Sophomore WR Austin Conway catches a punt. Photo Credit: Pete Arnold.

Wyoming hosts Gardner-Webb of the FCS in the first of the 7 home games on Saturday. The Cowboys are looking to bounce back from what many thought was a disappointing loss last week to Big 10 foe, Iowa 24-3. I don’t think the fans that are disappointed aren’t necessarily disappointed in the fact that Wyoming lost, but how they lost. This week should be a nice week for the Pokes to bounce back and gain some confidence as they move forward with the rest of their schedule. Here is what I think as we head into the home opener.

I think…

  1. The Cowboys will be fine, despite what you saw at Iowa.

Most fans are disappointed with last Saturday’s results at Iowa, reasonably so. Expectations were high, Josh Allen got little help and made a couple poor decisions late in the game, true freshman punter Tim Zaleski became social media famous (or infamous his case), and the Cowboys didn’t compete like most expected they would. The 24-3 loss was overall disappointing in many ways.

With that being said, there is plenty of reason to not give up. The defense looked very good, causing 4 turnovers, I thought Cooper Rothe looked improved, despite missing a kick, he still set a career high with a 49 yard FG that had plenty of leg, and Josh Allen looked every bit the part of an NFL talent.

A few years ago a 24-3 loss at Iowa would’ve been viewed as a moral victory. Wyoming usually gets rolled in games like this, especially on the road. Expectations are higher this year and that is a good thing but let’s not forget some key points. The Pokes started 2 true freshman on the OL, they need to replace over 80% of their production at receiver, and all of their production at RB. They had only 7 seniors listed on the entire depth chart entering the game. They are a relatively young football team and inexperienced. There is going to be a learning curve, but I think Craig Bohl has proven that he knows what he is doing. By the time Mountain West play rolls around, you will like what you see.

  1. The defense looked much improved from 2016.

New defensive coordinator Scott Hazleton had a nice debut and the defensive performance was undoubtedly my biggest takeaway from the Iowa game. They looked fantastic and much improved from a season ago. Iowa’s running game and offensive line is no joke and the Pokes more than held their own. They allowed only 263 yards of offense (125 passing, 138 rushing), 3.4 yards per carry on 41 attempts, caused 4 turnovers, had 2 sacks, caused 4 fumbles (recovered 3), had 6 tackles for loss, had constant pressure on Iowa’s QB, and a number of guys were making big plays rather than just 1 or 2 guys carrying the load. I am excited to see how the defense plays going forward.

  1. Carl Granderson is a force to be reckoned with.

Sticking to defense, Carl Granderson was a monster at Iowa. Granderson was having a breakout sophomore season before he suffered a season ended knee injury against Air Force half way through the season. I thought he would need some time to get back into the swing of things, but the junior DE didn’t miss a beat. Granderson dominated on Saturday and finished the game with 9 tackles, 1 sack, 1.5 TFL, and one forced fumble. He seemed to be in every play and was constantly getting into the backfield.

At 6’5 255 and extremely athletic, Granderson is going to be very difficult for offenses to contain. I think he is going to be one of the best pass rushers in the Mountain West and opposing offenses are going to need to key in on him, which should allow other guys on defense to step up and make plays like they did at Iowa.

  1. Josh Allen and the offense will find their rhythm vs Gardner-Webb.

The offensive output last week was the most disappointing part of the Iowa game. The defensive played a great game, caused 4 turnovers and continually put the offense in good positions. The offense did absolutely nothing with that and managed to put up a measly 3 points. The running game struggled against a tough Iowa DL, receivers failed to get open downfield, and Josh Allen made some poor decisions with the football. With that being said, Allen didn’t get a ton of help. Wyoming’s most experienced pass catcher, C.J. Johnson only had 3 catches for 22 yards and dropped a wide open pass in the end zone and the Cowboy running game averaged only 2 yards a carry.

Here is the positive, it can only get better, and it will. I thought Milo Hall showed some good ability to run the ball, Allen’s arm looked explosive and he made some great throws, and freshman WR Avante’ Cox showed some play making ability. The offense is young and outside of Allen they have to replace almost all of their production. This week’s game is much more favorable than last week’s. Be patient with the Allen and Co. as they find their footing.  The offense, particularly the running game, will find better rhythm and confidence and that should lead to more production in games to come.

  1. Austin Conway is a game breaker.

One guy who I thought stood out last week on offense was sophomore WR Austin Conway. Conway showed last year that he is a threat to score every time he touches the ball, whether it be running, returning, catching, or even throwing. Conway didn’t get a chance to return any punts at Iowa and only carried the ball one time for 3 yards, but he looked great catching the ball. He finished the game with 8 grabs for 51 yards, nearly already surpassing his 2016 total of 11 grabs for 103 yards. Conway is the definition of an x-factor and will make a number of game breaking plays in his career. I think he is primed for big year receiving, running and returning and will score in all 3 ways, heck I think the former QB will even throw for a score.