Tuck’s Takes: Pokes come out swinging early, prove they belong
PROVO, Utah -- The one that got away.
That's certainly what it felt like. I wasn't alone, either.
"I definitely do feel like it is a big missed opportunity," Wyoming defensive tackle Jordan Bertagnole said after the Cowboys fell to BYU 38-24 Saturday night in Provo. "I mean, you saw through most of the game we can play with these guys and we're definitely capable of beating these guys."
The visitors -- who were dubbed 21.5-point dogs in this one -- proved almost immediately that they belonged on the same field with the 19th-ranked team in the country.
On the Cougars first possession, receivers were blanketed. Quarterback Jaren Hall attempted to hang in the pocket and survey. Wyoming didn't oblige, forcing consecutive three-and-outs and allowing just nine yards of total offense.
Meanwhile, Andrew Peasley and Co., for the third straight week, capped an opening double-digit play drive with points on the board. The only downside of these impressive starts is all three culminated with John Hoyland field goals, not touchdowns.
The Cowboys went 57 yards on 10 plays Saturday. They chewed up nearly four minutes of game clock. More importantly, the offensive front bullied BYU at the line, blowing open gaping holes and paving clear lanes for Titus Swen, who rolled up 29 yards on just four carries. Dawaiian McNeely also broke a 19 yarder.
The Cougars (3-1) weren't just on their collective heels, they had grass stains on their rears.
"We thought for a while there we could really establish the line of scrimmage," Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl said. "That was going to keep our offense on the field and keep their prolific offense off the field."
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BYU eventually looked like, well, BYU.
On the third offensive possession, Hall connected with Keanu Hill on a 47-yard pitch and catch down the sideline. Tight end Isaac Rex skied for a 32-yarder in the red zone two plays later. Christopher Brooks put a bow on that lightning-fast four-play drive with a six-yard dash into the end zone.
It appeared the Cowboys had finally woken up the giant, but a common theme we have seen over the previous three weeks once again emerged -- resiliency.
Wyatt Wieland hauled in a 19-yard strike from Peasley on a crucial 3rd-and-7. The junior receiver also added a nine-yard rush. The Colorado Springs product then produced the answer, putting an exclamation mark on a 10-play, 75-yard drive by taking a jet sweep into the end zone from four yards out.
The Cowboys (3-2, 1-0) would force the third BYU punt of the first half on the next possession. With 5:42 to go in the second quarter and the Cowboys leading 10-7, this was an opportune time for Bohl's boys to start to separate.
Despite starting the drive at their own 3-yard line, Peasley calmly hit Swen out of the backfield for a 10-yard gain on a 3rd-and-7. Those two would connect again for nine more yards two snaps later. Wyoming was out of the shadows of its own goal post. A statement drive appeared to be underway.
Then BYU got off the mat.
John Nelson put a halt on the Cowboys hopes, sacking Peasley and handing the ball back to his potent offense with 3:28 to go.
That's an eternity.
And Hall needed all but four seconds of that to guide the Cougars 76 yards on 13 plays. The junior signal caller converted a trio of third-and-long situations. He also completed 6-of-9 throws, including a three-yard dart into the chest of Brayden Cosper that gave the home team a 14-10 advantage at the break.
Turns out that was the first of three straight trips to the end zone for the Cougars, who would eventually pull away in this one.
"Football is a game of momentum, and we had it in the beginning," said Peasley, who completed 14-of-27 passes for 154 yards and two touchdowns in the loss. "You could feel it and see it."
Yes, you could. But then what happened?
You can start with missed tackles. Those were abundant. Why? BYU held on to the ball for 18:26 of the final 30 minutes. Fatigue certainly played a part. So did depth. Bohl said earlier in the week the Cougars rolled out so many different players he needed graduate assistants to keep track for him.
There's another factor, too. The Cougars aren't in the Top 25 by accident.
"I think we need to credit their athleticism to a degree, but some were outside the goal posts of what I would say would be acceptable," Bohl said. "There are going to be some missed tackles, but the number of missed tackles, we need to look at correct angles, posture and all that kind of stuff. I knew we were going to miss some because they are good players, but there were too many that were missed, too many opportunities that we could have turned into long-yardage situations.
"I know our players are frustrated. I'm frustrated with it as well.”
Here's another explanation. To the surprise of no one, BYU has yet another star under center in Hall.
“He’s honestly a stud," said Bertagnole, who along with Cole Godbout and Isaac White led the Cowboys with seven tackles Saturday night. "I mean, he can always make a play out of nothing. Getting out there and knowing how close we are to getting him down, and then seeing him scramble for a first down or throw a ball, is really hard on us up front, because that’s our job to not let him out of the pocket. He definitely was a huge part of this game.”
Bohl couldn't agree more.
“He's poised, he can make all the throws, he's got a great delivery, he's mobile, he's smart, he's excellent and he played really well tonight," he said of Hall, who finished his evening with 337 passing yards and four touchdown tosses. "There are a lot of great ones out there, but he's the best one I've seen this year. You can mark that one down."
While BYU, at times, showed its dominance in all phases of the game, this young Cowboys squad refused to wave the white flag. Peasley tacked on a pair of fourth-quarter touchdown passes. Treyton Welch hauled in a 19 yarder on the first play of the final frame. Joshua Cobbs snagged a four-yard slant with 3:15 to go.
It just wasn't enough.
“Yeah, it felt a little bit like Air Force again," Welch said. "We just came out the first drive and we were moving the ball on them. It gave us hope. We knew we could do this today and it feels like a missed opportunity not being able to capitalize on those opportunities.”
* My thoughts before this one: Shock the world or at least keep it close. The Cowboys chose the latter. It was a valiant effort, but the scoffs received when I asked about "moral victories" postgame were warranted. This team isn't interested in that talk -- and that's a great quality for such a young group. These big, physical teams like BYU can serve as confidence destroyers. That didn't happen Saturday.
* No offense to San Jose State, New Mexico, Utah State, Hawaii, Colorado State and, do I even dare say Boise State, but this upcoming schedule isn't exactly a murder's row. All of Wyoming's goals are still ahead despite the setback in Provo. Theoretically, the slate ahead appears to be plenty favorable. The players know it, too. "I think the conference is a little different this year," Peasley said. "You know, the teams that were at the top aren't really at the top anymore, so I think there's a lot of opportunity for us to continue to improve and keep winning. I know we just lost (to the 19th-ranked team) and they're solid, but it's conference now and I think we have a sincere shot to take it all the way." Wholeheartedly agree, Andrew.
* How bad is the Mountain West Conference this season? CSU (0-4) is an absolute mess after its latest loss, a 41-10 beating in Fort Collins, courtesy of FCS Sacramento State. Defending league champion Utah State fell to 1-3 after dropping a 34-24 decision to upstart UNLV in Logan. Boise State got taken to the woodshed by Dan Dimel's UTEP Miners 27-10 Friday night in El Paso and Hawaii took one on the chin, 45-26, from what quite literally might be the worst team in all of college football, New Mexico State. That Wyoming victory over Air Force could loom very large down the line.
* I love the demeanor of this young team. Last season, we were told how close-knit the locker room was and it was championship or bust. You saw how that turned out. This year, it's not just lip service. These guys truly care about one another. The tears forming in Peasley's eyes during his postgame interview proved that. This group will experience growing pains, but results won't be from lack of effort or care. What else can you ask for?
* Provo is still officially one of the oddest places on planet earth. Parking lots around the college football landscape are typically reserved for fun. At BYU, as you know, their idea of fun is probably a tad different than most brands. There was a magician for the kids, security guards chomping down cotton candy and an old-time reenactment on stage, students dressed in full Pacific Islander and pioneer attire. Not a beer or barbecue in sight. Wyoming, as of now, is not ever scheduled to play in that town ever again. Would you be Ok with keeping it that way? I certainly would.
* I really liked this quote from BYU head coach Kalani Sitake. "We knew it was going to be a physical game, and after last week, it felt good to get hit in the mouth a little bit and respond better," he said. "I appreciate the style of football Wyoming plays because you can’t hide from it." That's quite the compliment coming from a guy with a veteran-laden roster filled with very large human beings.
* A big takeaway for me in Provo was the fact Wyoming controlled the line of scrimmage for a good chunk of the game. One could see how a team could be intimidated going head to head with that lineup. The Cowboys weren't that. They belonged.
* A couple of "what ifs." Swen dropped a screen pass on the Pokes' opening possession that had six written all over it. What if that was a touchdown? Does this game turn out differently? On the following drive, Peasley appeared to have a running lane on a 3rd-and-5 from the Cougars' 49-yard line. Instead, the junior opted to toss one to Cobbs. It missed and the visitors punted. Imagine he picks up that conversion with his legs? They weren't too far from Hoyland's range.
* I asked Bohl if he wants to see his QB utilize his legs more. Here is his response. "Every time he runs, he's not 235 pounds, he's 208," he said with a slight grin. "Yeah, I would like to see him run more, OK, but we have to be guarded on how much exposure he gets. He can really run but I get guarded ..."
* Speaking of what ifs, Bohl said he didn't like the odds of attempting an onside kick with 3:15 to go and his team trailing, 35-24. He also decided to punt the ball away with 7:07 to go in the fourth and his team still trailing by 11. Odd, but if you've followed this team throughout the Bohl era, you know better.