Aug. 16, 2011
Fans at Tuesday morning's scrimmage saw an even battle between the Wyoming Cowboy offense and defense as the two units battled to a 26-26 tie in a scrimmage that consisted of 83 plays.
The No. 1 defense held the No. 2 offense scoreless in the five series those two units faced off. On the second of those five series senior cornerback Tashaun Gipson made the first big play of the scrimmage intercepting sophomore quarterback Colby Kirkegaard. Gipson returned the interception 13 yards. The starting defensive unit also welcomed back senior linebacker Brian Hendricks, who had missed the first two scrimmages of the fall due to injury.
On offense, the No. 1 unit scored on its last three possessions. The first two scores came in the red-zone period with the offense facing the No. 1 defense beginning at the defense's own 19-yard line. The offense was able to gain only three yards on the drive, before redshirt freshman place-kicker Stuart Williams converted a 34-yard field goal. The next series between the No. 1 offense and defense also began at the defense's 19-yard line. Freshman quarterback Brett Smith capped off a three-play, 19-yard drive with a five-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Mazi Ogbonna. Smith hit Ogbonna on a fade pattern in the corner of the end zone.
The No. 1 offense's final score came against the No. 2 defense as Smith led the Cowboys on a seven-play, 41-yard drive. On that series, junior running back Ghaali Muhammad played a key role. Muhammad, who like Hendricks was making his first scrimmage appearance of the fall after coming off an injury, accounted for the final 34 yards on the drive. He caught a 26-yard pass from Smith, taking the ball down to the eight-yard line. On the next play, he caught a seven-yard pass that placed the ball on the one, and Muhammad then carried the ball into the end zone on the final play of the drive for a one-yard TD run.
In meeting with media immediately following the scrimmage, head coach Dave Christensen was upbeat regarding the overall performance of his team.
"We absolutely accomplished what we wanted to in today's scrimmage," said Christensen. "We got the number of plays in that we wanted -- about 25 plays per unit. We looked at a variety of special teams, and came out of this scrimmage having a better idea there. I was real pleased with the No. 1 offense and No. 1 defense. I thought they both competed well and executed well. We had very few penalties today.
"We got a takeaway from our No. 1 defense. Our No. 1 offense didn't turn the ball over. I thought the backs ran hard. Our running game is coming together. Brett (Smith) is making great decisions with the football. Overall, we had a pretty productive scrimmage."
After once again taking all of the reps at quarterback with the No. 1 offense, Smith continued to solidify his hold on the No. 1 spot.
"Brett (Smith) looked real sharp on that final drive," said Christensen. "Robert (Herron) had a drop, which he hadn't had any in camp coming into this scrimmage. We'd like to have had that one back, but Brett did a good job of getting the drive back on track and getting it in the end zone.
"It's going to be hard for Brett Smith to get beat out based on the first three scrimmages. It's pretty apparent at this point. I don't think we'll need a big press conference or press release to let people know who our leading candidate at quarterback is."
Smith completed 9 of 14 passes (64.3 percent) for 80 yards and one touchdown. Sophomore Kirkegaard threw for a team high 104 yards on 11 of 19 passing (57.9 percent). He threw a 19-yard TD pass to freshman wide receiver Kevin Robertson, and threw two interceptions -- one to Gipson and one on the final play of the scrimmage to freshman linebacker Zack Berg. Freshman Adam Pittser began the scrimmage a perfect 8 for 8 for 58 yards, before missing on his final four pass attempts. Pittser also threw a touchdown pass of nine yards to fellow freshman Josh Doctson.
The running attack was led by junior Alvester Alexander, who carried the ball four times for 34 yards. Sophomore Brandon Miller carried four times for 19 yards, and freshman Kody Sutton had six rushing attempts for 15 yards. Muhammad had the only rushing touchdown of the day on his one-yard carry into the end zone. He had a total of two carries for four yards and two receptions for 33.
Muhammad was injured in the first scrimmage last spring, and was forced to miss the remainder of spring practice. Another Cowboy who missed all of spring ball due to injury but who enjoyed a productive scrimmage on Tuesday was sophomore defensive end Mark Willis. Willis had three tackles, including 2.0 tackles for losses of seven yards and 1.0 sack for four yards. Christensen was asked to comment on both of them Tuesday.
"We're getting Ghaali (Muhammad) back, slowly," said Christensen. "We wanted to get him about 10 live reps today, and I think he got five or six. We'll try to get him a few more reps in our final scrimmage on Saturday. He definitely did some good things today.
"Mark (Willis) has had a tremendous camp. He went through a lot of hardships last year due to injury and health issues, but he's 100 percent now and his weight is back up. I wouldn't say he has been a surprise, we knew when we recruited him that he was a very athletic big man. I'm just so happy that he's healthy. He loves playing football. It is one of the biggest parts of his life, and when he was hurt it bothered him -- he was down. But he's back now, and I'm excited for him."
An area of the team that was on display Tuesday was the young receivers who enjoyed good scrimmages. Three true freshmen sat atop the receiving totals in Tuesday's scrimmage. Trey Norman had five catches for 33 yards. Kevin Robertson caught three passes for 54 yards and one TD. Josh Doctson had three receptions for 36 yards and one touchdown. In addition, true freshmen Dominic Rufran, who has been taking some reps with the No. 1 offense, had one catch for 11 yards on Tuesday.
"Josh Doctson made some big plays today," said Christensen. "I don't care if you're playing against the 1s, 2s or 3s, when you're covered and you come away with big catches that shows me something. Trey Norman has made some plays. Obviously, Dominic (Rufran) has made some plays. He didn't have as many opportunities today because we were working a little bit more on our running game. (Kevin) Robertson made some catches today. He's been hurt throughout most of camp, so he is a little bit behind those other guys. Those four young receivers are the type of player we want to recruit each and every year."
The top defensive performers on Tuesday included: senior cornerback Gipson, with one interception and one pass breakup; freshman linebacker Berg, who had one interception and five tackles; sophomore linebacker Todd Knight, with six tackles; redshirt freshman linebacker Luke Knapton, with six tackles; and freshman safety Chad Reese, who also had six tackles on the day.
A key competition that will likely come down to the final scrimmage on Saturday is the competition for the starting place-kicker spot. Redshirt freshman Stuart Williams connected on 8 of 9 field goals (88.9 percent) on Saturday, including a 41 yarder. His only miss came from 49 yards out. He was a perfect 3 of 3 in point-after-touchdown attempts. True freshman Daniel Sullivan made 6 of 9 field goals (66.7 percent). His long was from 32 yards out, and his misses were from 34, 41 and 49. Sullivan was 2 of 3 in point-after-touchdown attempts.
"The kickers competed well today," said Christensen. "It will be interesting to see how they perform in the final scrimmage. They're going to keep battling. I think today, Stu (Stuart Williams) was a little bit better than Daniel (Sullivan), but they'll compete again in the next scrimmage and we'll make a decision after that."
The Wyoming Cowboys will scrimmage for the final time this fall on Saturday, Aug. 20. That practice is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. All four of the fall scrimmages are open to the media and the public.
"Our final scrimmage will be a quarter of football in a game-like situation," said Christensen. "We will work on simulating a real game, signalling in plays, substituting players under game-like conditions. That will be the focus of our final scrimmage on Saturday."
No injuries were reported after Tuesday's scrimmage.