LARAMIE – Strong defensive play dominated this year’s Wyoming Spring Game as the Gold Team defeated the Brown Team 3-0 on Saturday afternoon in War Memorial Stadium.
The only two scoring opportunities of the game came on the final possession for each team. Redshirt sophomore place-kicker Brock Beddes was able to convert on a 30-yard field goal with 1:01 remaining in the fourth quarter, capping off a 14-play, 49-yard drive to give the Gold Team the victory.
The Brown Team put together an eight play, 46-yard drive on its final possession taking the ball down to the Gold’s 33-yard line. With only a few seconds remaining, sophomore place-kicker Cooper Rothe had an opportunity to tie the game on a 50-yard field goal. Just before the ball was snapped, the Gold Team took a timeout to try and ice Rothe. Rothe’s attempt on the final play of the game had the distance but was wide left and the Gold Team escaped with the victory
The Gold Team, which featured the No. 1 defense and No. 2 offense, managed only 157 yards of total offense in the victory. While the Brown Team, featuring the No. 1 offense and No. 2 defense, was held to only 150 total yards. The two offenses combined for only 307 total yards. It was a much different game from a week earlier, when the Cowboy offense dominated in a 100-play closed scrimmage on Saturday, April 15, accumulating 479 yards of total offense and scoring 42 points in an offense vs. defense scrimmage.
For head coach Craig Bohl, an old defensive coordinator himself, he was pleased with the progress of the defensive units in the Spring Game.
“These are the typical Spring Games that I’m used to,” said Bohl as he met with media on the field after the game. “I think we’re making significant progress, particularly on defense. Last week, our offense was really explosive. I think today our defensive line established the line of scrimmage better. We have more speed on defense and our coverage guys are doing a better job. Offensively, I’d like to see us catch the ball a little better than what we did today. I think we moved the ball at times, but we need to be sharper. It was a contrast from last week. But there are some good things that we’re doing offensively, as well. This is a good benchmark for our program, but there is work to be done as we get ready to play the University of Iowa and take another step forward with our football program.”
Bohl shared with media that there was only one minor injury he was aware of that occurred during the Spring Game.
“As far as any injuries from today, Kellen Overstreet had a strained achilles, but he’s expected to be fine,” said Bohl. “We were able to make it through spring ball pretty much unscathed, so we’re pleased about that.”
The head coach was asked if he was encouraged to see the defense play the way it did on Saturday.“Yes, I am,” said Bohl. “I know a lot of times fans want to see a lot of scoring, but quite frankly too much scoring in spring practice makes any head coach uncomfortable. What showed up today was better tackling, better fundamental positioning, better coverage. We needed to make significant improvements defensively, and I think we have.
“Yes, I am,” said Bohl. “I know a lot of times fans want to see a lot of scoring, but quite frankly too much scoring in spring practice makes any head coach uncomfortable. What showed up today was better tackling, better fundamental positioning, better coverage. We needed to make significant improvements defensively, and I think we have. The players have bought into what we’re teaching them. They’re in better positions to make plays. The guys have played hard for us this spring, plus I think we’re recruiting better and we have more speed and athleticism out there. We’ve got defensive tackles who look like defensive tackles should look. You saw Youhanna Ghaifan make a couple great pass rushes, and he helped shut those running lanes down. I thought Sid Malauulu did some good things. Our defensive ends played well. Logan Wilson had a couple nice tackles from his linebacker spot. As I look at our defense, they look like a Division I defense, where before I felt like we had some spots that weren’t quite up to speed.”
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In terms of the performance by the No. 1 defense, playing for the Gold Team, it not only held the No. 1 offense of the Brown team to 150 total yards (23 rushing and 127 passing), but it recorded 4.0 tackles for loss, 2.0 sacks and broke up four passes. The No. 1 defense saw a very balanced effort with five players (Ghaifan, Wilson, safety Marcus Epps, safety Alijah Halliburton and linebacker Cassh Maluia) recording three tackles each. Another six players each had two tackles each.
The No. 2 defense, playing for the Brown Team, limited the No. 2 offense to only 157 yards (68 rushing and 89 passing), registered 5.0 tackles for loss, 5.0 sacks, two pass breakups and forced one turnover on a fumble forced and recovered by linebacker Ben Wisdorf.
Offensively, junior quarterback Josh Allen completed 10 of 26 passes for 127 yards for the No. 1 offense of the Brown squad. He was sacked two times on the day. Fellow junior quarterback Nick Smith, playing for the winning Gold team, completed 8 of 11 passes for 89 yards and was sacked five times. Bohl was specifically asked if he liked the efficiency that Smith played with on Saturday.
“I’m glad you asked that,” replied Bohl. “Nick has improved from when he first played a couple years ago. I thought he operated the offense really well. His efficiency is improving. He’s still got some room to improve, but we’re pleased with his performance. It’s good to know we have another quarterback who can play for us.”
Wyoming’s fourth-year head coach was also asked if he was happy with the overall performance of the offense throughout spring practice and if he liked the chemistry that Allen was developing with his receivers.
“Every Saturday is a give and take during spring ball,” said Bohl. “I know you all didn’t get an opportunity to watch our closed scrimmage last Saturday, but it was significantly different from what we saw today. I am pleased with the progress of our offense this spring. Now I will tell you this, we’re going to need to have a good summer of work as our guys work out on their own. They need to continue working on our passing game and the timing between our quarterbacks and our young, emerging receivers. After today, I wouldn’t say I’m happy with today’s performance offensively, but overall for the spring I am.”
Among the young receivers Bohl referred to, several had good days on Spring Game. For the No. 1 offense of the Brown Team, sophomore C.J. Johnson led the way for the second consecutive week. Johnson caught four passes for 58 yards in the Spring Game after catching four passes for 61 yards a week ago. Junior James Price also had four receptions for 44 yards on Saturday, and sophomore John Okwoli made one impressive leaping catch for 16 yards. Sophomore Isaac Jefferson, from Rawlins, Wyo., caught two passes for 44 yards to lead the No. 2 offense of the Gold Team.
The top two rushers of the day were both on the No. 2 offense of the Gold squad. Sophomore Garrett Gardner had 54 yards on 12 carries and Overstreet netted 27 yards on 10 carries.
One of the key position moves that took place in 2017 spring football was the shift of sophomore linebacker Wilson from the weak-side linebacker spot, where he was voted the 2017 Mountain West Conference Freshman of the Year, to the middle linebacker position. Bohl was questioned about where he feels that move is at as spring ball concludes.
“I wouldn’t say he has a firm grasp on his new position, but I do believe he’s made good progress,” said Bohl. “He’s gained some really good weight. He’s up to 231 pounds. He runs well. He is understanding some of the nuisances of our defense. That’s an important position. When you run the Tampa-2 defense, that MIKE linebacker has to be a guy who can really run and cover ground and he can.”
Bohl expressed that he feels good about the improvement this spring at every position group of his defense.
“There’s no doubt and that showed up today,” said Bohl. “We’re establishing the line of scrimmage better. You don’t see a lot of guys out of position. You see the gaps closing up front and the tackling improving. Everything from coverage in the secondary, to the defensive front, to better linebacker play, we’re making progress. But we needed to. We were in the bottom quartile in the country last year in defense.”
Saturday’s Brown and Gold Game was the 15th and final practice of 2017 spring drills for the Cowboys. The Pokes began spring practice back on Tuesday, March 21, practicing every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday for the past five weeks.
Wyoming will open the 2017 college football season on Saturday, Sept. 2 in Iowa City, Iowa, against the Iowa Hawkeyes of the Big Ten Conference. UW opens its home schedule on Saturday, Sept. 9 vs. Gardner-Webb, followed by a marquee matchup in Laramie on Sept. 16 against the Oregon Ducks of the Pacific-12 Conference.
Season tickets to the 2017 season are on sale now. Fans may purchase 2017 season tickets online at www.GoWyo.com/tickets, by calling 307-766-7220, via email at Tickets@uwyo.edu or by purchasing them in person at the UW Athletics Ticket Office on the west side of the Arena-Auditorium.