Oct. 15, 2011
Laramie, Wyo. - The Cowboy defense posted one of its best performances of the season to help guide the University of Wyoming football team to a 41-14 homecoming win over UNLV on Saturday in front of 22,985 fans at War Memorial Stadium. UW's fourth-consecutive win over the Rebels in Laramie gave the Cowboys their first Mountain West win and improved them to 4-2 overall.
Wyoming steadily built a 20-0 lead in the first quarter, before the Rebels (1-5) scored two touchdowns of their own to go into halftime down by six. The Cowboy defense stepped up in the second half by forcing five three-and-outs, a turnover on downs and a fumble to allow the UW offense to add 13 more points in the blowout. Wyoming's other score in the second half came courtesy of a 76-yard punt return for a touchdown by junior Chris McNeill.
"I thought our defense came out in the second half, after we really challenged them at halftime, and just shut them down," UW head coach Dave Christensen said. "UNLV got a little momentum in the first half after we turned the ball over on the punt return, and they had to stay out there and gave up the touchdown. From that point on in the game, we just started making plays in all areas."
Senior defensive tackle Gabe Knapton paced UW's defensive effort with 10 tackles and a sack to move into eighth on the school's all-time tackle chart. Fellow senior Brian Hendricks added 10 tackles also, while junior safety Luke Ruff notched 10 stops as well. Junior defensive tackle Ben Durbin added two sacks. Junior Luke Anderson had an interception and Kurt Taufa'asau recovered a fumble for the two turnovers.
"I think it was a great day for the defense," Knapton said. "We showed what we're capable of and what we can do if we all play assignment-sound. We had guys step up like Ben Durbin and Kurt (Tau'fauasau). They did a great job. I think we all came together and got a team win."
Offensively, freshman quarterback Brett Smith tallied 96 passing yards and two touchdowns on a 10-of-19 performance, while adding 59 yards on the ground. Freshman wide receiver Josh Doctson had three catches for 11 yards, as Smith hit eight different Cowboys for completions during the game. Junior running back Alvester Alexander rushed for 74 yards and a touchdown.
"We emphasized playing more disciplined and not having stupid penalties," Christensen said. "Our kids did a great job of that. The main thing is we found a way to win a football game, and that's the bottom line."
Wyoming outgained UNLV 231-154 on the ground and earned a 355-258 advantage in total yards, while going 4-4 in redzone chances. The Rebels committed nine penalties for 73 yards to one for five for UW.
The Cowboys received the ball to start the game and dominated the majority of the first quarter. Smith started the game with a 27-yard rush, before finding freshman wide receiver Dominic Rufran wide open over the middle four plays later for a 41-yard touchdown pass. The drive took just 1:28 and put UW up 6-0 after the Cowboys missed the point-after attempt.
The UW defense showed it came to play also, as Anderson intercepted Sean Reilly on UNLV's first pass attempt and returned the ball 12 yards to the Rebel 43-yard line. The pick was the first of Anderson's UW career. The Cowboys went to the ground on the ensuing drive with six-straight rushes, including a one-yard plunge by Alexander for his 25th career rushing touchdown. The score tied him for fifth all-time in UW's record book, while the extra point put the Cowboys on top 13-0 five minutes into the contest.
The squads exchanged punts, before UNLV crossed midfield for the first time in the game. Durbin came up with a highlight-reel sack on the next play, though, and UNLV was forced back onto its side of the field and into a punt.
UW responded with another touchdown to go up 20-0 with seven seconds left in the first quarter. The Cowboys couldn't convert a fourth-and-six from UNLV's 37, but a pass interference penalty gave UW the first down and Smith tossed his second touchdown pass of the game two plays later. Once again he found a UW receiver wide open over the middle, this time sophomore Spencer Bruce, for the score. The touchdown was the first of Bruce's career.
The Rebels climbed back into the game in the second quarter with two touchdowns of their own. Wyoming muffed a punt that the Rebels jumped on at the UW 29 and punched into the endzone nine plays later. Tim Cornett rushed in from three-yards out with 7:03 left in the half to put UNLV on the scoreboard.
The Rebel defense held the Cowboys to a three-and-out on the next drive and crafted a balanced drive for UNLV's second score of the half. The Rebels' 65-yard march took 2:51 and drew UNLV within 20-14 with 3:12 to go, as the teams would go into the break at the same score.
Smith completed 6-of-12 passes for 83 yards and two touchdowns in the half, while adding 65 yards on the ground. Alexander has 30 rushing yards on five attempts and all six of Smith's completions went to different UW players. Knapton had seven tackles to pace the UW defense. The squads had almost identical stats with total yards at 187-183 UW and rushing yards at 119-104 UNLV.
The Cowboys came out with renewed passion to start the second half, as the Cowboy defense held UNLV to three consecutive three-and-outs and UW put 10 points on the board. Wyoming drove to the UNLV eight on its first drive of the half, before settling for a 24-yard field goal from freshman Daniel Sullivan to extend their lead to 23-14.
The teams exchanged punts again, before McNeill took a UNLV punt 76 yards to the house with 2:50 to go in the third quarter. The play was McNeill's first career punt return for a touchdown and UW's first since 2004.
With two minutes left in the quarter, the Rebels crossed midfield but came up short on a fourth-down attempt. On the drive, Knapton moved into a tie for eighth all-time on UW's tackle chart with 324 stops in his career.
The Cowboys dialed up some trickery to start the fourth quarter with McNeill completing a 28-yard touchdown pass to Smith on the first play. Smith handed off to McNeill on a sweep and snuck out to the left side of the formation, as McNeill stopped and tossed the ball back to him. Smith outran one UNLV defender down the sideline to give UW a commanding 36-14 advantage. McNeill completed a two-point pass attempt on the next play for a 38-14 Wyoming lead. The touchdown pass by McNeill and touchdown catch for Smith were both career firsts.
Wyoming once again held UNLV to a three-and-out, but was forced to punt on their possession as well. The Cowboy defense forced the Rebels into a turnover on UNLV's next drive. Senior defensive end Josh Biezuns sacked Reilly from behind and was able to strip the ball, while Taufa'asau fell on it deep in Rebel territory. An ensuing 28-yard field goal from Sullivan put UW in front 41-14 with 6:18 to go and that's how the game would end.
Knapton earned a sack on a late drive, which moved him into sole possession of eighth on UW's all-time tackle chart.
Wyoming has a bye week, before returning to action on Oct. 29 at San Diego State. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. MT.