Tuck’s Take: Football Gods MIA in Disheartening Loss at Air Force
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo., -- Andrew Peasley said the football gods have been pretty good to the Cowboys this year.
Not in this one.
Those mythical creatures were clearly hanging out in Fort Collins.
Wyoming's luck finally ran out in a disheartening 34-27 setback Saturday night at Air Force, falling to 5-2 overall and 2-1 in Mountain West play.
This team overcame a 17-point deficit to knock off Texas Tech. It withstood a 31-yard passing performance and sealed an improbable win over Appalachian State thanks to a blocked field goal that was returned for a touchdown. It also held off a furious second-half rally from defending conference champion Fresno State.
In Colorado Springs, it was the Cowboys who couldn't get out of their own way.
Special teams' miscues and head-scratching play calling in the fourth quarter were the main culprits. Tackling, at times, was suspect. Protection broke down at inopportune times and the Falcons did what they do best, gashing the visitors for 356 yards on the ground.
Despite all of that, it's still truly hard to digest the end result.
"It's a learning lesson for us," said Peasley, who completed 15-of-25 throws for 212 yards and three touchdowns in the loss. The senior signal caller also added another score on the ground. "You know, I think we've gotten lucky in some games. I think we've also, in those games, played really well. But today, I think it was two good teams battling ... but, you have to capitalize."
Wyoming, a double-digit underdog playing without the services of its biggest offensive weapon, running back Harrison Waylee, jumped out to a quick 14-0 lead on a pair of long, Air Force-esque drives in the first quarter. Peasley bullied his way into the end zone for the first score. He hit Wyatt Wieland from six yards out on the next.
Air Force answered with a 15-yard touchdown scamper from Owen Burk, but Wyoming appeared to be in cruise control, putting together another nine-play possession, driving down to the Falcons' 28-yard line.
Enter those missed opportunities.
John Hoyland, the Cowboys' All-American placekicker, pushed a 45-yard attempt to the right. It was his second straight miss, dating back to the fourth quarter of last week's win over Fresno State.
On the ensuing Air Force drive, Sabastian Harsh tallied the lone tackle for loss on the night, dropping quarterback Zac Larrier two yards behind the line of scrimmage on a 3rd-and-4 near midfield. The punt team trotted onto the field. The kick never came.
Burk, serving as the upback, took the direct snap and bolted to his right through a gaping hole in the Cowboys' defense. Nearly 40 yards later, Air Force was in business at the Wyoming 17-yard line.
One snap later, Larrier hit John Lee Eldridge III for the equalizer.
"I think anytime a fake punt occurs, you know, typically, it's been my experience, those are going to have a huge impact in the game," Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl said. "But there's other things."
Yes, there were.
Peasley turned an Emmanuel Michel fumble into a 7-yard touchdown toss to tight end Treyton Welch, tying the game at 27-27 with 6:14 remaining in regulation. It would stay that way, too, thanks to a blocked point-after attempt courtesy of a completely unblocked Trey Taylor.
The unthinkable happened on the Falcons next possession. Another fumble, this time Easton Gibbs stripped backup quarterback Jensen Jones, setting the Cowboys up at the 29-yard line with a chance to take a late lead.
Instead of going for the throat, Wyoming's offensive staff, like it's done so many times before, got conservative.
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Two Sam Scott runs up the middle amounted to zero yards. Peasley committed a cardinal sin on third-and-long, taking a sack and the six-yard loss that came with it. Hoyland again missed right, this time from 52 yards out.
"I think I had a few little mistakes that really cost us," Peasley admitted. "I took a sack. We would've had better field position for a field goal for John. I think that's a huge mistake on my part. I missed Will (Pelissier) on a read on third and long on the same play. So, you know, I have to be better and not put my team in that position.
"It's the No. 1 rule in that spot right there is don't take a sack and that's what I did. I'm pretty disappointed in that."
Eldridge took a pitch 58 yards to the end zone three snaps later. That wasn't the worst-case scenario. Air Force, now with a 34-27 lead, left 2:17 on the game clock.
What would the Cowboys do with that precious time?
Facing a 3rd-and-1 from their own 34-yard line, Peasley misfired on a toss to John Michael Gyllenborg. The throw was low. Jayden Goodwin was draped all over him anyway. On fourth down, instead of hammering it up the middle ala Philly "tush push," Peasley, with an outside blitzer in his grill, lofted a low-percentage throw downfield in the general direction of Wieland.
It missed. It was a bizarre call. Game over.
"It hurts," said wide receiver Ayir Asante, who snagged a 14-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter. "You know, we want to go out there, we want to win. This is a game that we felt like we were in all the way to the end, so, I'm not happy. But, again, we're a close-knit group. You know, we band together, we face it together, no pointing fingers or anything like that and move on."
Special teams play has been anything but special of late.
Wyoming gave up an uncontested onside kick against Fresno State. Hoyland clanked a 47-yard field goal off the right upright in that one, too. Clayton Stewart, the Cowboys' senior punter, handed the Falcons prime field position late in the third quarter. That's what 31-yard punts do. Air Force turned that into three more points.
Are there too many cooks in that kitchen?
Bohl coaches the placekickers. Shannon Moore and Benny Boyd carry the co-special teams coordinator titles. Oscar Giles, the defensive tackles coach, freshman coach and run-defense coordinator even handles the block team.
How is Hoyland's confidence after missing three consecutive attempts and having a PAT batted down?
"I'm going to encourage him," Bohl said after an extended pause when asked what he will say to his junior kicker.
What about this team's issue closing out games?
The offense has rolled -- on the ground and through the air -- in the first halves of the last two outings, racking up 45 points. It's arguably never looked better in the Bohl era. The final two frames in those games, however, have produced a grand total of six points, all of which came on that Welch touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Sound like the sky is falling?
This loss certainly makes the climb back to the top a tad steeper, but it's doable and that all starts with a must-win meeting in two weeks against Boise State inside Albertsons Stadium, a venue the Cowboys have never beat the Broncos in before.
Those football gods were busy Saturday night, aiding Colorado State in a miraculous 31-30 win that took an onside kick, a late offensive flurry and a Hail Mary to complete. Boise State collapsed, giving up 21 unanswered points over the final 4:01.
That team is beatable. So is Wyoming until it can learn to put together a full 60 minutes of clean, error-free football.
"I mean, I know how we're going to respond," said Gibbs, who finished with a team high 12 tackles and a pair of forced fumbles (one wasn't called a fumble at the goal line.) "This is one of the most resilient teams I've been around in a long time, we're super close knit. Obviously, this one hurts a lot. We really wanted this one. We really want every one, but I know, coming back, you know, even tomorrow back in the facility, we're all going to be back on board."
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