2011 Wyoming Preview – Offense
CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - Wyoming Cowboy Offense
Preview 2011 - Offense
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What You Need To Know:
Offensive coordinator Gregg Brandon, the former Bowling Green head coach, has a lot of work to do. A LOT of work to do. The hope was that the pieces would start to come together last year, but instead the attack was 116th in the nation and did absolutely nothing until the final month of the season. None of the three top quarterback options have ever thrown a pass with true freshman Brett Smith needing to step up after likely starter, redshirt freshman Emory Miller, left the team. The receiving corps desperately needs Chris McNeill to turn into a No. 1 target to carry an inexperienced group, while Alvester Alexander, after coming out of spring ball named the backup, has to carry the running game again. The offensive line is in a constant shuffle mode with some of last year's key starters relegated to backup roles to try out some new ideas after a few disastrous years.
Star of the offense: Junior RB Alvester Alexander
Rushing: Alvester Alexander
117 carries, 392 yds, 3 TD
Receiving: Chris McNeill
28 catches, 257 yds, 3 TD
Player who has to step up and be a star: Freshman QB Brett Smith
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore RB Brandon Miller
Best pro prospect: Junior RB Ghaali Muhammad (as a returner)
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Alexander, 2) C Nick Carlson, 3) WR Chris McNeill
Strength of the offense: Athletic Quarterbacks, O Line Options
Weakness of the offense: Experience, Scoring
State of the Unit: The passing game was relatively efficient, but it wasn't very productive throwing for just 1,992 yards with 12 touchdown passes and nine interceptions. The franchise was being built around Austyn Carta-Samuels, who carried the attack by completing over 60% of his throws and finishing second on the team in rushing, but then, in a shock of shocks, he chose to transfer and the program is scrambling. Nothing was settled in spring ball, and it's going to be a fight for the job going into the fall with no one with any experience returning.
True freshman Brett Smith got to school early and was neck-and-neck with Miller for the starting job before Miller took off. The 6-3, 195-pounder from Oregon has the build of a pure passer, but he's a terrific runner gaining 855 yards with 22 scores last year. Oregon State wanted him, but the Cowboys got him. Considering the quarterback situation, he's needed right away.
As good as Smith might be, fellow true freshman Adam Pittser might be the better prospect. The 6-2, 206-pound dual-threat talent was a standout at the prestigious Elite 11 Quarterback Camp with great mobility, a live, accurate arm, and tremendous upside. He blew off Wyoming and Colorado to be a Cowboy.
5-11, 190-pound redshirt freshman Emory Miller was the type of dual-threat talent who had Air Force and Navy poking around, but he wanted to try to be more of a passer and got his shot with the Cowboy attack. Extremely quick, he was an exciting option, but even though he was considered the leader for the starting job, he chose to leave the program for personal reasons.
Watch Out For … A battle for the No. 1 job going deep into the fall camp. And even then there might not be any answers with Smith still fighting for the other options, for good and bad, for the starting gig.
Strength: Dual threats. Everyone can run, but it's not like the three top options are just athletes. All can throw a little bit with good, promising arms and enough power to be able to push the ball down the field.
Weakness: Experience. Considering the top four options are two freshmen and two redshirt freshmen, it's safe to say the Cowboys are starting from scratch. Anything the offense gets from the position will be a plus.
Outlook: There's still a rumor that Carta-Samuels could potentially come back, but there's no teeth to the scuttlebutt. It'll be sink-or-swim time for all the green players, and there could be a combination of players working the position. If nothing else, the quarterback will be able to gain yards by run.
Unit Rating: 4
State of the Unit: The running backs did a whole bunch of nothing with QB Austyn Carta-Samuels gaining 392 of the 1,434 yards and just two backs getting a little bit of work. How poor was the ground game? It picked up late in the year with 392 yards against New Mexico and 212 against Colorado State, and those were two of the four games the team gained more than 100 yards.
Is Brandon Miller a running back or a wide receiver? The 6-0, 187-pound sophomore came to Wyoming as a quick slot receiver, but he didn't catch any passes last year and ran for 22 yards on five carries. Now he's the lead back in the rotation after a tremendous spring. He's not going to bring any power, and he's not a between-the-tackles type of physical presence, but he moves and cuts well and he's always gaining positive yards. With his hands, he can be used as a receiver, too.
Junior Alvester Alexander was a major part of the offense right away as a true freshman gaining 640 yards, and he was the ground game last year with 792 of the team's 1,434 yards and 14 of the team's 17 touchdown runs. At 5-11 and 204 pounds he's a compact, strong runner with decent size, excellent wheels, and gamebreaking ability, but his production came in spurts with 123 yards and two scores against Air Force, 151 yards and three scores against New Mexico, and 147 yards and five touchdowns in the season finale against Colorado State. He isn't used much as a receiver, catching just 15 passes for 134 yards, but he has hands.
Former linebacker Ghaali Muhammad will get the call as the No. 3 running back to bring some more size and flash to the mix. The 6-0, 221-pound junior was third on the team with 75 tackles last year, and he still might end up going back on defense, but the running game has to find a physical presence and he'll get the chance. Originally a strong safety prospect, and a great kickoff returner, he has terrific speed and quickness for his size and should be a factor right away.
Watch Out For … Miller. The coaching staff wanted more options than Alexander, and Miller took the chance he got this offseason and ran with it. He might not be a workhorse, but he'll almost certainly be a 15-carry type of back who can hit the big play from time to time.
Strength: Alexander. Call it a message being sent by putting him No. 2 on the depth chart, but the junior is the team's best rushing option and the one who'll end up carrying the ground game in key situations. He'd be far more consistent if his offensive line wasn't so lousy.
Weakness: Backups. Miller is a receiver by trade, and it's never a plus when the 92nd-ranked defense in America moves its third-leading tackler to be a No. 3 running back.
Outlook: The running game needs the quarterbacks to be major players in the ground game and have to open things up for the backs. Alexander is a proven playmaker who can handle the workload, but the improvement in the running game will come with more options in the mix. Considering the No. 3 running back, Miller, finished with 22 yards, there needs to be more from the reserves.
Unit Rating: 5
State of the Unit: Considering the two best targets are gone, things aren't that bad. David Leonard came up with a disappointing 47 catches to lead the team, but he only averaged 9.3 yards per catch, while No. 2 target Zach Bolger is easily replaceable. The Cowboys have several interesting options to throw into the mix, but their job will to take advantage of the few opportunities they'll have. Considering the starting quarterback won't have a lick of experience, the receivers will have to do their part.
The team's leading returning receiver, Chris McNeill , finished third on the team with 28 catches for 257 yards and three touchdowns averaging 9.2 yards per grab. The 6-1, 180-pounder has the speed and quickness to do far more, and he got a few carries for the running game, but he hasn't come up with many big, explosive plays in his first two years. With the toughness of a defensive back, he's a smart, good athlete who should be able to grow into the No. 1 role.
5-10, 187-pound sophomore Robert Herron is a smallish, quick target who got a little bit of work catching six passes for 57 yards. Now he'll be asked to become more of a gamebreaker and will get the ball in his hands in a variety of ways after finishing second on the team with 235 rushing yards averaging 5.9 yards per carry. The potential is there for him to become one of the offense's breakout stars. Backing him up will be former quarterback Sam Stratton, an ultra-athletic 5-11, 195-pounder who suffered a knee injury a few years ago. A former Colorado all-state sprinter, he's very, very fast.
Senior Mazi Ogbonna is a 6-1, 194-pound former JUCO transfer who stepped in and played a role finishing fourth on the team with 18 catches for 183 yards and a score. Fast enough to be a good returner, he's not going to work on special teams but could be a deep threat even though his biggest play last year was 29 yards. He'll be backed up by 6-2, 200-pound senior DeJay Lester , a big, strong target who hasn't done much so far with just two grabs for 18 yards.
Bringing size to the equation is T.J. Smith , a 6-3, 220-pound sophomore who caught eight passes for 175 yards and a score averaging 21.9 yards per try. Built like a smallish tight end, he can be physical, but he has the athleticism and the skill to stretch the field a bit. Backing him up is an even bigger option in 6-5, 225-pound sophomore Spencer Bruce , who made just one catch for seven yards but has the size to be a matchup nightmare.
Senior Bryson Studnicka started out his career as a linebacker, moved to defensive end, and now will be a full-time H-Back after starting six games last season and catching seven passes for 70 yards. At 6-3 and 247 pounds he has a good frame and is a strong blocker, and while his hands are nice, his worth will be as a physical presence. 6-4, 240-pound redshirt freshman Shane Sullivan is a true tight end who could quickly find a job as a pure pass catcher. He has the upside to grow into a nice safety valve.
Watch Out For … McNeill to step up his play. With his experience and his athleticism, it's all there to become a No. 1 target for defenses to worry about. He hasn't made a splash so far, but he's due.
Strength: Options. There isn't a whole bunch of experience, and there isn't a lot to rely on right away, but there are several interesting players to work with. There's size, speed, and depth … potentially. Give this group another year and it should be a strength.
Weakness: The starting quarterback. Things might be very different if there was a veteran under center, but there no UW quarterback has ever thrown a pass. This receiving corps isn't good enough to make the new guy shine.
Outlook: This was a young group last year, but it had two reliable veterans in Leonard and Bolger to count on while others matured. Now it's time for last year's younger guys to shine, but Cowboy receivers, other than Leonard, haven't exactly lit it up over the last few years.
Unit Rating: 4.5
State of the Unit: The offensive line never found its stride last year … again. The pass protection was a bit better, allowing 31 sacks after giving up 37 in 2009, and the ground game wasn't all that strong. The improvement expected didn't come, and now, again, there's going to be plenty of movement to find the right combination.
The one player staying put will be center Nick Carlson , a 6-4, 292-pound junior who started out his career at right guard and turned into a stalwart in a more natural position in the middle. He beefed up a bit over the last two years, but he's athletic for his size. Now he has to be an anchor and a true leader for the line, while backup 6-4, 301-pound redshirt freshman Travis Bogard will bring more beef to the position.
The left tackle situation will be a fight up until the opener with senior John Hutchins moving over from right guard, where he started seven games last year, but is better on the outside. Athletic for his size, he has the upside to improve the pass protection with 6-5, 295-pound size and decent feet. However, 6-6, 305-pound senior Clayton Kirven will find a spot somewhere. The big veteran started 11 times at left tackle and two times on the right, but he was named a second teamer coming out of spring ball. That will change. With 34 career starts, he has too much experience to not be a part of the starting five, but the one-time star recruit, even with all his time logged in, has yet to play up to his potential.
It'll be just as much fun on the right side where 6-6, 317-pound junior Kyle Magnuson is coming off a tremendous offseason to take over the right tackle job. The massive blocker was named the most improved lineman after spring ball, and he appears to have locked down the position even though 6-4, 296-pound junior veteran Josh Leonard will see time after serving as a key starter. While he's not huge compared to Magnuson, he's a decent enough blocker to start again if needed.
Former defensive tackle Tyler Strong will get the first look at left guard, and while he's only 6-3 and 275 pounds, he's one of the toughest players on the line. He'll be a run blocker, but he's just athletic enough to hold his own against the speedier interior pass rushers. Adding more girth to the spot is 6-4, 308-pound redshirt freshman Travis Bogard , a very big, very promising run blocker who's a pure guard.
6-3, 301-pound senior Brandon Self has had a terrific spring and earned the right guard job for now, but he'll have to fight with JUCO transfer Zach Rushing , among others, for the starting spot. The 6-3, 295-pound Rushing was a star for Mississippi Gulf Coast CC as the key part of the high-octane attack, and he's being expected to play a big role right away.
Watch Out For … lots and lots and lots of movement. Consider the depth chart to be written in pencil. The coaching staff has had no problems moving around players to try to find the right combination.
Strength: The backups. If the spring depth chart is any indication, the Cowboys will have tremendous No. 2s if Leonard, Kirven, and Rushing really are backups.
Weakness: Blocking. The Wyoming line hasn't stopped a pass rusher in several years, and the run blocking was inconsistent at best. Several things have been tried out and nothing has worked.
Outlook: Inconsistency could be a major problem considering the coaching staff can't seem to figure out which starting five would be best. The key will be to find a starting five and sink or swim through it, but this is going to be yet another work in progress throughout the first half of the season.
Unit Rating: 4.5
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