First Spring Scrimmage Sees No. 1 Offense and Defense Look Strong for Wyoming Cowboys

March 27, 2010

LARAMIE, Wyo. -

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The No. 1 offense and No. 1 defense looked strong on Saturday in the first of three scheduled spring scrimmages for the Wyoming Cowboys. A number of Cowboy veterans made big plays on both sides of the ball. The offense won the scrimmage, 57-49. Saturday morning's scrimmage featured the No. 1 offense versus the No. 2 defense and No. 2 offense against the No. 1 defense. It included 99 plays over a one and one-half hour period in Wyoming's Indoor Practice Facility.

The No. 1 offense was led by sophomore quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels, who completed 13 of 17 pass attempts (76.5 percent) for 209 yards and no interceptions. Carta-Samuels also led UW in rushing with 80 yards, one rushing touchdown of 12 yards and a total of 289 yards in total offense. His favorite target on the day was senior wide receiver Zach Bolger, who caught a team high six passes for 74 yards. Carta-Samuels was joined in the backfield by sophomore running back Alvester Alexander, who carried the ball 14 times for 59 yards and three rushing touchdowns. All five of the offense's touchdowns on the day came on the ground. Redshirt freshman running back Tedder Easton added the fifth rushing TD.

The No. 1 defense saw junior middle linebacker Brian Hendricks intercept a pass and return it 64 yards for a touchdown. Hendricks added five tackles, including 1.0 tackle for a loss. The leading tackler for the starting defense was junior Gabe Knapton, who had 10 tackles on the day, including 1.0 sack for a -7 yards and 1.5 tackles for losses for eight yards. This spring Knapton has moved from an inside linebacker spot in Wyoming's former 3-4 defense to a defensive end spot in the Pokes' new 4-3 defensive alignment. Sophomore outside linebacker Ghaali Muhammad ranked second to Knapton in tackles with eight. Senior free safety Chris Prosinski and redshirt freshman outside linebacker Todd Knight each has six tackles.

"Our number one offense consistently moved the ball and made some big plays, and the number one defense held the number two offense from scoring on all but one possession -- a field goal," said head coach Dave Christensen. "We have a lot of things to clean up though -- too many penalties in particular. We did a much better job of protecting the football today. The defense did a good job of getting an interception for a touchdown. I thought we made some improvement on special teams, as well. Overall, it was a real good day."

There were no fumbles on the day, and only one interception. A near fumble was ruled an incomplete pass. The offense did commit nine penalties for 65 yards, including six false starts. UW's defense had two penalties for 24 yards, one on a personal foul that resulted in the lone score against the No. 1 defense -- a 44-yard field goal by sophomore Ian Watts. The other defensive penatly came on a pass interference call.

Saturday's big plays included passes of 48 yards from Carta-Samuels to senior wide receiver Travis Burkhalter and 38 yards from Carta-Samuels to Bolger. Burkhalter ended the day with two catches for 52 yards. His 48-yarder set up a three-yard TD run by Easton. Bolger's 38-yard reception preceded an 18-yard touchdown run by Alexander on the very next play. A third pass play of 22 yards from Carta-Samuels to sophomore wide receiver Chris McNeill put the ball on the three-yard line and led to a three-yard touchdown run by Alexander. Senior wide receiver David Leonard caught a 21-yard pass from Carta-Samuels on the final possession of the scrimmage. That 21-yard reception set up a 19-yard field goal by Watts during a two-minute drill. Leonard had three catches for 35 yards on Saturday.

In addition to the interception return for a touchdown by Hendricks, the defense recorded 4.0 sacks for a -29 yards and 8.0 tackles for losses for a -39. Four different Cowboys recorded sacks on the day. Joining Knapton, who had 1.0 for a -7 yards, was junior defensive end Josh Biezuns (1 sack for -9 yards), redshirt sophomore defensive tackle Eric Brooks (1 sack for -5 yards) and redshirt freshman defensive tackle Patrick Mertens (1 sack for -8 yards). Biezuns, like Knapton, was a starting linebacker last year who is being converted to defensive end in the new 4-3 defense.

A Wyoming native, Kevin Bell, has walked on to the Cowboy roster this spring as a place-kicker. Bell played his high school football at Kelly Walsh High School in Casper. He could be seen rotating into the scrimmage for field-goal and point-after-touchdown attempts with the returning starter Watts.

"Ideally you want competition at every position," said Christensen. "Kevin (Bell) is providing us someone for Ian (Watts) to compete with -- competition makes everyone better. Ian hit some good kicks today. It will be tough to find someone to beat him out -- he's a pretty good kicker."

Watts converted all four of his field-goal attempts from 35 yards, 44, 25 and 19. Bell converted both of his field-goal attempts from 35 and 25. He didn't get to attempt a third field goal from 44 yards due to a dropped snap. Watts was 3 of 3 in PATs, while Bell was 4 of 4. Sophomore strong safety Luke Ruff blocked a fourth attempt by Watts, but that attempt was charged to the Team not Watts individually.

True freshman running back Nehemie Kankolongo didn't participate in Saturday's scrimmage. When asked about Kankolongo's injury Christensen said.

"Nehemie (Kankolongo) has an MCL sprain, but it won't require any surgery. He will miss the rest of spring, but will be ready to go by fall."

That offers senior running back Darius Terry an opportunity to share more carries with Alexander and Easton.

"It's a huge opportunity for Darius (Terry), because he's going to get a lot of reps," said Christensen. "We only have three running backs available this spring, so we'll run them all through evenly and evaluate the film. They're all three going to get a lot of work."

Christensen had previously commented that his offensive coaching staff was experimenting with a number of offensive linemen at new positions this spring, and he feels like that experimentation has gone well.

"I think we're making progress on the offensive line," said Christensen. "You like it when the number one offense comes out, works together as a unit and executes. We had to overcome some things with penalties, but made some big third-down plays. We did a good job throwing the ball down the field, which something we have to do to stretch the field and run our offense the way we want to -- so I feel good about that."

The second-year head coach is also very pleased with what he has seen in the defense's transition from a 3-4 defensive scheme to a 4-3.

"I feel good about the direction we're going with our new defense," said Christensen. "After seeing us today and for a few scrimmage plays on Thursday, I like the way the defense is playing. We've got a lot of speed out there. We have a lot to learn, but in six short practices I think they're doing a tremendous job of working extremely hard, getting to the football and playing physical."

Christensen said he thought the Cowboys had come through practice with no new injuries. In addition to Kankolongo, defensive linemen Max Gustafson, Mike Purcell and Alex Stover and wide receivers James Davis and David Tooley all missed the scrimmage due to prior injuries.

The scoring system that was utilized in the scrimmage awarded the offense and defense points based on certain plays. The offense earned a normal six points for a touchdown, one point for a point-after-touchdown, two points for a two-point PAT and three points for a field goal. In addition, the offense earned one point for each play of 20+ yards and one point for each first down.

The defense earned five points each for an interception or a recovered fumble. A return of an interception or fumble recovery for a TD awarded the defense 12 points. The defense earned three points for a blocked field goal or for stopping the offense on a fourth-down play on the offense's side of the 50. Two points were awarded to the defense for a safety, a quarterback sack, stopping the offense on a fourth-down play on the defense's side of the 50 or stopping a two-point conversion attempt. Finally one point was earned by the defense for forcing a punt, forcing a missed field goal, tackling a ball carrier for a loss of yardage, blocking a point-after-touchdown attempt or for holding the offense to a field goal after the offense began its series in the red-zone (inside the defense's 20-yard line).

The Cowboys return to the practice field for two practices next Tuesday and Thursday at 3:30 p.m. each day. They will take next Saturday off for Easter weekend.