Wyoming's No. 1 Offense and No. 1 Defense Impress in First Fall Scrimmage

Aug. 9, 2011

Laramie, Wyo.

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The Wyoming Cowboys entered Tuesday's first scrimmage with a lot of answers on the defensive side of the ball, returning a veteran group. The biggest question entering Tuesday's scrimmage was who among three young quarterbacks would step forward to lead the Cowboy offense. By the time the two-hour scrimmage was concluded, the Cowboy coaching staff had to feel good about the performance of freshman quarterback Brett Smith.

Smith, who took his reps with the No. 1 offense, completed his first 16 consecutive passes of the day, facing off against the No. 2 defense. He wrapped up his day, completing 24 of 28 pass attempts (.857) for 323 yards. The true freshman from Salem, Ore., who graduated early from high school and competed in 15 spring practices with the Cowboys, also threw three touchdown passes on the day and did not throw an interception. His touchdown passes were for: 76 yards to senior Mazi Ogbonna; six yards to running back Brandon Miller; and two yards to tight end Spencer Bruce.

In the nine series that Smith played in the scrimmage, he guided the Cowboys to six TD drives. Two of his drives were stopped on downs, and the Cowboy defense scored a safety on Smith's other drive, which began at the offense's own one-yard line.

When asked if Smith had distanced himself from the other quarterbacks, head coach Dave Christensen wouldn't quite go that far.

"It's early in camp, but he certainly had the best day of them all," said Christensen. "We've had five other practices this fall, and it (the competition) hasn't been that far apart in the other practices. We are pleased with the way he ran the offense today -- the decisions he made with the football. Right now, he is ahead of the other two (Adam Pittser and Colby Kirkegaard) but they both have a lot of promise, and I saw good things from both of them. Brett had 15 practices with us in the spring, and that definitely shows that he knows how to operate the offense and perform in game-like situations. There will still be good competition, but it was definitely good to see the way he played today."

Asked if he was aware that Smith completed his first 16 consecutive passes, Christensen said he was keeping track.

"I was tracking it to start, and then I finally had to quit," said the third-year head coach. "I knew he was hitting enough of them. He made good decisions, didn't force things, didn't take sacks. The key is he has to continue to do that for three more scrimmages."

While Smith was enjoying a lot of success versus the Cowboys' No. 2 defense, Wyoming's No. 1 defense showed it was as good as advertised. On 12 series that the No. 1 defense was on the field Tuesday, they scored one safety, forced two turnovers (a fumble recovery and an interception) and held the offense on downs six other times. The No. 1 defense gave up only three scores: a 21-yard field goal on a 70-yard drive by the No. 2 offense; a 25-yard TD pass on a redzone series that began at the defense's own 25-yard line; and a 25-yard field goal on another redzone series that began at the defense's own 25-yard line.

The two turnovers came on a fumble recovery by senior defensive end Josh Biezuns. Wyoming's one interception was made by senior cornerback Tashaun Gipson.

"I thought the defense did a really good job today," said Christensen. "They put a lot of pressure on the quartebacks. We didn't blow all of those plays dead, because we wanted to let the pass routes develop and we wanted to be able to evaluate our pass coverage. I still think we have 20-24 players defensively, who will be able to contribute for us this season."

The top rusher on the day was freshman Kody Sutton, who had team highs for carries (13) and net rushing yards (75). Junior Alvester Alexander had 12 carries for 47 yards and one TD run of six yards. Sophomore Brandon Miller carried the ball 10 times for 47 yards. He scored two rushing touchdowns of one and 10 yards, and caught a TD pass for six yards.

The receiving corps was led by sophomore Robert Herron, who had a team high seven receptions for 83 yards. The leader in receiving yards was senior Mazi Ogbonna. Ogbonna had four catches for 100 yards, including a TD reception of 76 yards. Redshirt freshman Sam Stratton had four receptions for 49 yards, including a 25-yard TD catch from Pittser.

The fourth touchdown reception was by sophomore tight end and Gillette, Wyo., native Spencer Bruce. When asked about Bruce's performance, Christensen was encouraged by Bruce's play.

"He did some good things today," said Christensen. "He has good hands, good ball skills, and he's getting better at running routes. I definitely think he will be able to help us."

Bruce had five catches for 60 yards and scored on a two-yard TD pass from Smith.

Wyoming's No. 1 defense was led by sophomore linebacker Devyn Harris and freshman linebacker Mark Nzeocha, who had eight and seven tackles, respectively. Nzeocha's totals included 1.0 sack and 2.0 tackles for losses. One of Nzeocha's tackles for loss saw him combine with Harris for a safety. Wyoming's other safety was recorded by the No. 2 defense against the No. 1 offense. Sophomore defensive end Mark Willis and junior defensive tackle Kurt Taufa'asau combined on that second safety. Willis had six tackles, 3.0 TFLs and 2.0 sacks. Taufa'asau recorded five tackles and 1.0 TFL.

Leading the team in sacks with 2.0 sacks each was Willis, senior defensive end Gabe Knapton (5 tackles, 2.0 sacks and 2.0 TFLs) and sophomore cornerback Marqueston Huff (6 tackles, 2.0 sacks and 4.0 TFLs).

Players who missed Tuesday's first scrimmage included: senior linebackers Brian Hendricks and Oliver Schober; junior running back Ghaali Muhammad; sophomore running back Nehemie Kankolongo; sophomore tight end T.J. Smith; redshirt freshman offensive lineman Daniel Fleischman; and freshman place-kicker Daniel Sullivan.

At the conclusion of practice, Christensen announced that Schober would redshirt this season due to a medical reason.

Tuesday's scrimmage was open to the media and the general public, and was held in War Memorial Stadium.

The scrimmage format pitted the No. 1 offense versus the No. 2 defense, No. 2 offense vs. the No. 1 defense and the No. 3 units on both sides of the ball against one another. Tuesday's scrimmage also feature live, full-speed tackling. A year ago in fall camp, the Cowboys tackling included more thudding up, which means the play was whistled dead once contact was made and prior to taking the ball carrier to the ground.

Special situations that were incorporated into the first fall scrimmage included: the offense coming out from its own one-yard line; offense beginning at its own 25, 35 and 40-yard lines; a redzone period with the defense trying to defend from its own 25-yard line; and a final period of two-minute offense, with the offense trailing by two points with 1:50 remaining on the clock and starting at its own 35-yard line.

The scoring system utilized in Tuesday's scrimmage awarded the offense and defense points based on certain plays. The offense won Tuesday's first scrimmage by a score of 70-36.

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 returned 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 25-yard line).

Following Tuesday's scrimmage, the next scrimmage for the Cowboys will be held on Friday, Aug. 12 and is also scheduled for the morning. All four of Wyoming's fall scrimmages will be open to the public and media.