LARAMIE – Wyoming fans came out in force in Casper on Saturday to watch the first scrimmage of spring for the Cowboy Football team. The Cowboys made the little over two-hour drive to Casper on Saturday morning and scrimmaged for 70 plays at Cheney Alumni Field at Natrona County High School.
The scrimmage began with the Cowboy offense scoring on its first three possessions. Junior quarterback Josh Allen led the Pokes on an opening drive that covered 65 yards in 11 plays capped off by a 40-yard field goal from sophomore place-kicker Cooper Rothe. The Cowboy offense followed up that opening drive with an eight play, 60-yard drive that ended with a 17-yard touchdown pass from Allen to junior wide receiver James Price. On the third possession of the scrimmage, the offense was given the ball in a red-zone period starting at the defense’s nine-yard line. On third down, Allen and Price connected on their second touchdown pass — this time from five yards out.
The Cowboy defenders came back to assert themselves on the next three possessions. The UW defense limited the offense to only 22 yards on a series that ended on downs and forced a three-and-out on the following series. The offense moved the ball to the defense’s 32-yard line on its next possession, but Rothe missed his first attempt from 49 yards. Rothe then attempted a second 49-yard field goal and drove the ball through the uprights with several yards to spare.
Allen ended the day completing 11 of 19 passes (58 percent) for 133 yards and two touchdowns. Price caught three passes for 29 yards and had two TD receptions, and junior wide receiver C.J. Johnson led the Cowboys with four receptions for 50 yards. Back-up quarterback Nick Smith completed 6 of 10 passes (60 percent) for 45 yards.
Redshirt freshman safety Josh Boyd led the Cowboy defense in tackles, with six. Sophomore safety Alijah Halliburton, sophomore linebacker Ben Wisdorf and junior linebacker Adam Pilapil each were credited with five tackles each. Redhsirt freshman defensive end Garrett Crall tallied four tackles, including 1.0 tackle for a loss, and junior nose tackle Sidney Malauulu had three tackles, 1.0 sack for eight yards and recovered a fumble. Sophomore linebacker Cassh Maluia also recovered a fumble on Saturday.
Following the scrimmage, Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl got on the microphone to thank the Cowboy fans for coming and to thank Natrona County High School and its head coach Steve Harshman for hosting the event. Bohl then met with media to give his assessment of the first extended scrimmage of 2017 spring drills.
“It was great for us to be here in Casper, and I know it was a special homecoming for a couple of our players,” said Bohl. “As far as the scrimmage, it was a 70-play scrimmage. Obviously, there were some good things and some things we need to work on. I thought Josh (Allen) came out initially and started the scrimmage well — threw the ball well. We had some good plays on offense. I thought there were some good things by our younger running backs. Milo Hall did a couple good things, as did Kellen Overstreet and Nico Evans, and we were pleased with the tight ends. I thought Josh Harshman had a good day today.
“Defensively, we rallied to the ball well, challenged the receivers and knocked down some passes. And we did some good things in the kicking game. We’re making progress as a football team.”
Overstreet led the Cowboys in rushing on Saturday, gaining 49 yards on 11 carries. Hall had 37 yards rushing on six carries, and Evans ran for 30 yards on 10 carries. Harshman, who was one of those Casper natives that Bohl mentioned, caught two passes for 33 yards. Harshman’s fellow junior tight ends, Tyree Mayfield and Austin Fort also had good days. Mayfield had two receptions for eight yards, and Fort had one catch for 16 yards.
Among the defensive players that Bohl mentioned as challenging the receivers was sophomore cornerback Tyler Hall, who had two pass breakups. Fellow sophomore cornerback Davion Freeman and senior outside linebacker/nickel back Jalen Ortiz also broke up one pass each.
Bohl was pleased that the Cowboys were able to get in 70 plays despite the fact that the team was short on depth at several positions due to illnesses and injuries it has been dealing with this past week. The center spot was so thin on Saturday that junior Cole Turner was the only one available to snap.
“Cole (Turner) took every snap today,” said Bohl. “To do that for 70 plays is a great effort on his part. We tried to sprinkle in some kicking plays to slow the scrimmage down and give players a breather. But that kind of effort reflects the positive attitude of our football team, as opposed to making excuses and feeling sorry for themselves. We need to continue to improve as a team. Scrimmages like this aren’t as much for our starters. They (the starters) need to get some work in, but we’ve got to determine who our back-up guys are because they could be playing some this next year.”
There were only two turnovers on the day, both fumbles recovered by the defense, and there were only two penalties the entire scrimmage — one holding penalty on the offense and one offsides on the defense.
“I thought it was a clean scrimmage,” said Bohl. “I think we had one fumble that was unforced, which was disappointing. The limited number of penalties I thought was encouraging for our first scrimmage, so I was pleased about that.”
While Bohl was happy with the many positives he saw on Saturday, there were some areas he singled out as areas for improvement as the Pokes completed their third of five weeks of spring practice.
“There were a couple things early that I noticed that we need to improve upon,” said Bohl. “One was we had a couple uncovered receivers on those early possessions, and two there was some pressure on our quarterbacks, which was disappointing from an offensive standpoint. The positive of the pressure on our quarterbacks was I thought Youhanna Ghaifan (sophomore defensive tackle) had a really good scrimmage. There were a couple times where Youhanna got really good pressure up the middle.”
As Bohl’s postgame meeting with media concluded, he was asked about how he thought quarterback Allen and his young receiving corps was jelling this spring.
“Josh (Allen) is searching for a couple go-to guys, and we have a great young, emerging group of receivers whether it’s C.J. Johnson or James (Price) or Austin Conway,” said Bohl. “We’re encouraged about them, but they’ve got to continue to come along. I think Josh is doing a good job of building chemistry with his receivers. The things you do as a quarterback can have an uplifing effect on everybody around you. Josh has one of the strongest arms in America, but his play as far as rallying those guys around him come this next fall is really going to be important.”
Saturday’s practice was the ninth of 15 spring practices. The Cowboys will have the rest of the weekend off before returning to the practice field next Tuesday afternoon. The next open scrimmage scheduled for Cowboy fans will be the Spring Game on Saturday, April 22 at 2 p.m. in War Memorial Stadium.
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