Wyoming's Second Spring Scrimmage Sees Improvement in Passing Game

April 12, 2014


Scrimmage Stats Get Acrobat Reader

Saturday's second Spring scrimmage for the Wyoming Cowboys saw a much sharper Cowboy team on both sides of the ball, with the offense displaying an improved passing game and the defense continuing to show that it has the ability to pressure the quarterback. Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl shared his thoughts with media after the one and one-half hour scrimmage concluded at 1 p.m.

"I thought it was a really good effort today," said Bohl. "We made progress from the first scrimmage to the second one. Certainly there were areas of improvement and much more aggressive play. I thought by and large we were very disciplined with few penalties. During the course of a spring when you're adding all these new offensives sets and formations and movements -- that is good discipline by our football team.

"There were big plays offensively, which is exciting to see. On the flip side as a defensive coach, you get a little concerned about those things, but you're never going to have everything perfect.

"I thought our defensive line played well, particularly Patrick Mertens had a strong presence on our defensive front. Blair Burns did some great things at the corner position -- not only on coverage but also I thought he had some real crisp tackles.

"We're in the middle of a competitive quarterback competition. Coach (Brent) Vigen and I will spend a great deal of time going through our tape and staging our depth chart. I would think that we are still going to be evaluating that (the quarterback competition) during the course of Spring, but there were some good things offensively.

"D.J. (May) did a great job running the football. I would like him to get a little bit better at putting his foot in the ground and going north and south, but he did make a couple guys miss today.

"Overall, good progress today but still more room to improve."

Bohl was asked if anything stood out to him today in regard to the quarterback competition.

"Today we did not have them (the quarterbacks) in blue jerseys," said Bohl. "They were all exposed to tackling. I feel like it is important for us to recognize what it feels like to take a sack. Also from a defensive perspective, it's important to make sure you've got your rush lanes taken care of. I thought our guys utilized their feet well.

"The ball was on the ground a little bit too much today. We exposed them (the quarterbacks) to some risk of injury today, but we've got to have a clear evaluation. Each guy did some things well. I'd like to take a look at the tape before I make a broad-based comment on them (the quarterbacks).

"I thought today we did make significant improvement. I think they (quarterbacks) are gaining more confidence in understanding our system."

Senior Colby Kirkegaard led the way for the quarterbacks in Saturday's second Spring scrimmage, completing 8 of 12 passes for 126 yards and one touchdown. Fellow senior QB Sam Stratton was close behind, completing 7 of 10 pass attempts for 69 yards and two touchdowns. Sophomore Tom Thornton hit on 4 of 5 pass attempts for 45 yards and one TD. Sophomore Aaron Young completed 3 of 12 passes for 28 yards. No interceptions were thrown by the QBs on Saturday.

Combined, the four quarterbacks completed 22 of 39 pass attempts for 268 yards and four touchdown passes. That compared to only 144 passing yards on 34 attempts and no passing TDs in the first scrimmage a week ago.

The top receiver on Saturday was sophomore Jake Maulhardt, who caught four passes for 51 yards, including catching a nine-yard TD pass from Thornton. Senior Keenan Montgomery had three receptions for 57 yards, and had the biggest catch of the day on a 50-yard TD pass from Kirkegaard. Sophomore tight end Jacob Hollister caught two passes for 30 yards. Sophomore wideout Nico Brown had two catches for 24 yards, and made perhaps the best catch of the day on a 14-yard touchdown pass from Stratton in the corner of the end zone with two defenders surrounding him. The fourth touchdown pass saw sophomore running back Omar Stover turn a five-yard pass from Stratton into a TD catch. In all, 13 different receivers caught at least one pass on the day.

Wyoming's offense rushed for 113 yards on 40 carries on Saturday, which was very similar to their first scrimmage performance of 111 yards on 34 carries. The Cowboys did score five rushing TDs in the second scrimmage compared to only one rushing TD a week ago. Five different Cowboys recorded rushing touchdowns. Senior wide receiver Jalen Claiborne took a sweep play 26 yards to the end zone to cap a four-play, 45-yard scoring drive. That drive also included a 28-yard pass play from Thornton to sophomore tight end Eric Nzeocha. Junior running back Shaun Wick scored a three-yard rushing touchdown on a two-play, 20-yard scoring drive during a red-zone period. Quarterback Thornton (four-yard TD run), redshirt freshman running back Joshua Tapscott (three-yard TD) and running back Stover (five-yard TD run) all scored their rushing touchdowns on goal-line series that began at the defense's five-yard line or closer.

Leading the rushing attack was Tapscott, who carried the ball five times for 38 yards. Quarterback Thornton had four carries for 29. Wide receiver Claiborne had one carry for 26 yards, and redshirt sophomore May had four carries for 22.

While the offense did take advantage of its scoring opportunities, the defense continued to show it could generate pressure on the quarterback, sacking Cowboy quarterbacks six times for a -35 yards and recording 12.0 tackles for loss for a -45 yards. Leading the defense in pressuring the quarterback was senior defensive end Riley Lange, who missed all of the 2013 season due to injury. Lange registered 3.0 sacks, 4.0 tackles for loss and forced one fumble on Saturday. The other three sacks were created by senior defensive tackle Mertens (1.0 sack), senior linebacker Mark Nzeocha (1.0) and sophomore linebacker Lucas Wacha (1.0).

The defensive secondary did give up some big plays on the day, but also made some big plays of its own. Senior cornerbacks Burns (one pass breakup) and DeAndre Jones (two PBUs) combined with junior cornerback Zaquoya Parham (one PBU) for four total passes broken up.

In responding to a question about senior cornerback Burns, Bohl said, "Maturity really comes into play, and along with that he's a competitive player and he's got good ability, whether it's defending the pass or the run. Many times you'll see a corner who's just a cover corner, but they don't want to mix it up and come up and tackle well. I was really encouraged to see what he did. I know in the Mountain West Conference as the field is spread, you get athletes that are placed in one-on-one situations. To have his ability combined with his experience and maturity is certainly going to help our defense."

Burns was one of several defenders who had strong performances on Saturday. Burns ended the day with four tackles to go with his one pass breakup. Senior linebacker Mark Nzeocha led the Cowboys in tackles for the second straight scrimmage, recording six tackles, 2.0 tackles for loss, 1.0 sack and one forced fumble. In Wyoming's first scrimmage, Nzeocha totalled nine tackles. Senior linebacker Devyn Harris and sophomore linebacker Wacha each were credited with five tackles on Saturday.

There were no turnovers in Saturday's second major scrimmage. While the offense fumbled the ball twice -- both on quarterback sacks once by quarterback Stratton and once by quarterback Young -- both were recovered by the offense. There were no interceptions thrown on the day.

On special teams, senior place-kicker Stuart Williams showed the strength of his leg, connecting on field goals of 40 and 49 yards. He missed his first attempt of the day from 35. Williams was a perfect 1 of 1 in extra-point attempts, as was junior place-kicker Justin Martin, who successfully converted his one extra-point attempt. Sophomore punter Ethan Wood punted five times for a 42.2-yard average, including a long punt of 50 yards.

Asked if there were any specific areas that concerned the head coach as the Cowboys concluded their third of four weeks of Spring practice, Bohl responded, "I think we need to take care of the football a little bit more. The way we're going to stage our football team, is we're really going to minimize turnovers, so from that perspective we need to improve there.

"The other thing that concerned me is we got beat over the top a couple times on defense. You're going to get a couple plays where the ball is up in the air and you contest it and the offense makes a play. We'll be fine with that. What you do get concerned about is when someone is behind you two steps and makes a play. I was happy about some of the big plays we had offensively. But I think we've got to shore some things up defensively as far as when the ball goes up, because in our league I know the ball is going to go up, and we've got to make some plays there.

"Overall, I thought we had a lot of our receivers made big plays. I will say, Keenan Montgomery got shellacked right at the end, and whether he suffered a concussion or not I don't know yet, but it was a really physical play. He was really out there scrapping today, and hopefully we'll see him bounce back next week."

Wyoming's first-year head coach indicated that practices for the final week of Spring ball would be very similar in style to the first three weeks, with a lot of practice reps spread over the entire roster.

"We're going to continue to grind away at implementing our systems," said Bohl. "The repetition in practice will not cut back. A couple of our guys -- their tongues were dragging on the ground when they walked off the practice field and that's good, and they recognize that's good. We're trying to catch up with installation of our new systems. If we had a fifth-year senior group that had run the power play countless number of times it would be different, but we're not in that position.

"We will take a look at maybe staging a couple different situations in practice. Today we did that, we put our defense and offense in red-zone situations, and I was pleased with how our offense responded. I think we scored a pretty good number down there.

"I think we'll also integrate some more things in the kicking game, particularly kickoff and kickoff return prior to our Spring game."

In fact in the four red-zone series (beginning at the defense's 20-yard line) in Saturday's scrimmage, the Cowboy offense scored in three of those four series, with all three scores being touchdowns.

Prior to and following the scrimmage on Saturday, the Cowboy coaching staff also hosted a coaches' clinic for high school coaches from around the area. The final numbers of coaches attending the clinic far exceeded the original estimate of 80. Final numbers showed 130 high school football coaches from 27 different high school programs in Wyoming, Colorado and Nebraska in attendance.

Bohl did say that the Spring Game on Saturday, April 19 would be conducted like an actual game rather than just a scrimmage of offense versus defense. The roster will be split up into teams to give the players an opportunity to compete under game-like conditions.

The Spring Game is scheduled to kick off at 2 p.m. on Saturday, April 19 from Jonah Field at War Memorial Stadium, and will be open to media and the general public.

2014 University of Wyoming Football Spring Practice Schedule

Wednesday, March 26 8:15 a.m. (No Pads, Practice #1)

Friday, March 28 8:15 a.m. (No Pads, Practice #2)

Saturday, March 29 10:00 a.m. (First Padded Practice/Non-Tackle, Practice #3)

Monday, March 31 8:15 a.m. (Pads, Practice #4)

Wednesday, April 2 8:15 a.m. (Pads, Practice #5)

Friday, April 4 8:15 a.m. (Pads, Practice #6)

Saturday, April 5 11:00 a.m. (Scrimmage #1, Practice #7)

Monday, April 7 8:15 a.m. (Pads, Practice #8)

Wednesday, April 9 8:15 a.m. (Pads, Practice #9)

Friday, April 11 8:15 a.m. (Pads, Practice #10)

Saturday, April 12 11:30 a.m. (Scrimmage #2, Practice #11)

Monday, April 14 8:15 a.m. (Pads, Practice #12)

Wednesday, April 16 8:15 a.m. (Pads, Practice #13)

Friday, March 18 8:15 a.m. (No Pads, Practice #14)

Saturday, April 19 2:00 p.m. (Spring Game, Practice #15) Open to the Public