April 2, 2011
On a bright, sunny morning with temperatures in the mid-60s, the Wyoming Cowboy Football team conducted its second major scrimmage of the spring on Saturday. This time the Cowboys were able to scrimmage outside in War Memorial Stadium, and it was the Poke Defense that led the way, posting a 72-41 victory over the offense. The scrimmage lasted for approximately one and one-half hours and included the exact number of plays (116) that were run in UW's first scrimmage a week ago. Last week's scrimmage was held indoors in Wyoming's Indoor Practice Facility and was won by the offense, 55-37. A unique scoring system, allowing both the offense and defense to score points for specific types of plays, was utilized to score both scrimmages.
UW's defense came up with three interceptions on the day -- one by junior defensive end Mat Birkeness, one by junior free safety Kenny Browder and the third by junior cornerback James Caraway. Birkeness and Browder intercepted redshirt freshman quarterback Emory Miller while Caraway's interception came off of true freshman QB Brett Smith. Caraway returned his interception 23 yards. All three of the defenders also recorded five tackles apiece. Birkeness' five tackles included 3.0 tackles for losses for a minus nine yards and 0.5 sacks for a minus three yards.
Other Cowboy defenders who had strong days were: senior free safety Eric Mitchell, who had a team high eight tackles and one pass breakup; sophomore linebacker Todd Knight (seven tackles); junior strong safety Luke Ruff (six tackles); sophomore defensive end Max Gustafson (six tackles); and senior defensive end Josh Biezuns (five tackles). The defense also did an outstanding job of eliminating penalties, committing only one penalty for two yards on the day.
The Cowboy Offense scored three touchdowns on Saturday -- two rushing touchdowns and one through the air. Emory Miller scored the first touchdown for the offense on a three-yard run that capped a six-play 65-yard drive in which Miller led the No. 1 offense against the No. 1 defense. On that drive, Miller completed passes of 33 yards to sophomore running back Brandon Miller and 17 yards to sophomore tight end Spencer Bruce. The second TD of the day for the offense came on a 10-yard pass from Brett Smith to sophomore running back Nehemie Kankolongo. The touchdown pass concluded a six-play, 45-yard drive by the No. 2 offense against the No. 1 defense. The third and final touchdown for the Cowboy offense came from running back Brandon Miller, who on the first play of a red-zone offensive period took the ball into the end zone from four yards out with the No. 1 offense facing the No. 2 defense.
On the day, quarterbacks Miller and Smith had very similar numbers. Miller completed 13 of 22 passes (59.1 percent) for 155 yards, had one rushing touchdown and threw two interceptions. Smith completed 16 of 22 passes (72.7 percent) for 108 yards, threw one touchdown pass and one interception. Neither quarterback had a good day rushing the ball, due to an aggressive Cowboy defense that recorded 7.0 total sacks for a -50 yards and 14 total tackles for losses of -55 yards. Miller gained 33 yards rushing, but lost 39 yards in sacks and tackles for losses, which netted him a minus six yards rushing. Smith gained 14 yards rushing, but lost 21 due to sacks and TFLs for a net minus seven yards rushing.
Unlike the defense, the offense was not able to eliminate penalties, committing six penalties for 41 yards.
"As in any scrimmage, there is good and bad," said third-year head coach Dave Christensen. "If there is a good play made offensively there has probably been a mistake made on defense, and if there is a big play on defense then the offense has made a mistake.
"Defensively today, I thought we played pretty well most of the scrimmage. I'm pleased with the progress the defense is making. There is no secret that most of the experience on this football team is on the defensive side of the ball. We probably have 15 to 20 kids that we can play on defense, which is exciting to have some depth, finally.
"Offensively, we had far too many penalties -- six on our offensive line. They have to perform better and we've got to get that corrected. I thought a couple times our offense was able to make plays when we got our tempo up and got moving quicker, but clearly our defense is ahead of our offense at this time.
"It was also good to see our defense force some turnovers today, because we weren't able to create any takeaways a week ago. But as a head coach, you're looking at both sides of the ball, and I'm disappointed that we committed turnovers today after not giving up the ball once a week ago."
Offensive leaders on Saturday included sophomore running backs Brandon Miller and Kankolongo. Miller carried the ball 14 times for 55 yards and one rushing touchdown. Kankolongo rushed the ball 11 times for 45 yards. The two tied for the second best receiving day, each catching four passes. Miller totalled 36 receiving yards on his four receptions. Kankolongo had 16 yards receiving and caught one TD pass.
The leading receiver -- both in terms of catches and receiving yards -- for the Cowboy offense was sophomore wide receiver Robert Herron, who had seven receptions for 60 yards. Sophomore tight end Spencer Bruce, caught three passes for 35 yards. Senior wide receiver Mazi Ogbonna had three catches for 30. Junior wide receiver Chris McNeill also had three receptions for 22 yards, and senior wideout Jonathan Aiken caught three for 20 yards.
Christensen reserved judgement on the performance of individual offensive players until he and his staff had an opportunity to review tape of the scrimmage.
"The quarterbacks, along with the rest of the offense, didn't play well enough to win today," said Christensen. "Until we watch the tape of the scrimmage, it's hard for me to determine whether it was the quarterbacks, the line or what positions that led to some of the breakdowns offensively."
The Pokes were able to get some good kicking work in before and during the second major spring scrimmage. Competition between the three place-kickers currently in camp continued to be close. Two redshirt freshmen, Stuart Williams and Everett Scott, and senior linebacker Oliver Schober all attempted kicks. Williams was 3 of 5 (.600) on his field-goal attempts, connecting from 30, 33 and 35 yards. His misses came from 38 and 39. Scott was also 3 of 5 (.600). His successful attempts were from 35, 38 and 39 yards, while he missed from 30 and 33. Schober led the way on Saturday, successfully converting 4 of 5 (.800) field goals. Schober hit from 30, 35, 38 and 39. His only miss was from 33 yards out. Schober made both of his PAT attempts. Williams was also 2 of 2 in extra-point attempts, while Scott was 1 of 2 in PATs.
For the first time this spring, scrimmaging outside allowed the punters to see some action. Four-year starter and senior Austin McCoy punted six times for a 52.3-yard average. His long punt was 72 yards. Redshirt freshman Austin Woodward punted four times for a 51.5 average, with a long of 68 yards.
The Cowboys return to practice on Monday, April 4 for what will be their final week of spring drills. Only four practices remain out of 15 total spring practice sessions. Wyoming will practice on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday next week. The final practice on Saturday, April 9 will be the annual Spring Game. The Spring Game is scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. It will be free and open to the public. Weather permitting, it will be held in War Memorial Stadium. In case of poor weather, the Spring Game will be moved to the Indoor Practice Facility.
"We'll have another physical, competitive practice on Monday," said Christensen. "Our goal for the final week will be the same as it is throughout spring -- continue to work hard to get better and get ready for our final scrimmage next Saturday."
The scoring system utilized in Saturday's 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. If they return an interception or fumble recovery for a TD, the defense received 12 points. The defense earned three points for forcing a punt, blocking a field goal or by 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 missed field goal, tackling a ball carrier for a loss of yardage, blocking a point-after-touchdown attempt or when holding the offense to a field goal after the offense began its series in the red-zone (inside the defense's 20-yard line).