Making the grade: UW vs. Tulsa
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 24-21 loss to Tulsa on a muggy Saturday afternoon at H. A. Chapman Stadium.
For the first time this season, Wyoming got off to a fast start. A really fast start. Sean Chambers drove the Cowboys 74 yards in nine plays and capped the first drive of the day with a 33-yard dash to the end zone to give Wyoming its lone first-quarter points of the season. That offensive outburst turned into a power outage throughout the next three quarters. Chambers was benched late in the third quarter. He wasn't thrilled, but Craig Bohl said he "needed a spark." He didn't get that from Tyler Vander Waal, but when Chambers was reinserted after two failed drives, the Pokes offense came alive, scoring two touchdowns late and driving for the winner late. Chambers finished the day 9-of-25 for 193 yards and a touchdown pass. He also ran for two more. The passing game, once again, needs to produce more points -- and more often.
RUNNING BACKS: C-
Trey Smith went down early with an ankle injury. Back-up running back, Titus Swen, followed suit just a couple drives later. Brett Brenton, a walk-on from Casper, carried the ball three times for nine yards, and eventually Bohl had to insert a banged up Xazavian Valladay into the lineup. It was not an ideal rushing effort for the Cowboys, who were led by Chambers, who finished with 83 yards on 11 carries. Though he scored twice on the ground, he was the only effective rusher during Saturday's loss. Swen picked up just 24 yards. Valladay tallied 18. This group has been reliable through four games, but in Tulsa, they never did find a groove, aside from a few nice runs from the quarterback. Rough day all around. And Smith is expected to miss 4-to-8 weeks.
WIDE RECEIVERS/ TIGHT ENDS: C-
We have been tough on the pass catchers in this space so far this year. And right fully so. With three seniors and a host of experience on the outside, underachieving has been the name of the game so far in 2019. Of course, that isn't all their fault, but Saturday, once again, dropped balls were a theme early on. Austin Conway caught three passes for 51 yards, and Raghib Ismail snagged two for 43. Ismail made a pair of highlight reel catches late -- one was called back on a hold, the other extended a drive -- and Dontae Crow snagged a pass over the middle on the final drive and flew down the sideline for 34 yards. Ayden Eberhardt made the biggest play of the day, hauling in a 53-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter to give the Cowboys a 21-17 lead. It was short-lived. The wide receivers had their best day of 2019 in Tulsa. Let's see if that carries over to the Mountain West Conference opener Saturday night against UNLV.
OFFENSIVE LINE: C-
It was a tough day for the big guys up front. Not only did the running game never get going, Wyoming lost two of its veteran leaders to injury. First, it was right tackle, Alonzo Velazquez, who left the game with a knee injury. Bohl said he received an MRI on Monday and his status is unknown. In the third quarter, Torrington product, Logan Harris, took a violent shot to the head in pass protection, falling to the turf at Skelly Field. He laid motionless for an extended amount of time as trainers surrounded him. An ambulance eventually pulled out to midfield and Harris was transported to a local hospital for further testing. He did get on the plane with his teammates and fly back to Laramie. He is currently in concussion protocol. Against the Rebels next Saturday, the Cowboys will start Patrick Arnold and Frank Crum in their place. A young, inexperienced offensive line just got a little younger and more inexperienced. The depth chart lists all sophomores, aside from Crum, who is a redshirt freshman.
DEFENSIVE LINE: A-
Who said these guys would be a liability heading into the season? Saturday in Tulsa, Solomon Byrd was dominant, getting to quarterback Zach Smith 2.5 times. Javaree Jackson and Teagan Liufau also registered a sack. Victor Jones was credited with half a sack. Not only did these guys terrorize Smith all afternoon long, they held a potent rushing attack to just 83 yards on 43 carries (That's including minus-42 in sack yardage). That's an average of 1.9 yards per carry. Wyoming is currently ranked 17th in the nation against the rush, giving up just 85 yards per game. These guys have excelled. Saturday might have been their best effort yet. Out of the Pokes 14 tackles for loss, this crew accounted for six of them.
These guys were active in Saturday's loss. Wyoming blitzed throughout the afternoon, and often times Tulsa quarterback was busy picking himself up off the turf. Chad Muma had a big game for the Pokes, registering a sack to go along with seven tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss. He also made a tackle on special teams that may have saved a lengthy punt return. Not to mention, he was in Smith's kitchen all afternoon. So was Cassh Maluia, who also racked up 1.5 tackles for loss. Logan Wilson added half a tackle for loss. Tulsa's tight ends didn't do much and neither did the pass-catching running backs. Wyoming's linebackers were solid. This loss certainly wasn't on them.
If it wasn't for Alijah Halliburton and his 17 -- yes, he made 17 -- tackles, this grade might have been of the flunking variety. Once again, the Wyoming secondary was torched to the tune of 354 yards on 25 receptions. For those keeping track at home, that's 14.2 yards per catch. Tulsa also scored a pair of touchdowns through the air. The Cowboys are 126th in the country out of 130 teams when it comes to passing yards allowed. They leapfrogged UCLA and Vanderbilt. The Commodores gave up a million passing yards to LSU. The Bruins surrendered a million and a half to Washington State. Despite the Cowboys sacking Smith a season-high seven times and hurrying him seven more times, somehow he was still able to dissect the undermanned Wyoming secondary. The Pokes best cover corner, Tyler Hall, is in concussion protocol and Antonio Hull was deemed "not ready to play" against the Golden Hurricane. This group has to show drastic improvement with conference play around the corner. Maybe they are too worried about getting beat over the top and leaving the underneath wide open for business. It sure seems that way.