Tuck’s Takes: Ugly? Yes. A Wyoming Win? Also, Yes
LARAMIE -- "We gotta believe, man."
That's what Wyoming's left tackle Frank Crum said he told quarterback Andrew Peasley before he took a fourth-quarter snap, turned and stuck the ball in the belly of Harrison Waylee, who raced 75-yard untouched into the end zone.
That bred belief. Not much else on this bizarre night in Laramie did.
That was the word I used -- over and over again -- to describe the first three quarters of the Cowboys' what-the-hell-did-I just-witness 22-19 victory over visiting Appalachian State.
"Just when I think I've seen it all -- in 40 years (of coaching) -- I have not seen it all," Wyoming's head coach Craig Bohl said with a slight head shake.
You truly had to see it to believe it.
Let's get the ugly out of the way first. There was lots of it.
Peasley, making his return under center after sitting out last Saturday night in Austin with an AC sprain in his throwing shoulder, completed just 5-of-15 throws on the night for 31 yards. There was also an interception -- not entirely his fault -- returned for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter.
That's when the dirt started softly landing on Wyoming's grave.
Or so we thought.
"Anytime you score a touchdown on defense, you should win the football game," App State head coach Shawn Clark said postgame. "That wasn't the case tonight."
The Cowboys managed just 119 yards of total offense through three quarters. Waylee accounted for 70 of those on his own. Clayton Stewart was a busy man in this one. He trotted onto the field eight times through three quarters.
He's the punter.
Five times tonight this Wyoming offense, which ran just 42 plays, went three-and-out. It picked up just seven first downs all night, 20 short of what the Mountaineers racked up in 40-plus minutes on the field.
To make matters even worse, the home team committed seven first-half penalties, four of which were false starts and another for a delay of game. UW came into this game with just 11 flags against all season, one of the best marks in the country. When the dust settled, Bohl's bunch was hit with eight of those for 65 yards.
"It was undisciplined and unfocused football," Crum said. "So, that's something we have to take pride in, acknowledge it and that it was a problem for us, and we have to fix it."
MORE UW FOOTBALL NEWS VIA 7220SPORTS:
All the ugliness of this one doesn't just rest on the offense's shoulders, either. Though that unit has gotten the brunt of the blame for the problems around here since a guy named Allen left for the NFL -- and deservedly so -- it was the Cowboys defense that struggled to get off the field.
Four times App State went on drives that consisted of at least a dozen plays, including an 18-play, 55-yard drive that began midway through the fourth quarter. The visitors picked up four maddening third-down conversions -- they were 10-of-19 in that category in this one -- playing the ultimate version of Air Force-esque keep away from the Cowpokes.
It almost worked, too.
"It was a weird feeling," said linebacker Easton Gibbs, who led the team with 10 tackles. "I have not been a part of the game like that."
Wyoming had only allowed its first three opponents to average 122 yards on the ground. That number is inflated thanks to a 185-yard performance from Texas a week ago, 61 coming on a Jonathon Brooks' run. Tonight, the Mountaineers, led by Nate Noel, FBS's second-leading rusher, rolled up 217. App State added 200 more through the air.
Tired of the doom and gloom?
Jay Sawvel's defense did force two turnovers in this one, both courtesy of nickelback Wrook Brown. He scooped up a lateral in the second quarter to set up the Cowboys first touchdown of the night and snagged a sailing Joey Aguilar throw over the middle to send App State packing.
Wyoming also forced a turnover on downs in the first half. DeVonne Harris met Noel in the hole on a 4th-and-1. Harris won that one.
Believe it or not, the Mountaineers never scored an offensive touchdown in this game. Michael Hughes booted through four field goals and Tyrek Funderburk picked off Peasley in the fourth and returned it 18 yards for a score.
There was a fifth field-goal attempt, too.
"I just went over to the right side," UW cornerback Jakorey Hawkins said. "I was on the left side at first. Something just told me to go on the right side."
Whoever that was in the senior's ear made all the difference.
The Ole Miss transfer was in the right place at the right time after Harris said he "palmed" the try, batting it back toward the App State side of the field. Hawkins, who was clocked at 22 miles per hour in an SEC game, scooped up the loose change and flew 62 yards down the sideline, giving the Cowboys a brief 20-19 lead.
"It felt great, man," Hawkins added.
That score wouldn't hold up for long.
John Michael Gyllenborg took a handoff on the sweep on the following play, and thanks to a few of his brown-and-gold buddies, crossed the white stripe to put two more points on the scoreboard.
That, turns out, was a crucial conversion.
Aguliar and Co. were well within range to tie this one with just a handful of ticks remaining on the clock. Brown didn't allow that to happen.
There are more questions than answers after this improbable win.
What was wrong with Peasley? Can he bounce back? Is he the guy? We saw him rebound after an abysmal performance in the 2022 opener at Illinois. You remember that 5-for-20 outing. The next Saturday he was crowned the conference player of the week.
Peasley said postgame he is healthy, adding the offense was just "out of sync."
Why is this defense struggling so badly on third down? Over the last three games, opponents have converted 25-of-51 of those opportunities. Wyoming has just eight sacks so far. Wasn't that supposed to be a strength?
Is this type of play sustainable, especially with Mountain West play on the horizon? The obvious answer to that is a resounding "no."
That's where the real belief kicks in.
This team hasn't scratched the surface of its potential. A complete game has not been put together yet -- by a long shot. Yes, there were plenty of alarming visuals on this field tonight, but the Cowboys are 3-1.
Ask App State if they want to trade places.
"We're coming away with these wins," Crum said. "I mean, we're the 'Cardiac Cowboys' -- and we can't keep shooting ourselves in the foot -- but we're still coming away with wins. So, it's encouraging to know we have a lot to build on. There's still a lot out there for us."
"Winning is hard," Peasley added. "And we won. That's always a thing to celebrate ... There's going to be that game where one side is off and the other side has to pick us up. I think that's what makes us a good team. A really good team."
Bohl agreed, adding his team never became fractured on the sideline.
"We beat a really good football team in an unconventional way," he said. "We're going to take it. I mean, we're 3-1, so we're celebrating the win. We have a lot of work to do, but I'm going to enjoy tonight."
You should, too.
Wyoming 22, App State 19
Just The Facts: Size Doesn't Matter For Wyoming's War Memorial Stadium
- Just The Facts: Size Doesn't Matter For Wyoming's War Memorial Stadium