisdorf, is home from an 11-month tour overseas. It was a special moment for the Wisdorfs and the entire Cowboy family.
These guys had the toughest task Friday night. McBride, Warren and Dante Wright are the real deal. We all got a glimpse of that up close and personal. Warren, the 6-foot, 6-inch wide out from California, snagged a game-high six passes for 95 yards. He also caught the Rams lone touchdown pass of the night. McBride finished with six grabs for 78 yards, and Wright caught three passes for 25 yards. The Rams picked up big chunks over the middle of the field. That, coupled with a lack of a pass rush, aided in big plays in the CSU passing game. Between the 50's, this unit was dangerous all night. Inside the red zone, aside from Jackson's score, the Rams didn't do much. Alijah Halliburton, once again, led the Cowboys in tackles with 13. He also had a tackle for loss. Tyler Hall had five tackles, and Keyon Blankenbaker finished with four. The Cowboys gave up 17 catches for 217 yards, which was about 60 yards below its season average. CSU racked up some yards, but Wyoming's secondary more than held its own when it had to. Nice performance by these guys.