Turning point, unsung hero and what’s next for UW football
LARAMIE -- The entire drive focused around No. 6.
When I say the entire drive, I mean a 17-play, 61-yard clinic that chewed up 8:15 of game clock.
When I say No. 6, I'm talking Xazavian Valladay.
It was a classic Craig Bohl drive.
Wyoming gave the ball to last season's conference leading rusher 10 times. He carried the ball nine times for 33 yards. He snagged an absolute bullet from Levi Williams between three Hawaii defenders on a third-and-eight. The play resulted in a 26-yard catch that Valladay nearly took to the house.
If you aren't a math major, the junior running back accounted for 59 of those yards.
So, there the Cowboys were. It was first-and-goal from the 'Bows 3-yard-line. Already leading 10-0, this was Wyoming's chance to pounce.
Instead, Valladay was taken down in the backfield for a loss of three. Yet another successful Hawaii blitz, one of many throughout the first half. The next play didn't get much more creative, but the results were palatable. Valladay earned five yards the hard way -- right into the teeth of the Hawaii defense -- again.
On third down, Williams, in the shotgun, had just a split second to survey the field. That is until senior linebacker Cortez Davis hammered the redshirt freshman quarterback from the blindside, forcing a fumble all the way back to the Hawaii 19.
It wasn't pretty, but not all was lost, right?
John Hoyland, the Cowboys walk-on freshman placekicker, who up to that point was 5-for-5 on the season, would surely put the Cowboys in front by 13.
The reining Mountain West Special teams Player of the Week missed the 36-yard attempt, giving the Rainbow Warriors the ball and the momentum.
It took just six plays for Chevan Cordeiro to drive the visitors 80 yards in 2:35 seconds. Dae Dae Hunter punched it in from four yards out to get Hawaii on the board.
That series of events closed the gap in this one. Hawaii trailed 10-7 at the half. Fortunately for the Pokes, that was as close as it would get.
On the second drive of the third quarter, the Cowboys marched 75 yards on 11 plays, punctuated by a one-yard touchdown plunge from Trey Smith.
"I was really concerned about it," Bohl said of faltering at the goal line only to see Hawaii go right down the field and score. "... Hawaii has the ability to score quickly. I was concerned at half and talked to our team. We addressed that and I thought they showed some real poise, composure and resolve when our team comes out and reestablished momentum.
"Sometimes when you lose it, it's hard to regain it."
Wyoming rolled in the second half, scoring 21 unanswered points to pull away for its ninth straight win inside War Memorial Stadium. That is also the 15th victory over Hawaii in 25 tries.
Another streak ended Friday, too. Cordeiro is now 5-1 as a starter.
Wyoming 31, Hawaii 7
The Wyoming secondary.
Every single one of those guys.
Last Saturday in Reno, Carson Strong made it look easy against this young defensive backfield, torching the Cowboys for 420 yards and four touchdowns. The coverage was soft. So was the tackling, at times. New defensive coordinator Jay Sawvel took the heat for that. He said he wished he would have tried some different things.
Friday night, he did.
CJ Coldon, Azizi Hearn and Keyon Blankenbaker helped hold the Rainbow Warriors to just 106 yards through the air. Give plenty of credit to Esaias Gandy, Keonte Glinton and Braden Smith, too.
Midway through the second quarter, Hawaii had minus-8 passing yards.
Jared Smart and Rico Bussey Jr. had their way with the Fresno State secondary in Week 1. That duo accounted for 175 of the 'Bows 229 passing yards in a 34-19 road victory.
Friday, Smart caught just four passes for 32 yards. Bussey was shutout.
"We challenged the receivers more," Bohl said. "Last week, we were a little bit passive. We adjusted some things. We eliminated a lot of their primary runs which allowed us to get in different looks and pressure the quarterback.".
“We all wanted to make a statement tonight. We all knew that was not our best performance and we didn't put our best foot forward last week. Coming into this game, we just had to make a statement. No matter what adversity we face, we have to go out and be 1-0 today.”
— Wyoming junior running back Xazavian Valladay when asked if the offensive line played a little "grumpy" after last week's loss to Nevada.
Do I really need to tell you who's next? No. Well, I'm going to anyway. The Pokes' will travel 64 miles south down Highway 287 Thursday night to take on Border War rival Colorado State for the 112th time in the history of these two programs. Wyoming has won four in a row, including eight of the last 11. Bohl's bunch closed down Hughes Stadium with a 38-17 victory in 2016 and opened the Rams' brand-new home, Canvas Stadium, with a 34-21 win two years later. CSU owns the overall series lead, 58-48-5, but since these two started battling for the Bronze Boot in 1968, the Pokes have hoisted the hardware 28 times compared to just 24 for the Rams.