Wyoming's Offense Finds Its Rhythm Late, Cowboy Defense Continues to Look Strong

Aug. 17, 2010


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It looked like it was going to be another dominating performance by the Wyoming defense in the second fall scrimmage for the Cowboys on Tuesday morning. The defensive unit built a 27-2 lead through the first half of the 105-play scrimmage, but the offense found its rhythm in the second half of practice, scoring 34 of its 36 points late, and had an opportunity to win the day on its last possession.

Wyoming's offense pulled to within five points, at 36-41, heading into the final series of the scrimmage as the No. 2 offense had the ball facing the No. 1 defense. A touchdown would have given the offense the win, but senior cornerback Marcell Gipson intercepted a pass by senior quarterback Dax Crum and returned it 37 yards for a touchdown on the final play to secure a 53-36 win for the defense. The defense was awarded 12 points for returning an interception for a touchdown in the unique scoring rules being utilized in the fall scrimmages.

Gipson had three tackles on the day to go with his interception. The No. 1 defense was led by sophomore outside linebacker Ghaali Muhammad, who recorded 10 tackles and 1.0 tackle for a loss. Junior defensive end Gabe Knapton was credited with six tackles, including 1.0 sack. Junior middle linebacker Brian Hendricks was forced to leave Tuesday's scrimmage due to a sprained ankle. No more was known about Hendricks injury.

While the defense continued to perform at a high level, the offense began to elevate its game in the fourth of six scrimmage periods. That period also happened to be the only one of the day when the No. 1 offense faced the No. 1 defense. Starting at its own 40-yard line, the No.1 offense drove the ball 59 yards down to the defense's one-yard line where junior place-kicker/punter Austin McCoy made a 20-yard field goal. The drive was highlighted by an Alvester Alexander five-yard rush on fourth down early in the drive that gave the Cowboys a first down at the defense's 46-yard line. On the very next play, sophomore quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels hooked up with his fellow sophomore Alexander on a 28-yard screen pass that took the ball all the way down to the 18-yard line.

"As long as we continue to make progress at the rate at which we've been making it we'll be fine."
UW head coach Dave Christensen

On the possession following McCoy's field goal, the No. 2 offense faced the No. 2 defense and took only five plays to put together a 40-yard scoring drive of its own. The big plays in that drive came from redshirt freshman running back Tedder Easton, who had a nine-yard gain for a first down, and then a 48-yard TD pass from Crum to junior wide receiver Jonathan Aiken capped off the drive.

The No. 3 offensive unit put a couple touchdowns on the board in back-to-back possessions. The first of the two scores saw freshman quarterback Emory Miller Jr. connect with redshirt freshman wide receiver Josh Smith on a 34-yard TD pass. That was followed by a two-yard touchdown run by redshirt freshman wide receiver Brandon Miller on the next possession.

In a redzone drill, Carta-Samuels concluded a 20-yard drive with a three-yard TD run up the middle. The remainder of the offense's scoring came on two field goals by McCoy, who connected from 27 and 30 yards out.

While it took the offense awhile to find its rhythm, head coach Dave Christensen said that he was pleased with the consistent improvement his team has shown throughout fall practice.

"I think we're about where I expected us to be at this point of fall camp," said Christensen. "As long as we continue to make progress at the rate at which we've been making it we'll be fine. But if we go out tomorrow and don't make ourselves a better football team, then we won't be headed the right direction. It's a constant battle each and every day to push ourselves and make sure we're improving on a daily basis."

In addition to Gipson's, Muhammad's and Knapton's outstanding defensive performances, sophomore linebacker Patrick Hartford also had a big day with nine tackles. Sophomore strong safety Luke Ruff contributed six tackles and senior middle linebacker Alex Toney was credited with five tackles.

Redshirt freshman Tedder Easton (22) is tackled just as he laterals the ball to Chris McNeill (80) on a reverse during Tuesday's scrimmage.

The leading rusher for the offense was Alexander, who carried the ball 10 times for 43 yards. Easton added 39 yards rushing on eight attempts.

Carta-Samuels completed 12 of 19 passes (.632) for 87 yards. He also rushed for 16 yards and a touchdown. Crum connected on 7 of 12 (.583) passes for 76 yards. He threw one touchdown and one interception. Freshman quarterback Emory Miller was 5 of 7 (.714) passing for 54 yards and one TD. He also ran for 27 yards. Another freshman, QB Austin Woodward, completed 3 of 4 passes (.750) for 22 yards.

The top receivers on Tuesday were sophomore Chris McNeill, who caught five passes for 30 yards and Aiken, who had three catches for 54 yards and one touchdown reception.

Wyoming's offense continued to commit penalties, racking up nine penalties for 47 yards. The defense had only two penalties for 22 yards.

When asked to assess the young players and how they have been performing to date, Christensen said, "Anytime you put young guys on the field who didn't go through spring drills, they're going to struggle a little bit picking up assignments. What we have to do as coaches is to make sure they know where they're supposed to align. We had a couple mishaps out their with guys not aligning correctly, but we can take care of that."

Christensen was asked specifically about true freshman offensive tackle Justin DiRe, who saw some time with the No. 1 offensive unit during Tuesday's scrimmage.

"Every position is open for competition," said Christensen. "But he (DiRe) wouldn't be running with the ones if he wasn't competing for the spot. He's come out and performed well in camp, and has earned an opportunity to take some snaps with the number one offense. We will evaluate that position like we do every position on a practice-by-practice basis, but there is definitely competition there."

The head coach was asked to compare where his team was this year compared to his first year.

"I don't know if we're executing any better this year than we were a year ago, that is pretty hard to measure, but we are a lot more athletic," said the second-year head coach. "I know that at this point, we're a faster football team and a more athletic football team. We're playing sound defense, and we're getting better every day as an offensive football team."

The scoring system utilized in Friday'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 was awarded 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 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).

A roster note, sophomore wide receiver David Tooley, who had left the Cowboy Football team earlier this fall, has returned to the team. When asked about Tooley being back on the sideline on Tuesday, Christensen said the Tooley had contacted his coaching staff about returning, and they welcomed him back. Tooley played very well toward the end of his true freshman season a year ago before suffering a season-ending knee injury making a spectacular catch against Colorado State.

The Cowboys will practice once a day Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of this week at 8:45 a.m. each day, and will conduct their third scrimmage of the fall on Saturday, Aug. 21 at 10 a.m. in War Memorial Stadium.