There were many positive signs in Wyoming’s 29-7 season-opening win over New Mexico State on Saturday night. Among the most impressive to me was what we saw from the Wyoming running game. Last season was a struggle for the Pokes as they looked to replace the school’s all-time leading rusher Brian Hill who left school early for the NFL. The running game really never got going last season and led to struggles offensively for the Brown & Gold.
In Las Cruces, the Cowboys rushed for 312 yards and were paced by a noticeably bigger and faster Nico Evans who rushed for 190 yards and two touchdowns from 24 and 56 yards out. His backs-ups Xazavian Valladay and Jevon Bigelow were also productive contributing 61 and 55 yards apiece respectively. The 312 total rushing yards beat last year’s season best of 187 yards against San Jose State and the 5.4 yards-per-carry beat all of last year’s numbers except the 6.1 yards-per-carry in the home victory against Hawaii.
To get a gauge at what this all means, let’s take a look at some numbers. New Mexico State ranked in the middle of the pack nationally in rush defense last season allowing 166 yards per game placing them 65th. Making the ground production from the Pokes on Saturday almost double of what New Mexico State allowed last year. Washington State’s rush defense was a tick more robust last campaign ranking 47th, allowing 152 yards per game. So this upcoming Saturday afternoon tilt against the Cougars should give us more answers about the state of the Wyoming running game this season.
A strong running game is the backbone of Craig Bohl’s offensive philosophy and for the Cowboys to reach their full potential they must be able to run the ball. As we saw against the Aggies, the game plans with Tyler Vander Waal under center will be conservative as he gets his feet wet playing in Division I college football. If Evans, Valladay, Bigelow and the offensive line can continue to produce with the ground game it will set up the Cowboys and Vander Waal up for future success.
It might be extremely early but the signs of a Wyoming running game resurgence look positive.