TUCKER: Self-inflicted wounds haunting Pokes
LARAMIE -- Traditionally, there are two things Craig Bohl teams don't do --Turn the ball over or commit bonehead penalties.
In other words, they don't beat themselves.
Through three games in this wild, unpredictable, coronavirus-riddled season, that hasn't always been the case.
The excuse list could be plentiful.
There was no spring ball. Multiple impact players opted out, including Solomon Byrd, Rome Weber and Titus Swen, among others. There was the teaser of an upcoming season only to see that fade away over night. Then, it was on again. Nearly the entire freshmen class was quarantined for two weeks during fall camp, too. That will hurt your depth.
There's a new defensive staff. Jay Sawvel, Benny Boyd, Marty English, and technically, Aaron Bohl, are all coaching their first season in Laramie. Starting quarterback Sean Chambers was once again lost for the season with a leg injury on the third play of the season.
He's a team captain. The respect he has earned from his teammates can't be overstated.
Same can be said for fellow team leader, Garrett Crall.
Yes, there are plenty of alibies the Cowboys' coaching staff could use for the current 1-2 record, which includes a confidence-shaking Border War loss to rival Colorado State.
Craig Bohl has touched on all of the above, but even he knows the issues on the surface don't excuse some of the things we have all seen play out on the field.
Let's start with turnovers.
Wyoming has handed the ball to the other team five times through three games. For comparison sake, the Cowboys turned it over just one time through the first three games of the 2019 campaign.
That one turnover, an interception on the first play of the second half in Week 2 at Texas State, didn't do any damage. The Bobcats punted four plays later. The Cowboys were 3-0 out of the gate last fall.
That's not a coincidence.
This year has been a different story.
A Levi Williams interception midway through the fourth quarter in Reno turned into a field goal for the Wolf Pack. That gave Nevada a three-point lead -- enough to hang on and get the game to overtime.
You all know how that finished.
In a dominant 31-7 victory over Hawaii the following week in Laramie, the Cowboys turned the ball over once. That was a Xazavian Valladay fumble. The Rainbow Warriors didn't capitalize, but UW was at the Hawaii 11-yard line. Wyoming led just 17-7 at the time.
Then there was the 112th meeting with CSU last Friday night.
Williams threw a pick-six on the third play from scrimmage. Five plays later, Williams was sacked from the blindside and fumbled the football. The Rams struck again the very next play when Patrick O'Brien hit Trey McBride on a 29-yard touchdown pass.
A fumble on a botched punt in the third quarter didn't lead to points for the Rams, but the Pokes were on a nine-play drive that should've had Williams and Co. lining up for a snap inside the CSU 20.
"Should've" is the key word. We'll get to that in a minute.
"I think we did some things that were uncharacteristic of us," Bohl said that night in Fort Collins after the Cowboys fell to their biggest rival, 34-24. "Typically, we've been ahead on the turnover margin and that didn't occur tonight."
There has been another issue, too. Not just penalties -- dumb ones.
Against the Rams, Wyoming was flagged a season-high eight times for 83 yards.
With the Cowboys trailing by 10 and driving early in the third quarter, they should've been setting up shop inside the red zone at the CSU 18-yard line. Instead, wide receiver Isaiah Neyor spun the ball on the turf after a 37-yard hookup. He was penalized 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct.
Wyoming was forced to punt. That's where the fumble happened.
Senior Azizi Hearn was also hit with a 15-yard personal foul. Keonte Glinton grabbed a facemask late, too. You can also tack on two false starts with zero attendance and fake crowd noise inside Canvas Stadium.
Every time the Pokes cut into the Rams' lead, disaster struck.
"When you play a rivalry game you need to be on point and we weren't," Bohl said. "We are going to have to take a hard look at our preparation. We have to take ownership of our performance and have some hard conversations about where we're at and how we respond."
Middle linebacker and team captain Chad Muma agreed.
"I definitely think we just continued to shoot ourselves in the foot tonight,” he said. “I think, collectively as a team, we just weren’t good enough and really just gave CSU those opportunities tonight and they took them. They outplayed us.
“That’s definitely not our brand of football.”
If there's another category to zero in on it's third-down conversions. That has not been a strong suit so far for Bohl's bunch.
Against Nevada, Wyoming was 3-of-16 on that all-important down. Two weeks later in Fort Collins, the visitors were 4-of-15. The defense has done its job, allowing just 13 first downs on 39 tries.
Williams summed it all up that night with one telling quote.
"It pisses me off, frankly,” the redshirt freshman quarterback said about watching CSU celebrate with the coveted Bronze Boot. "We should’ve won this game. We shot ourselves in the foot way too many times: stupid penalties, not finishing in the red zone, miscommunication with personnel. You name it, we did it this game. We’ve got to clean it up. It was a short week but that’s no excuse for the performance we put out there.
"That was not good. It was poor."
Despite the turnovers, miscues and inconsistencies, the Cowboys were four points away from knocking off unbeaten Nevada after digging out of an early 28-6 hole.
Despite going down 17-0 at CSU, Wyoming was within seven points twice late.
Sure, those games are still glaring in the loss column, but this team is sticking to one Bohl staple -- not giving up.
Just imagine if there wasn't so many self-inflicted wounds?