Wyoming’s young defensive tackles are growing up quickly
LARAMIE -- "Yeah, coach, we got this."
That's the feedback Oscar Giles received from his defensive tackles during a television timeout early in the fourth quarter last Saturday night with Colorado State perched at the 8-yard line, preparing for a 1st-and-goal situation.
Why is that significant?
For one, a touchdown would've given the Rams a commanding 20-7 advantage with time dwindling. Mainly, the players looking their coach square in the eye were Gavin Meyer and Caleb Robinson.
They are sophomores.
They are rotation guys.
They weren't supposed to be in this position in the first place.
Wyoming's All-Mountain West nose tackle Cole Godbout has missed the previous four games with a lower-leg injury. His running mate in the interior, Jordan Bertagnole, went down in the third quarter inside Canvas Stadium and never returned.
The kids were tasked with picking up the slack. They did.
UW linebacker Easton Gibbs wrapped up Avery Morrow in the backfield for a loss of one on the first snap. CSU running back once again got the ball on second. He earned three yards the tough way. On third down, Rams' quarterback Clay Millen looked for an opening on the left side. For a split second, the hole was there, too.
DeVonne Harris and Meyer closed it.
CSU settled for a 23-yard chip shot. Its lead grew to six. It could've been much worse.
"It gave me chills," said Giles, the Cowboys' first-year defensive tackles coach. "When you have guys saying that, you're like, the maturity in this team is growing. It's still a young team, but they are maturing. They say, 'We've been here before. We're going to do this.'
"Gavin said, 'Hey, we're going to win this game. Don't worry about it."
Where does this confidence stem from?
Meyer, who tallied seven tackles in the 14-13 Border War victory, handed that credit to the culture in this program. Though Godbout and Bertagnole weren't on the field, they set the expectations.
"We trust in each other no matter who is out there," the 6-foot-4, 279-pound Wisconsin native said. "You have to have that confidence every play."
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With 10:47 remaining in regulation, the Rams were facing a 3rd-and-6 from the Pokes' 26-yard line. Trailing by one, CSU went back to the ground and its workhorse, Morrow. The 5-foot-11, 210-pound junior took the handoff and darted to his left. Shae Suiaunoa and Robinson were waiting for him.
Michael Boyle once again trotted onto the field. This time, a 40-yard field goal would give the home team a 16-14 lead.
This time, he missed.
Robinson, a 6-foot-2, 300-pound Omaha product, had just 20 tackles to his credit entering the season. Through 10 games, he's tacked on 10 more, including three stops in a 28-14 win over Utah State in late October.
"He has a natural D-lineman body," Giles said. "His lower body is solid. He's just got to continue working on finishing plays. Since training camp, he's really improved on his pad level."
Meyer agreed, adding Robinson also has the mentality to man the trenches.
"He'll get fired up and he'll really give it his all. I mean, every single play," he said. "He'll be taking up two or three guys and pushing the pocket and reaching for the quarterback."
What makes Meyer so special?
"He uses his hands very well and he stays on his feet," Giles said. "At the end of the day, at our position, you have to be able to change direction. His relentless attitude and running to the ball has always helped him."
Giles knows what a legit tackle is supposed to look like.
After a standout career at the University of Texas, one where he became a semifinalist for the Outland Trophy, an award given to the nation's top interior lineman, Giles went on to play for the Atlanta Falcons and spent time in the Canadian Football League. As a coach, Giles helped lead his alma mater to a national championship in 2005.
He's coached former college stars like Jackson Jeffcoat, Sam Acho, Alex Okafor, Sergio Kindle, Joseph Ossai and many, many others.
Where does this current group stack up?
"I've been very fortunate to be around some great teams at different places," Giles said. "But this team here, you can tell they have some of those same qualities. No one cares about who gets the credit, but everyone cares about finding a way."
Wyoming needs to find a way to beat Boise State Saturday night in Laramie. The winner will take over sole possession of first place in the Mountain Division with one week remaining in the regular season. The Cowboys still could be without Godbout. Bertagnole plans on giving it a go, he said, but that's no guarantee.
Giles knows full well the task at hand. No matter who is in the lineup, he said this group just keeps putting their heads down and going to work.
"I'm just excited about the way these guys are getting better each and every week," he said. "I get it, you want the W's -- and we've been very fortunate to get the W's -- but to me, it's a progression each and every week -- are you getting better?
"I think we have taken steps every week."
Kickoff is scheduled for 5 p.m. and the game will be televised on CBS Sports Network.
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