The Wyoming football season has been over for about a month now, giving us time here at WyoNation to think and reflect on the Cowboys’ 2-10 football season. Here is the second of a three part season review/reflection of sorts looking at the defense. A breakdown of the special teams will follow in the coming days.
The 2015 season was a rough year for Wyoming and their Tampa Cover-2 system. Wyoming allowed 34 points per game (102nd in the country), 225 rushing yards per game (115th in the country), 196 passing yards per game (3oth in the country) and 422 total yards per game (92nd in the country). Off all those numbers only the passing ones are palatable (even though Wyoming did give up a boat load of long passing plays early in the season) but the truth is opponents did not need to pass the ball because Wyoming was so weak in the running game.
The Wyoming defense was constantly burnt by the big play this this season and could not get off the field on third down. The Cowboys ranked 112th in the country in allowing third down conversions with opponents converting 45.6% of the time. A lack of size, speed, strength and agility are to blame due to the greenness of the squad. Wyoming finished the season with 15 freshman and sophomores on the two deep depth chart and the growing pains showed.
The big contributors to this year’s defense were defensive end Eddie Yarbrough, junior linebacker Lucas Wacha, and freshman safety Andrew Wingard. Yarbrough was named 2nd team All-Mountain West and lead the Pokes in sacks (7.0) and tackles for loss (10.5) which is pretty impressive considering he was double teamed almost every snap. Wingard was 2nd team All-Mountain West as well and the true freshman was an impact player from his first start against Eastern Michigan. Considering he lead the conference with 83 solo tackles (11 more than 2nd place) he probably should have been a first team selection but Wyoming’s 2-10 record had a lot to do with that. The Texan linebacker Wacha was the only returning experienced linebacker the Cowboys had last season and finished 2015 as the third leading tackler for Wyoming and 21st in the conference with 8.73 tackles per game.
As with any football team the coaches are looking for players they can build around to install a successful defense. What players in 2015 can head Coach Craig Bohl and defensive coordinator Steve Stanard build around in 2016?
Andrew Wingard – The Arvada, Colorado product is simply a hard-nosed and high IQ football player who is only going to get better. Wingard will probably lead the team in tackles again in 2016 because the front seven is in flux.
Lucas Wacha – Wacha is another solid player who had to play out of position in 2015. At 6 foot 1 and 214 pounds he simply doesn’t have the size to hold up as a FBS middle linebacker for a whole season. With some good looking middle linebacker’s coming in as recruits or off a redshirt year, a move to outside linebacker should be in order. This move will allow Wacha to play a more natural role in 2016.
Otherwise this Wyoming defense does have some nice complimentary pieces that can take a few steps forward in the offseason giving the Pokes a more solid base to work from. Those individuals include: OLB DJ May who made the switch from RB to LB, Safety Marcus Epps, and a whole host of young CB’s who improved over the course of the season: Robert Priester, Antonio Hull and CJ Jennings. On the defensive line defensive ends Kevin Prosser and Carl Granderson showed promise but at 200 pounds both of them are woefully light to play the position in the Mountain West.
A bigger question for me in the offseason is the defensive coaching staff. Bohl has stated that he believes that Wyoming can win conference championships with his system. In order to assess that claim what does a Mountain West winning defense look like? Over the past 5 years the average Mountain West champion has only allowed 22.3 points per game. That number is 11.7 points per game lower that Wyoming’s points allowed this last season. Does Wyoming have the defensive coaches to get to that number in the near future? With Steve Stanard leading the defense as defensive coordinator, I would argue no. Below are Stanard’s points per game numbers for every season he has been a FBS defensive coordinator. This is an interactive graph, go ahead and click around to see the numbers!
As you can see in the chart above Stanard has only broken the 22.3 point barrier once in his career and that was in 2006 for that school down south in green and gold. That year the Rams went 4-8 and were nowhere near a conference title. Those numbers are very concerning to me as Stanard defenses have allowed 30 or more points in 9 out of his 13 seasons as a defensive coordinator. That doesn’t look like the resume me to me of someone capable of delivering championship football.
Next season is a big year for the Wyoming defense because it will be decision time for Bohl if it is not successful. He is a loyal man who was around that Nebraska program who had tremendous coaching stability with their assistants for over 30 years. Will Bohl make the changes needed when the Wyoming defense under Stanard fails again or will he be too loyal and go down with the ship? Only time will tell and hopefully we do not find out with a much improved brown and gold defense taking the field next fall.