2014 CFN Preview - Wyoming Cowboys
Wyoming RB Shaun Wick
Wyoming RB Shaun Wick
Posted Jul 15, 2014

Preview 2014 - Can a wildly successful new coach be what Wyoming needs? (Getty Images)

Wyoming Cowboys

Preview 2014

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By Pete Fiutak

Head coach: Craig Bohl
1st year
11th year overall: 104-32
Returning Lettermen:
Off. 21, Def. 20, ST 4
Lettermen Lost: 15
Ten Best Cowboy Players
1. DE Eddie Yarbrough, Jr.
2. LB Jordan Stanton, Sr.
3. CB Blair Burns, Sr.
4. WR Dominic Rufran, Sr.
5. FS Darrenn White, Sr.
6. RB Shaun Wick, Jr.
7. RB D.J. May, Soph.
8. WR/KR Jalen Claiborne, Sr.
9. OG Jake Jones, Jr.
10. QB Colby Kirkegaard, Sr.
2014 Schedule

Aug. 30 Montana
Sep. 6 Air Force
Sep. 13 at Oregon
Sep. 20 Florida Atlantic
Sep. 27 at Michigan State
Oct. 11 at Hawaii
Oct. 18 San Jose State
Oct. 25 at Colorado State
Nov. 1 at Fresno State
Nov. 7 Utah State
Nov. 22 Boise State
Nov. 29 at New Mexico

Wyoming has an interesting niche in the college football world. It’s a small school – enrollment of around 13,000 – in a small state population-wise with a football stadium of just 29,181. But the football program has had an interesting ability to be a bit different, from the color scheme to its offensive innovation, and it has a chance to make lots of noise in the Mountain West with the right coach at the right time.

If Utah State and San Jose State can become players in the league, Wyoming should certainly be able to turn into a bigger factor.

With no real recruiting base to draw from and needing to find the right scheme to fit the right players, the Cowboys need the right coach.

The place has had some terrific ones from Bob Devaney to Fritz Shurmur to Fred Akers to Pat Dye to Dennis Erickson to Joe Tiller, but now it might have found just the right one. Instead of getting an up-and-comer, who might take off for bigger and better things the moment there’s some success, Craig Bohl, who turns 56 this year, might have what it takes to become a Wyoming legend.

Of course, first he actually has to coach a game at the school, but if he can instill the same on-field discipline and same execution he did at North Dakota State on the way to winning three straight national titles with a 43-2 record over the last three seasons, the Mountain West is in big trouble.

So how did he do it? A defensive coach by nature, working as a defensive coordinator at Duke and Nebraska before taking over the head coaching gig in Fargo, his teams swarmed around the ball and always managed to do the little things right on defense, while the spread offense gave teams fits with an ultra-efficient passing attack to catch teams doing everything possible to hold up against the run.

Of course, that’s all easier said than done when going against the Missouri States and Ferris States of the world, but you don’t beat teams like Kansas State, and you don’t go on a run like NDSU just did without having all the pieces in place.

Minus a star quarterback, 2014 Wyoming might have several of the same parts ready to roll.

It would’ve been nice if do-it-all quarterback Brett Smith had hung around for one more year instead of jumping to the NFL early, but Bohl’s teams start with defense, and he has nine starters to work with from a group that struggled way too much with anyone who wanted to throw a forward pass.

The passing game has the potential to be terrific, but the offense needs the running attack to work to be effective. The talent is there at running back, but can the rebuilt offensive line get the job done right away, and can the offense still roll without Smith?

It might not be an easy fix right away, but for a team that went 5-7 last year with a fun offense, and with a coach like Bohl who knows how to get the most out of a scheme, Wyoming has the upside and potential to be dangerous.

What to watch for on offense: The offensive line has to come together in a hurry and has to show off a little bit of punch and power. That's going to be a problem with little depth and a rocky spring that showed just how far the front five has to go. With a good backfield tandem in D.J. May and Shaun Wick to hand off to, and even without Brett Smith to take off and make things happen, the pieces are there to do some decent things right away as long as the line works from the start. Right guard Jake Jones and right tackle Connor Rains are the veterans up front to work around, and then it’s a work in progress on the left side with sophomores Nathan Leddige and at tackle and Chase Roullier at guard to pave the way. There’s experience, and the line isn’t starting from scratch, but the offense is going to revolve around timing for the spread-option, and has to punch and blast away with a power-running game from time to time.

What to watch for on defense: Experience will have to turn into production in the 4-3 alignment that has to get into the backfield and needs to stop teams from bombing away. The offense turned in a great season, but it was way too hard to keep up the pace when the D was getting picked apart and couldn’t get off the field. Now, with a four-man front that should come up with a strong rotation, the potential is there to be tougher against the run after getting gouged way too easily by teams that committed to the ground game. Normally, though, Mountain West teams were having way too much fun throwing the ball, partially because the steady pressure wasn’t there. The North Dakota State defenses under Bohl were outstanding at coming up with third down stops, and that will be Priority One. It starts with forcing teams into third-and-long situations, and the Cowboy front line should be able to do that.

The team will be far better if … it can keep possession of the ball. It’s one thing to have a hurry-up offense that keeps defenses on their heels, and it’s not like last year’s attack didn’t keep the chains moving, finishing 30th in the nation in third down conversion percentage, but the defense kept wearing down time and again because the team was dead last in the nation in time of possession, keeping control for just 25:02 a game. There’s a reason why the Cowboys gave up 76 points in the first quarter, 111 in the second, and 253 in the second half – the D was getting gassed. North Dakota State last year under Bohl? No. 2 in the FCS in time of possession, keeping it for 33:40. That’s not to say the offense isn’t going to try to be explosive, but overall, the pacing should be different and the team should be stronger in the fourth quarter because of it.

The schedule: The Cowboys had better rock early, because they’re not going to be around familiar surroundings on a regular basis after mid-September. Starting out against Montana isn’t a layup, and then it’s right into Mountain West play hosting Air Force. The Falcons will be a tune-up for the Oregon attack the week after, and then there’s a break with Florida Atlantic. In all, UW gets three home games by September 20th, but three of the final eight games are on the road.

Not only is there the nasty trip to Eugene, but going to Michigan State isn’t going to be fun in non-conference play. In the Mountain West, there’s a week off before going to Hawaii, but that means there will be lots of long trips with just one home game in over a month. Missing San Diego State and Nevada helps, but there’s a trip to Fresno State and four road games in five dates hurts. To have any hope of going bowling, there can’t be misses on Jonah Field against Air Force, San Jose State or Utah State, and with a week off to prepare, beating Boise State would be special.

Best offensive player: Junior RB Shaun Wick. But sophomore D.J. May could end up starting. Either way, the two should combine to form a dangerous and tough tandem to help overcome the loss of Brett Smith, who finished second on the team with 571 yards. Wick averaged 5.9 yards per pop with a team-leading 979 yards, but May could and should be even more dangerous after leading the team with 369 yards and a score in 2012 before missing all of last season hurt with a torn pectoral muscle. Either way, the ground game should work with either one of these two.

Best defensive player: Junior DE Eddie Yarbrough. The First Team All-Mountain West star led the team with 6.5 sacks, and while three of them came in one game against Idaho, but he’s the high-energy option the line will work around. The veteran defense has plenty of good, sound options, but not a lot of playmakers to change up a game. That’s Yarbrough. He has to be the one who forces the action and be turned loose to attack, attack, attack. The new coaching staff will do that.

Key player to a successful season: Senior QB Colby Kirkegaard. It’s either going to be the senior passer, or sophomore Tom Thornton, or senior Sam Stratton running the attack and trying to replace Brett Smith. Kirkegaard and Stratton aren’t going to do anything special, and they’re not Smith in terms of moving the offense and making big things happen, but they’re steady in practice and they can each play. Thornton is a bit of an X factor with good mobility and a bit of a baller mentality. Don’t rule out a true freshman to take over this summer, with Austin Fort and Nick Smith each getting a chance at the gig this summer, but Kirkegaard might be the safe choice. The offense will revolve around the running backs, so keeping mistakes to a minimum will be the goal. Kirkegaard can do that.

The season will be a success if … the Cowboys go bowling. With so much returning experience on defense, and with the new scheme likely to make up for the issue on offense, it’s not asking a lot to be one game better and become bowl eligible. Beating Air Force and starting out 3-2 – losing to Oregon and Michigan State on the road – will be vital, and taking care of business over the first half of the season by beating Hawaii in Honolulu and coming up with a win over San Jose State at home will take the pressure off. It could be rough with at Colorado State, at Fresno State, Utah State and Boise State all in a row. Going bowling could come down to a road game at New Mexico.

Key game: Sept. 6 vs. Air Force. Wyoming was able to bomb away on a miserable Falcon defense to win 56-23 last year, but the Cowboy run defense was ripped to shreds allowing 346 yards and over six yards per carry. With so many nasty conference games to deal with, if Wyoming can’t beat Air Force at home on September 6th, it’s going to take a few upsets to have any dream of getting a 13th game.

2013 Fun Stats:
- Field Goals: Opponents 7-of-14 – Wyoming 4-of-7
- Time of Possession: Opponents 34:57 – Wyoming 25:03
- Third Quarter Scoring: Opponents 130 – Wyoming 60

- 2014 Wyoming Preview - What You Need To Know