Wyoming’s scrimmage on Sunday and first action on the new turf at War Memorial Stadium, which looks fantastic by the way, marked the first real chance we got to see the 2013 Cowboys in action. The offense “won” on Sunday by a score of 93-28, I put won in parenthesis because I wouldn’t look into the score too much. Some reasons for that is first the overall structure of the scrimmage. Also, on more than one occasion Brett Smith was rushed out of the pocket and scrambled for a few seconds until a WR flashed open down the field. In a normal game setting Smith would’ve likely been sacked, thrown the ball away, thrown a bad pass, or tried to tuck it and run. The defense got to him a few times and would touch him, but the refs didn’t blow the whistle. Another way the score is skewed is there was 2 or 3 PI calls down the field against the defense that were questionable and I noticed several missed holding calls on the offense.
You can also see some highlights here: http://www.gowyo.com/allaccess/
Here are a few things and players that stood out to me.
Injuries on defense
One thing that could play a role in the upcoming season is the defense’s lack of depth at almost every position and it certainly played a role on Sunday. Senior DE Riley Lange was in a boot and on crutches and didn’t play on Sunday; I haven’t seen a diagnosis on him yet. Lange has been taking snaps with the number 1 defense throughout camp. Others that didn’t participate on the defensive side include; DL Justin Bernthaler, CB Blair Burns, LB Zach Berg, DE Sam Awrabi, and DB Jesse Sampson. All players are expected to contribute this season. Burns got hurt returning a punt early Sunday and was held out for precautionary reasons and is day to day. It’s no secret that the defense is a big time question mark this season, and the healthier they are the better.
Tyran Finley signed his LOI out of JUCO in mid-May and was somewhat unknown coming into camp in the eyes of Wyoming fans, but he made his presence known early and often on Sunday. Finley, who runs a 4.3 40, was in my eyes the most dynamic punt returner, others returning punts was Blair Burns, Dominic Rufran, and Jalen Claiborne. Finley broke off a couple big returns, including one that would’ve likely gone for six. After Burns got hurt returning a punt, Finley got a chance to play with the number one defense and on one of the first plays he jumped an out route thrown by Brett Smith and returned it 27 yards for a TD. I would look for Finley to compete for the CB spot opposite of Burns and to get his fair share of opportunities to return punts and kicks this season.
Here is an article from Vorel on Finley
And from Gags a video interview with Finley
New impact players at WR?
There are two things we knew for sure coming into fall camp, 1. Brett Smith is the quarterback and 2. The cowboys have a talented group of WR coming back. Those receivers would be Senior Robert Herron, JR Dom Rufran, JR Jalen Claiborne, JR Trey Norman, and senior WR/RB Brandon Miller. Well this group is even deeper this season, players like Keenan Montgomery, Eric Nzeocha, and Freshman Tanner Gentry stood out on Sunday, but two players in particular caught my eye.
Those two players are 6’3” RS Fresh. Nico Brown and 6’5” Colorado transfer Sen. Jarrod Darden. If there was one thing Wyoming’s receiving corps lacked last season it was a big target. I think that issue has been resolved with these two.
Brown had 4 catches for 103 yards including a 54-yard TD and Darden had 3 catches for 95 yards including a one handed catch and run for 46 yards. Brown is similar to Josh Doctson from a couple years and stands out as soon as you see him catch a ball; he has soft hands and is very athletic. I think he is the second most talented WR on the team behind Robert Herron. I wouldn’t be surprised if he made an immediate impact, and that impact to continue to grow as the season progresses.
Darden could end up being the definition for the phrase “diamond in the rough,” if he continues to play like he did Sunday. He came to UW after 3 coaching changes in 4 years at CU and is eligible to play immediately because he graduated last spring. He hardly played in his 3 years and didn’t have any catches. He reminds me a lot of David Tooley from the 2009 season. If you remember Tooley made some clutch catches that season, before tearing his ACL. He was suspended in 2010 and eventually left the program. Darden seems to be playing with a chip on his shoulder and had a very intense attitude the entire scrimmage. Brown and Darden could compliment an already very strong group of wide outs in a great way and give Brett Smith even more options.
JR Brett Smith and Soph Jason Thompson combined to go 39-49 (79.5%) for 529 yards, 8 TD’s and 1 Interception. We have come to expect great things from Brett Smith and Sunday he was his normal self, after he settled in. As noted above, Smith threw a pic 6 to CB Tyran Finley and missed on some other throws early. After that he got himself going and was lights out and threw 5 TD on the day. Two throws stood out to me in particular the first was a seam route to Claiborne for a 25 yard TD, the throw was as perfect of a throw as I’ve seen from Smith, it was on a line and fell right into Claiborne’s hands for an easy over the shoulder TD, the other was a 3 yard TD to Herron. Herron ran a fade to the right corner and Smith put the pass on the money. It’s these kinds of throws to me that really show Smith’s improvement.
Jason Thompson was the story of the day. He was on the money from the get go, completing his first 7 passes. He finished 18-22 for 281 and 3 scores. Thompson picked apart both the first and second team defense and later credited his work with new QB coach Jason Gesser as a big reason why. He said they have been emphasizing his footwork and today he put his hard work on display. He showed off arm strength and accuracy on a number of throws, connecting with Brown, Montgomery and Darden throughout the day. All three caught touchdowns from Thompson.
I don’t want this to get blown out of proportion, or for someone to read too much into this. There isn’t a QB controversy in Laramie, but Pokes fans should take comfort in knowing that Thompson is a more than capable back up if Smith faces injury issues similar to last season. The ideal plan is to redshirt Thompson and only use him if Smith was to miss an extended amount of time. It appeared to me that Freshman Tommy Thornton and Senior Colby Kirkegaard are competing for the #3 spot.
JR Chad Reese took most, if not all of his reps with the 3rd string unit and made 3 tackles and made a play on a ball that should’ve been intercepted, but instead it went through his hands an offensive player caught the ball off of the deflection. You should remember Reese from last year. He stood out toward the end of the season last year and in ten games had 56 tackles, 6-pass break ups and had a team high 3 interceptions. It’s not clear to me why Reese isn’t higher on the depth chart, and to me doesn’t make a lot of sense. It is something to certainly keep an eye on and expect him to work his way back up.
Lucas Wacha stood out the most to me on defense, he made 6 tackles on the day and if he was in the area he wasn’t going to miss the tackle. He made a few plays where he brought down the pass catcher or runner almost immediately after they got the ball. He seemed to play with a high intensity and used that to his advantage.
The offense’s tempo was noticeably faster and it took its toll on a thin Wyoming defense. This tempo could add a new dimension to home field advantage with the Cowboys using Laramie’s elevation to their strength.
K/P Stuart Williams showed that he is much improved from last season. The junior connected on all 5 of his PAT’s and 4-5 FG including a make from 55, his miss also came from 55, but it wasn’t because of a lack of distance. Christensen said he that is the first kick he can remember Williams missing all of camp and that he has been as consistent as anyone on the team. Freshman Ethan Wood appears to have the “leg” up in the Punter completion, but Christensen said Wyoming could use a couple guys depending on the situation. Wood seemed to have a solid rugby style kick.
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