Making the grade: UW vs. Mizzou
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 stunning 37-31 upset win over the Missouri Tigers Saturday night at War Memorial Stadium.
Sean Chambers is not a runner who can play quarterback, he’s a quarterback who can run. The redshirt freshman laughed during his post-game press conference, saying Mizzou defenders reminded him time and again throughout the first quarter that he would not be able to run on them. Boy, were they wrong. Chambers busted off a 75-yard jaunt to the end zone, which began with a slick move to get away from a linebacker and a punishing stiff-arm to the face of an oncoming safety. That run put the Cowboys up, 24-17. That, as we all know, is not Chambers’ issue. The Wyoming passing game produced just 92 yards through the air on Chambers’ 6-of-16 night. He missed a wide open Josh Harshman in the end zone on a sure touchdown in the second quarter. That won’t get it done in most cases. Craig Bohl reiterated that Monday afternoon.
RUNNING BACKS: A
Most knew that Xazavian Valladay was a serviceable back for the Cowboys in 2018, but after being thrust into a starter’s role after the offseason departures of what seemed like an entire stable of running backs, the sophomore showed he has some explosion in those legs. Valladay broke free for a 61-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, giving Wyoming its first touchdown of the afternoon Saturday. He eclipsed the 100-yard mark for the second time, dating back to last season’s finale against New Mexico. His final stat line was: 15 rushes, 119 yards, 7.9 average. Valladay wasn’t the only Pokes’ running back to make noise against the Tigers. True freshman Titus Swen saw his first action in a UW uniform, carrying the ball eight times for 45 yards. Louisville transfer, Trey Smith, rushed six times for 18 yards and scored from a yard out in the third quarter.
WIDE RECEIVERS/ TIGHT ENDS: C
When the quarterback only throws the ball 16 times, receivers aren’t going to get much love. However, this game wasn’t littered with dropped balls like so many a season ago. When the ball was in that vicinity, they caught it. Raghib “Rocket” Ismail Jr. led all pass catchers with two grabs for 45 yards. Austin Conway, Jackson Marcotte and Ayden Eberhardt all snagged one pass on the day, none longer than 15 yards. This group did little on the score sheet, but they did throw some key blocks, including Ismail’s on the Chambers’ touchdown run. The tight ends, Nate Weinman, Harshman and Marcotte, also got the job done in the running game.
OFFENSIVE LINE: A
These guys have been underestimated from the start. And who could blame you for wondering what a senior-less line would look like? Against Power-5 teams, Wyoming has been known to get blown off the ball more times than not. The quarterback scrambles for his life and lanes are closed in a hurry in the running game. That was not the case Saturday night. Logan Harris, Rudy Stofer, Keegan Cryder, Eric Abojei and Alonzo Velazquez starred for the Pokes. So did their back-ups. Abojei was also named "offensive lineman of the game" by the coaching staff. Chambers didn’t get sacked once and Wyoming rushers amassed 297 yards. New offensive line coach, Bart Miller, said he challenged his guys to be aggressive and play with an edge. They did just that. This could be the reason the Cowboys challenge for a Mountain West title this season. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
DEFENSIVE LINE: B
Wyoming’s young, undersized line put up a fight in the opener. Sure, Mizzou converted every third-and-short. They were 2-of-3 on fourth down, too. The Pokes front four – Garrett Crall, Javaree Jackson and Josiah Hall, Mario Mora – didn’t get much pressure on Tiger quarterback Kelly Bryant. Hall did pick up a key sack late in the fourth quarter with Mizzou driving for the tying score. He also gets credit for the forced fumble on the CJ Coldon scoop-and-score. The Tigers rushed for 114 yards, but that came on 42 carries. That’s just 2.7 yards per clip. For a unit that was without Ravontae Holt, who was lost in fall camp with an ACL tear, and Solomon Byrd, who was dealing with a high-ankle sprain, these youngsters stepped up. Can they improve? They better. But this was an SEC opponent. So far, so good.
One of Wyoming’s biggest concerns coming in was Mizzou’s All-American tight end Albert Okwuegbunam. He torched the Cowboys in Columbia a year prior, especially on third down. On Saturday, he was shut down. That’s because of guys like Logan Wilson and Cassh Maluia. Wyoming’s linebackers held Okwuegbunam to just three catches on four attempts. He did tally 72 yards with a long of 32, but limiting his targets was the most important aspect. Okwuegbunam also got called on an offensive pass interference after a touchdown catch. Instead, the Tigers faced a third-and-goal from the 17. Bryant threw a lame duck right into the awaiting arms of Maluia. These guys stepped up. We figured they would. Back-ups Chad Muma and Ben Wisdorf also made plenty of plays. Wisdorf is credited with a force fumble on the last play of the first half, and Muma made a career-high 10 tackles.
SAFETIES/ CORNERS: B
Bohl said his back seven got undisciplined at times, but ultimately, they made plays. Back-up strong safety, Easias Gandy, maybe made the biggest play of the night, hammering Bryant to the turf with a textbook tackle in the second quarter. That got the Cowboys on the board thanks to another back-up, Coldon, who scored the Cowboys first touchdown of the afternoon. Alijah Halliburton, who was named Mountain West Defensive Player of the Week Monday after a 16-tackle performance, returned a fumble deep into Mizzou territory on the final play of the first half. That led to a Cooper Rothe 23-yard field goal. The secondary did allow Bryant to set a new career high with 423 yards passing, but that also had a lot to do with the lack of pass rush. All week, Coldon said, defensive coordinator, Jake Dickert, told his guys they needed to stop the deep ball. They did just that. However, the underneath routes were wide open most of the afternoon, especially on the Tigers final two scoring drives, which chewed up just 1:51 of the game clock. Bohl raved about the tackling of the defense, especially this group. He said Rome Weber and Halliburton really laid the lumber.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B
Rothe was a perfect 3-for-3 with a long of 23. Bohl likes to call him “money in the bank.” He was named preseason conference special teams player of the year, after all. Ryan Galovich, the senior walk-on punter who was just placed on scholarship in fall camp, booted the ball six times for an average of 43.8 per kick. He did aide in giving up a 43-yard punt return in the second half thanks to a line-drive punt that put his teammates in a bad spot, but Galovich redeemed himself with a 64-yard blast that pinned the Tigers inside their own four-yard line in the fourth. Bohl said Monday that the punting – and coverage team – need to improve. Overall, he called Galovich’s night “good.” Conway had a decent night returning punts, fielding four for an average of 12.3 yards. His best return netted 17 yards. Pretty decent night for the special teamers.