Wyoming’s Young Defensive Ends Have Arrived Ahead of Schedule
LARAMIE -- No other team in the Mountain West harasses quarterbacks as much as Wyoming does.
As a team, the Cowboys have tallied 25 sacks. The second most is Fresno State with 18. Nationally, only Bowling Green (32), Liberty (30), Cincinnati (29) and Temple (28) have more.
The numbers are impressive -- tied for No. 6 in the country -- but what makes this stat even more stunning is the guys who are getting the job done. What was once dubbed the "biggest question mark" heading into the 2022 campaign, has become one of the team's biggest strengths.
It all starts at the defensive end spot, a position that features some of the youngest players on this roster, which is littered top to bottom with inexperience.
How young? Consider this. UW's ends came into the season with a grand total of zero sacks under its collective belt. Now, they sit at 18 just eight games in.
"They've exceeded my expectations," Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl said. "... We thought there was an emerging group during fall camp and they've continued. The trajectory has been really good."
That all starts with DeVonne Harris.
The sophomore from Big Lake, Minnesota, is tied for second in the FBS with seven sacks. Only Karl Brooks (Bowling Green) and Thomas Incoom (Central Michigan) have more with 7.5. Those two are also seniors. Harris wrapped up Utah State signal caller Bishop Davenport behind the line of scrimmage three times in the Cowboys' 28-14 victory over the Aggies last Saturday inside War Memorial Stadium.
"If we pressure him, he's going to have a hard time because, again, he's young -- he's a true freshman," Harris said of Davenport, who was making his first-collegiate start.
Standing 6-foot-4 and weighing in at 225, the goggle-wearing edge rusher has used speed and quickness to beat tackles all season long.
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The same can be said for 6-foot-2, 246-pound Oluwaseyi Omotosho.
The redshirt freshman has five sacks to his credit, three of those coming in a 33-10 win in early September over Northern Colorado. Fellow first-year player, Braden Siders, has four sacks to his name. The 6-foot-3, 240-pound Colorado product chalked up two of those in a loss to BYU.
Throughout spring and fall camp, Bohl mentioned the name Sabastian Harsh time and time again. The sophomore, who had become a mainstay on UW's special teams units and saw action on the defensive front late in the 2021 season, was the unofficial MVP of the offseason.
Just before the season opener at Illinois, though, the Scottsbluff, Neb., native suffered a season-ending knee injury. To make matters worse, Alabama transfer, Keelan Cox, was also sidelined with a hip injury.
In that Zero-Week tilt with the Fighting Illini, UW barely breathed on starter Tommy DeVito, finishing with just two QB pressures in the 38-6 setback.
This unique cast of characters, as Bohl refers to them, has dialed up the pressure ever since. Even more help could be on the way. True freshman Kevin Sjogren saw his first action against Utah State.
"Oh, it's been exciting," he said. "... I thought the ends were very disruptive last week. They play hard and they run well."
These guys all have a story. Harris was undersized and overlooked. Omotosho didn't start playing football until his junior year in high school. Siders had plenty of highlights during his prep career, but poor grades led to few phone calls from recruiters.
In typical Wyoming fashion, the development was fast tracked once these guys got to Laramie.
"I feel like the growth happened from everybody surrounding me, telling me I was capable of more," Omotosho said. "You know, just giving me constructive criticism and really pushing me to grow every day, like physically in the weight room and mentally.
"... They don't let me get comfortable."
In part, Harris credits familiarity with the playbook for his jump in production.
Yeah, I feel very comfortable with this defense, I've been learning this defense since 2019," he said. "So, I'm feeling really good with our defense right now."
The ever-present chip on Siders' shoulder pushes him.
"It definitely gave me a purpose," he said of his recruitment to UW. "I committed the next day. You know, like, this is the only school to show me love. No Colorado schools talked to me."
Sacks, turns out, have also led to plenty of winning.
When Wyoming registers at least two in a game since 2018, the Cowboys are 21-8 overall. If the Pokes tally three or more that record moves to 14-3. When they fail to get one, they're 2-9. One of those wins came against Air Force, a team that rarely throws the ball. The other, Georgia State in the 2019 Arizona Bowl.
Harris and Co. have racked up 12 sacks over the last two games. Despite sitting at just 2-6, Hawaii, UW's next opponent, has allowed just 11 of those. That's the third-best mark in the conference behind only Wyoming (9) and Air Force (7).
"They've got a really imposing offensive line," Bohl said, referring to the Rainbow Warriors.
It's apparent the Cowboys have some impressive guys on the other side to match.
Kickoff is scheduled for 10 p.m. Mountain Time Saturday in Honolulu. The game can be streamed on the Team 1 Sports app.
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