Second Scrimmage Sees More Balance
(University of Wyoming Media Relations) -- Wyoming’s second scrimmage of the fall took place on Saturday in Wyoming’s War Memorial Stadium, and it was a much more balanced scrimmage between the offense and defense.
The defense forced two interceptions by junior strong safety Darrenn White and sophomore linebacker Deven McKenna, and sacked Cowboy quarterbacks six times. Junior linebacker Mark Nzeocha and senior defensive tackle and co-captain Patrick Mertens led UW with two sacks each and were credited with six and five tackles, respectively.
Wyoming head coach Dave Christensen was pleased to see the defense step up with some big plays on Saturday and balance out the second scrimmage after the offense dominated in the initial scrimmage of fall camp last Sunday.
“I was thinking about this walking over here -- I don’t know how it could ever be the ideal scenario (in a scrimmage) because if the offense plays well, you want to know why the offense played so well and why the defense didn’t,” said Christensen. “If the defense plays well, you want to know why the defense is so good and the offense didn’t play as well. There were plays made on both sides today. I was pleased for the most part with our execution by our No. 1s.”
Junior quarterback and team co-captain Brett Smith was also asked by media members after the scrimmage if it was good to see the defense’s improved play on Saturday, knowing that it will take a total team effort for the Pokes to have a successful season once the regular season starts.
“They (the defense) definitely came to play, and you have to give them credit,” said Smith. “It’s kind of two-sided for me. I don’t like when the defense beats us, but I also like it because once the season comes I know they are going to be as important to our success as our offense and special teams will be. I was happy that they did a good job, and I can’t wait to watch them this year.
“I thought they did an outstanding job of covering our receivers. They’ve been doing a fantastic job the past couple of days in practice in terms of being able to sniff things out and recognize what plays we’re running.
“In that last two-minute drill, I particularly thought they did a great job of getting pressure on me,” said Smith. “They did a nice job of covering the receivers and staying disciplined back in the secondary. Obviously, it is frustrating for us as an offense when they stop us, but it is great to see at the same time.”
McKenna’s interception of sophomore quarterback Jason Thompson came on the first play of the two-minute drill period as the No. 2 defense was facing the No. 2 offense. On the very next offensive series, White intercepted Smith as the No. 1 offensive and defensive units faced off. In addition to those two interceptions, the Pokes also had six pass breakups. Senior free safety and co-captain Marqueston Huff, junior cornerback Tyran Finley, freshman cornerback Tim Hayes, redshirt sophomore defensive back Thatcher Vap, freshman cornerback Cooper Wise and sophomore defensive end Eddie Yarbrough each broke up one pass. Finley’s and Wise’s PBUs both came on plays in the end zone.
While the defense played much better on Saturday, they didn’t completely shut down the offense. The Cowboys’ offense generated 430 passing yards and 247 rushing with a very balanced attack that saw the Pokes throw 54 passes and rush the ball 52 times. The offense scored three rushing touchdowns and three through the air.
The first scoring play of the day came on a 65-yard pass from Smith to junior wide receiver Dominic Rufran on the No. 1 offense’s second possession of the scrimmage against the No. 2 defense. It capped off a six-play, 74-yard drive. The No. 3 offensive unit generated the second score of the scrimmage on a two-yard touchdown run by freshman running back Oscar Nevermann, which concluded a seven-play, 74-yard drive versus the No. 3 defense. On the very next possession, sophomore QB Thompson was given the opportunity to run his second of three series with the No. 1 offense vs. the No. 2 defense. The first play of that series he completed a pass to senior running back Brandon Miller, who took the pass and scampered 59-yards for the score. Two series later, fellow senior running back Tedder Easton carried the ball into the end zone from two yards out, capping off a 10-play, 59-yard drive by the No. 1 offense against the No. 2 defense.
Following a series of successful field goals, Easton scored his second touchdown of the day -- this time on a 15-yard catch and run on a pass from Smith as the No. 1 offense scored on the No. 2 defense during a red-zone period starting at the defense’s 21-yard line. The final touchdown of the day for the offense was on the second to last series, when sophomore running back Shaun Wick took off on a 64-yard TD run on first down from the offense’s own 36-yard line as the No. 1 offense scored against the No. 2 defense. Wick led all rushers on the day with 10 carries for 87 yards.
All told, Wyoming running backs scored all three rushing touchdowns and two of three TDs through the air. Christensen was asked afterward to assess his running backs’ performance on the day.
“It was good to see Brandon (Miller) back with fresh legs,” said Christensen. “He made some big runs, some big plays and we’re hoping he can do that to start the season off. We need to keep him healthy going into these last couple weeks of preparation heading into our first game.
“Tedder (Easton) has worked extremely hard, and he is real committed to our program. He understands his role, some times that is being a battering ram, but he does whatever is asked of him and he does it with everything he’s got. He has been a tremendous part of this football team with his work ethic.”
Quarterback Smith was also impressed with the performance of the Cowboy running backs.
“I thought we did a good job running the ball today,” said Smith. “The line was able to get a good push on the defense, and the backs were able to find some holes and make some big plays. I definitely thought we ran it well.”
While the Wyoming offense was able to score six touchdowns Saturday, the No. 1 defense did not give up any of those TDs. In eight series the No. 1 defense played on Saturday, they stopped the offense on downs three times, ended one series with White’s interception and allowed only four field goals. Two of those field goals came during the red-zone period when the offense was given the ball at the defense’s own 20-yard line.
Christensen was also asked about the three series in the middle of the scrimmage that sophomore quarterback Thompson was inserted into the No. 1 offensive unit.
“Jason (Thompson) did a nice job,” said Christensen. “We wanted to get a chance to see him behind the No. 1 line, and I wanted a chance to see the quarterbacks behind him (Colby Kirkegaard and Tommy Thornton) behind the No. 2 line. It was good to see how all those guys performed. I will be excited to watch the film, but I will say I was pleased with our quarterback play.
Senior wide receiver Robert Herron was held out of Saturday’s scrimmage. Christensen’s answer to a question about Herron was simple and straight forward.
“Robert (Herron) has played well enough during fall camp, I decided he wasn’t going to play today,” said Christensen. “But he is fine and ready to go.”
The Cowboys are just two weeks away from their season opener at Nebraska on Aug. 31. The head coach commented on that Saturday.
“We just talked to the kids about that -- two weeks from today we’re going to play that first game,” said Christensen. “We’ve got a lot of work to get done between now and then. I’ve liked everything I’ve seen from an effort standpoint up until this point, and I look forward to continuing to work on our preparation over the next two weeks.
“There are still guys fighting for jobs. We’ll start settling some things down and getting guys in place. We’ll scrimmage a little bit next week, but not a great deal. We’ve got most of our scrimmaging in now, but it was good to see both sides making plays today.”
And what does Smith want to focus on as he and his teammates prepare for their season opener against the Huskers?
“I just want to continue to get better -- polish things up,” said Smith. “Make sure everyone is doing what they can to learn their assignments and make sure we are mentally sharp and physically sharp and that we are ready to go. Hopefully, if we continue to work hard like we have been, we will have success.”