Tuck’s Takes: Not all heroes wear capes
LARAMIE -- "How about Easton's super-hero effort?"
That's what linebackers coach Aaron Bohl emphasized to me, adding a quick smile and a slight head shake, as he walked through the War Memorial Stadium press box after halftime of Friday night's meeting with Air Force.
A source pregame indicated it had been a long, rough night for the Wyoming sophomore. Tales of violent vomiting and spiking fevers followed. Drastic weight loss -- 12-to-14 pounds -- also drew attention. It was an unknown illness, one that was likely going to keep the team's leading tackler in the training room in street clothes.
To make matters worse, those guys in the other locker room also happened to feature the nation's top rushing attack. Air Force's vaunted triple-option offense was on the docket and it was bringing its 508-yard average with it.
No Easton Gibbs? No chance, right?
"I was told Easton is not going to play and you could tell there was some concerns," UW head coach Craig Bohl said, adding that he learned of this development before the "Cowboy Walk" more than two hours before kickoff. "In this game plan, the middle linebacker is the bell cow."
He's not kidding.
In last year's meeting with the Falcons in Colorado Springs, Chad Muma led all tacklers with 12. In the 2019 tilt, Logan Wilson also racked up double-digit stops. Those guys today collect paychecks with the NFL shield on them.
Read Sunn, a redshirt freshman from Alaska, got the nod in this one. In disbelief, he joked that he thought his teammates were messing with him at breakfast when they were dishing out some friendly motivation. Until that jaunt from the team hotel, he had no idea Gibbs was scratched.
Like always, the captains trot on the field to lead warmups. No. 28 was nowhere to be found.
It appeared the worst-case scenario was now a reality.
That is until midway through the Cowboys' 15-play, 73-yard opening drive that chewed up 7:28 off the clock and culminated with a 20-yard field goal off the right foot of John Hoyland. During that extended possession, Gibbs quietly snuck out of the dressing room and onto the UW sideline.
Still, Sunn entered the game on the Falcons' opening snap. In fact, he aided in the first two tackles of the night.
Then the unthinkable happened -- Gibbs checked into the lineup.
How improbable was this? Hear it from the man himself.
"I was just up all night. I was throwing up and had high fevers. I was sitting around like 104 (degrees) an hour before game time." Gibbs said postgame, still pale and obviously exhausted. "So, that's when they kind of pulled the plug on me. Then I got on another IV, then something magical happened and it dropped me down a little bit. I got taped and just ran out there."
And the weight loss?
"Yeah, probably around like 12 pounds last night," he added.
Air Force quarterback Haaziq Daniels took a snap under center and attempted to bolt to his left. Before he could even put his plant foot in the ground, Gibbs was plastering him in the Falcons' backfield for a one-yard loss.
For good measure, he tallied his second tackle of the night on the very next play.
Gibbs finished with six stops in the win, including three of the solo variety, as the Cowboys limited Air Force to just 171 rushing yards on 40 attempts, 337 yards below its season average.
Bohl said he even gave the game ball to team doctor Matthew Boyer for "getting Easton right."
The stats were important. The impact of his return, invaluable.
"I think it was a really big boost just because he's one of our leaders on the defensive side," said nose guard Cole Godbout, who led the Cowboys Friday night with nine tackles. "So, when he's out, you know, that kind of worries us just because he's one of our better players."
The slogan "Cowboy Tough" looks good on t-shirts. It's neat to plaster on weight room walls and spew into microphones from behind wooden podiums. It's another thing to witness it firsthand. This heroic effort wasn't to end up the subject of a column like this one. Praise? Gibbs isn't that type of guy.
Why did he go through all of this to get on the field?
The same reason Wilson and Muma played in perceived "meaningless" bowl games despite a pro payday right around the corner -- it's simply their job.
"I love every guy on his team," Gibbs said. "So, it was hard for me, sitting there and not being with them this afternoon and just kind of knowing that at some point they told me I wasn't going to play.
"So, it was hard. Then, I just really pushed through and told myself, you know, I have to give it a shot. I just went out and did that."
Yes you did. And it won't soon be forgotten around here.
Wyoming 17, Air Force 14
Got anymore of them game balls?
Twelve passes, 12 runs.
That's what Wyoming's offensive play chart looked like after the first 24 plays of Friday night's victory over Air Force.
Tim Polasek, the Cowboys' second-year offensive coordinator, dialed up three straight passes to open the game. Crazy, right? Three of the next four calls also featured an Andrew Peasley throw.
Vince Lombardi said it best: "What the hell is going on out there?"
What was going on was cushion on the outside. Lots of it.
You might recall, UW went with the same strategy in the home opener, playing off Tulsa's wide receivers all afternoon. You know how that ended: 460 passing yards, the most allowed in the Bohl era.
While Peasley and Co. didn't put up gaudy numbers like that, what they did do was take what the defense gave them and exploited it. Ball control via the pass, if you will.
"There was space out there," Bohl said. "Once again, I thought our guys really did a great job designing, knowing what we could execute and spreading the ball out. That was going to soften the front, which was going to help. Later on, those defensive tackles' pads get high. You take the ball out wide, move the chains (and have a) high completion percentage.
"They gave us space and we took it."
MORE UW FOOTBALL NEWS FROM 7220SPORTS:
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* Rants & Raves: Air Force Edition
* Behind the numbers: Wyoming vs. Air Force
* Turning point, unsung hero and what's next for UW football
* Wyatt Wieland looking for elusive win over hometown team, little brother
Peasley finished his day 18-of-23 for 162 yards, including a 14-yard touchdown toss to tight end Treyton Welch. His one major mistake was a telegraphed strike fired right into the gut of Air Force safety Trey Taylor on the opening play of the second quarter.
His 78% completion rate made up for that. Eight different receivers also got on the stat sheet.
I've been critical of Polasek in this space early this season. Peasley obviously never got into a rhythm in the season opener at Illinois, completing just 5-of-20 throws for 30 yards and a pick. Three straight three-and-outs to begin the second half against Tulsa left little to be desired, too.
So did the lack of time management at the end of the half in last Saturday's 33-10 victory over Northern Colorado. UW scored just nine first-half points and went into the locker room with all three timeouts and the ball near midfield all while having one of the best kickers in the country at their disposal.
Friday, Polasek put together a masterful game plan. The head coach agreed.
"I'm going to say it right now, too, I thought Tim Polasek dialed up some unbelievable plays," Bohl said. "You know, we did a couple plays there that we hadn't shown anything. And so, mixed and matched and it was at the right time."
Here's a prime example of what he's talking about.
Facing a 2nd-and-9 at the Air Force 34 and trailing 14-10 late in the fourth quarter, Peasley maneuvered around a pair of pass rushers and dumped a dangerous-looking screen pass right into the hands of tight end Parker Christensen. The Sheridan product hauled it in before turning up field and dodging and weaving his way through the Falcons' secondary before being dropped at the five.
Titus Swen, with a little shove from his buddies, found the end zone one snap later.
Defensive coordinator Jay Sawvel is obviously owed a game ball for that dominant performance on the other side of the ball, but let's be real, did we have high expectations that this offense could consistently move the ball, control the clock and punch it in against that team?
Polasek is my MVP in this one. And it's not particularly close.
Watch this video, then we'll talk:
Some weren't happy with the passionate postgame interview CBS conducted with Swen after Friday night's win.
Don't count me as one of those people.
This young Wyoming roster is loaded with high-character guys. I have yet to meet one that I have one negative thing to say about. That's the truth. Punter Ralph Fawaz writes to ask how my 10-month-old daughter, Holland, is doing. Wide receiver Wyatt Wieland last week apologized for not telling me happy birthday.
Good dudes. All of them.
If this lineup is lacking one thing, it's big personalities. In the era of the NIL, that's not a great trait to have. When you play for Bohl, it is. Some commentators on social media thought Swen was disrespectful to a military academy. Most, thankfully, took it for what it was -- catching up with a high-energy player who just rushed for 102 yards and put a bow on a rivalry win with a 17-yard pick up on a 3rd-and-13.
There's a keyword there: "Rivalry."
Some won't admit the annual meeting between these two programs is one of those types of games. News flash: it is. The Falcons now hold a 30-27-3 edge in the overall series. The longest win streak for either team is five. Air Force pulled that off between 2006-10.
We all know about the infamous "Howdy Doody" postgame meltdown from former UW head coach Dave Christensen. There's also the 1988 comeback that saw the Cowboys overcome a 38-17 fourth-quarter deficit in Colorado Springs and pull off a 48-45 victory en route to the school's second straight WAC Championship. There was another pretty epic Air Force meltdown in snowy Laramie in 2018, blowing a 27-14 lead midway through the final frame.
If Troy Calhoun doesn't want to call this a rivalry, fine. Maybe you even agree with Air Force's head coach, but the proof is in the pudding.
I love Swen's reaction. I love his words. I love his enthusiasm.