Wyoming Running Game Put on Display in Wednesday Scrimmage
April 10, 2013
LARAMIE, Wyo. -
The Wyoming defense started fast in Wednesday's first major scrimmage of spring camp, holding the Cowboy offense in check for the first four series. But before the day was over the offense took charge, scoring five rushing touchdowns, throwing four TD passes and kicking four field goals during the scrimmage to post a 101-41 win.
The defense forced three straight three-and-out series to begin the scrimmage before the offense gained its first, first down in series number four. The defense maintained its strong performance midway through the scrimmage, allowing only two offensive scores in the first 14 series, and were tied at 23-23 midway through the scrimmage. But in the final 15 possessions, the Cowboy offense began to assert its will, scoring touchdowns or field goals on 11 of those final 15 series.
Wyoming's offense generated a very balanced attack. The Pokes ran for 335 net yards on 58 rushing plays and scored five rushing touchdowns, while completing 26 of 45 passes (57.7 percent) for 372 yards and four TDs through the air. The offense amassed 707 yards of total offense.
Three running backs shared reps with the No. 1 and No. 2 offensive units. Sophomore Shaun Wick led the way with 146 rushing yards on 14 carries. His two longest runs came on touchdown gallops of 31 and 36 yards. Fellow sophomore running back D.J. May carried the ball 12 times for 96 yards, and also had two rushing touchdowns -- of one and three yards. True freshman Omar Stover added 81 yards on 14 rushing attempts. The other rushing touchdown saw junior quarterback Brett Smith carry the ball in from six yards out.
Cowboy defenders recorded three interceptions, nine tackles for loss and four sacks during the 117-play scrimmage.
Redshirt freshman cornerback Cortland Fort came up with the first interception of the day on a pass by sophomore quarterback Jason Thompson. Fort saw his first scrimmage action of the spring after being hampered by injury early in spring drills. Another redshirt freshman, defensive lineman Sam Hardy, pulled down the second interception of the day. The pass, thrown by freshman quarterback Tommy Thornton, was tipped by junior linebacker Mark Nzeocha before Hardy gathered it in. The final interception of the day was made by junior linebacker Nehemie Kankolongo on a pass thrown by Thompson. Nine different defenders recorded one tackle for loss each. Four different individuals had one sack each. The sacks were recorded by: senior linebacker Devyn Harris; redshirt freshman linebacker Lucas Wacha; sophomore defensive end Eddie Yarbrough; and redshirt freshman defensive tackle Uso Olive.
Leading the defense on Wednesday was redshirt freshman linebacker Wacha, who had nine tackles, 1.0 sack and 1.0 tackle for a loss. Four Cowboy defenders were credited with six tackles each, including: senior cornerback Marqueston Huff; junior safety Jesse Sampson; junior linebacker Nzeocha; and senior safety Andrew Meredith.
Head coach Dave Christensen met with media after Wednesday's practice and was asked to assess his team's performance.
"I thought there were a lot of positives on both sides of the ball," said Christensen. "I thought early on the defense played well. As we got going throughout the scrimmage, obviously the offense had the upper hand, but I saw a lot of positive things from a defensive standpoint, they came out ready to play.
"The defense came out in the very first period of the scrimmage and forced the offense to punt, which was a great way to start. Then in the next couple of series, they played well. During a four-minute series, the first two times out they made the offense punt, so early on in the scrimmage I thought they did a great job. They dominated the scrimmage early. Then they got a little winded, and the offense started making some plays. That is what you hope happens from an offensive standpoint is you start getting some first downs and things start steam rolling.
"Our backs ran the football better today, which is encouraging as that is something we need to do better.
"We're focused on trying to evaluate individuals right now. We want to look at how effective our schemes are and those types of things, but where my interest lies right now is what 11 are going to play for us on both sides of the ball. I want to know how they're performing -- who is on the twos who might be able to move up to the ones, who's close to being ready and who is ready to play for us."
Christensen was asked if the offensive staff was focused on running the ball in Wednesday's scrimmage, and he was also asked to evaluate the rotation of the three backs (sophomores May and Wick and true freshman Stover) with the No. 1 and No. 2 offensive units.
"That has been a concerted effort all spring," said Christensen. "We've got to become a better running football team. We weren't great today, but we were certainly better than we've been up to this point and time. We're going to get a lot of reps in a game, so we need to have guys who are ready to play. All of those guys are doing a good job, and we're going to get Brandon (Miller) back (in the fall). We have more depth at that position. Tedder (Easton) can get in there and pound the ball a little bit. I'm pleased with the progress that they're making. We're doing some different stuff, and they're doing a nice job of understanding it and picking it up."
The progress of the offensive line was another area media asked the fifth-year head coach to comment on after Wednesday's scrimmage.
"I think they're making really good progress," said Christensen. "They have a lot of work to do. I coached that position for many years, and I see a lot of things I really like from that group -- a lot of positives there. We still have a number of practices to get things ironed out, but they're making good progress. They still can make a lot of improvement. One thing I noticed standing behind them was they were a little more physical today. That was encouraging. They just have to go back to work every day and get a little bit better when we come out here Friday."
Asked to provide an overall assessment of his team as they near the midway point of spring practice, Christensen said, "I told the team, I think we've made great progress the first seven practices. We're about halfway done, and we've got to come out in the second half and fine tune things. We have a few more things to add on both sides of the ball, but what we really need to do at this point is eliminate all mental errors. We're doing a pretty good job of that right now. Most of the installation is in at this point."
In terms of mental errors, the Cowboys did improve, committing fewer penalties on Wednesday than they did last Friday in an abbreviated scrimmage situation. On Wednesday, the offense had only three penalties for 30 yards, while the defense committed only one personal foul for 15 yards. The previous Friday saw the offense commit seven penalties for 40 yards, while the defense committed only one for 15.
On special teams, junior place-kicker Stuart Williams was a perfect 10 of 10 in field-goal attempts on the day. He made four of those 10 field goals during the scrimmage from 26, 20, 21 and 30 yards out. He successfully converted the other six field goals during special teams' periods, including kicking two 40-yard field goals. Williams was also perfect in point-after-touchdown attempts, converting nine of nine PAT attempts.
"Stu (Williams) has kicked real well all spring," said Christensen. "His leg seems stronger. He has been extremely accurate. I'm really excited about where he's at. He is a guy who has been very impressive this spring."
Junior quarterback Smith completed 13 of 21 pass attempts (61.9 percent) for 162 yards, threw two touchdown passes, had no passes intercepted and scored one rushing TD on the day. Smith's TD passes included a five-yard pass to junior wide receiver Trey Norman and a 25-yard pass to junior tight end J.D. Krill. Smith's touchdown run came from six yards out. He led his No. 1 offensive unit on six scoring drives in 11 offensive possessions versus the No. 1 defense. In addition to the three drives that ended in touchdowns, three other drives produced field goals of 26, 21 and 30 yards. Smith guided the No. 1 offense on five consecutive scoring drives in their last five possessions of the scrimmage.
As he spoke to media following Wednesday's practice, Smith talked about what he took away from the scrimmage.
"We've had a few slow starts (on offense) in practices this spring, and we have to fix that," said Smith. "But obviously we finished well.
"We definitely established the running game today. I thought the offensive line did a great job. Each back knew what they were doing and hit the holes well. It was great to have that running game today."
Asked about what he has seen from the development of the offensive line this spring, Smith said, "Absolutely, they have done a great job. They work extremely hard. I've said before that Coach (Jim) Harding is a great coach and he gets them ready, so it's just a matter of executing."
Smith's main target on Wednesday was junior wide receiver Dominic Rufran. The two connected on six completions for a combined 63 yards. The two nearly connected on a TD pass late in the scrimmage, but Rufran was ruled out of bounds on the catch Rufran ended the day as the leading receiver, with seven receptions for 69 yards. Smith also hit first-year, junior-college tight end J.D. Krill on a touchdown pass late in the scrimmage.
"He's my roommate (Rufran), so we better have a good connection," said Smith. "He's a great receiver. He knows what he's doing out there. He is great at improvising -- finding holes in the `D', recognizing if it's man or zone and adjusting his route based on that. He makes my job so much easier. He did a great job today. I thought we had a touchdown there at the end -- we'll count it. It goes down in the stats as an incompletion, but we'll count it.
"J.D. (Krill) is a big body. He's able to get open, does a great job blocking and is quick for his size, so he's a big weapon for us, as well."
When asked to give his evaluation of where the offense is halfway through spring, Smith said," I think we've improved greatly, but we're still not where we want to be. We have a lot of time til August 31 (Wyoming's first game at Nebraska), and so we have a lot of time to get better. I was happy with how we performed today, and how we've been consistent up until this point in time. It's just a matter of finishing up the next eight practices and getting as good as we can before spring ball ends."
The other two passing touchdowns on Wednesday came on: a 57-yard pass from senior quarterback Colby Kirkegaard to redshirt freshman wide receiver Tanner Simpson; and an 18-yard TD pass from sophomore quarterback Jason Thompson to junior wide receiver Justin Berger.
Senior cornerback Marqueston Huff was also asked to assess the performance of the team after Wednesday's scrimmage.
"From an offensive standpoint, we really looked good," said Huff. "The guys executed everything they needed to and executed at a very high level. From a defensive standpoint, we started off really fast. We made the plays we needed to make, but we died down later on in the scrimmage, and that's something we really need to work on as a defense. I feel a defense should always be stronger in the second half than they are in the first half.
"We have great athletes at quarterback and at running back, so when the offense has those types of weapons it does make it difficult on a defense. We knew what the offense wanted to do, but we just couldn't get it shut down today.
"It is very beneficial for us to play against an up-tempo style offense like we face every day in practice. We get the advantage of playing against a face-paced offense and that forces us to play when we're fatigued. It helps us learn to push through that fatigue, which will help us next season."
When asked where he felt he was personally as the Cowboys completed their seventh of 15 spring practices, Huff said "I feel like I'm about halfway to where I want to be at the end of spring. But to be honest, I don't ever think I can get exactly to where I want to be. It's been going pretty good so far, but you can always get better."
A unique scoring system was utilized in Wyoming's scrimmage on Wednesday. The scoring system 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 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).
The Cowboys return to practice on Friday, April 12 for an 8 a.m. practice. All spring practices are open to the media and the general public. The next scrimmage will be Wednesday, April. 17.
2013 University of Wyoming Football Spring Practice Schedule