"Coaches have been talking about executing, focusing, watching the ball in and finishing plays," said Richard Wilson. "We've kind of struggled with catching the ball this season, so Coach has been talking about focusing and working on our hand-eye coordination. You know, watching the ball as it comes in. As the bye week's gone on and as these past few weeks have gone, on we've gotten better."
Wilson, considered a pass-catching tight end, has been used more within the run game as a blocker. Although a tight end, he has been playing more like an h-back at the tight end position, helping the Cougar offense establish a running game.
"I think the coaches just put me over there to be in the run game because I was doing such a good job," said Wilson. "I was on the scout team for a few weeks and I was honestly kicking our defense's butt in the blocking game. So the coaches put me in the Wyoming game and I did a good job and graded out really well. I think our offensive strength right now is our run, as everyone can tell. We have to stick with what is working."
After dropping some passes earlier in the season, Wilson hasn't been involved in the passing game since.
"You know, that happens," Wilson humbly said. "Coaches just decided to put me on the scout team to get better and develop. [Coach] put me over there and I did a good job. I haven't been able to get into a passing situation since then, but hopefully when I get into that situation again I'm going to execute and I'm going to try and make a big play."
In the end, it may simply come down to confidence.
"Confidence is one of the most important things," said Wilson. "If you have confidence in yourself, then you're going to make plays."
Young tight end Marcus Mathews has shared the collective burden of a few dropped passes. However, the coaches have still used him within the passing game.
"The coaches feel that part of the game is more Marcus' strength within the offense," said Wilson. "He's going to make some plays for us and he's a hard worker, so you have to stick with him and allow him to grow. He's made some plays for us also out there."
"I think really our guys are developing each and every play and rep in practice," said quarterback Jake Heaps. "It's been a lot of fun having the opportunity to see those guys grow and progress, because you love your tight ends and your playmaking guys out there on the edge. So it's been fun and exciting to see and I can't wait ‘til we get all the pieces polished and in place."
It's already been made known that Mathews has been going above and beyond to improve as a tight end, but what about Wilson?
"Yeah, the jugs machine is huge and that thing helps a lot," Wilson said. "Sometimes when I can get in here I'll do the extra work with the jugs machine. My class load is really busy, but I watch a lot of film from last year, and I'll stay after practice with Jake and throw with him."
The running game had worked well against teams like Wyoming (51 rushes for 217 yards) and San Diego State (62 rushes for 271 yards). The passing game on the other hand has struggled, but thankfully it has being worked on – particularly during the bye week.
"In the passing game we grew in confident a lot," said Wilson. "Our first-team offense went against our first-team defense the whole bye week. Then our second-team offense went against our second-team defense. I think we've developed more chemistry and were able to get more timing down. It was a good week of competition and for us to work on some things and get people healthy."
"I think we want to get to what we do well within the passing game," Heaps said. "But at the same time you have to come up with new wrinkles. As we've found out, our foundation is the run game this year and now we have to develop a passing game out of that. We're really excited and I think we have a good game plan going into UNLV. Schematically, I think we're heading into the right direction."
The offense must find a balance between sticking with what has been working, and adding more diversity within the plays being used.
"I think for the most part we're going to stick with what's working for us," Wilson said. "Sure, we're going to develop more of the passing game, but we don't want to stop what's been working for us, and right now the run game has been working for us. I don't think we should get away from what's working. With that being said, I do think our receivers have put the time in this past week, and in the bye week, and I think we're going to start seeing a few receiving touchdowns."
Heaps is optimistic that the passing game will indeed see some improvement.
"No question, I think we're doing more things as an offense as a whole," said Heaps. "I think we're a lot better now than in weeks past. I'm really excited about our passing attack. We know how good our running attack is, so I'm excited to see how it all plays out against UNLV. If we execute what we are capable of, it's going to be fun …
"I definitely think there is going to be a lot more balance, and I think we're going to see a lot more passing within our scheme. I think obviously, as a gun-slinger like me, you want to throw the ball on every play, but the bottom line is I want to win. I'll do whatever it takes to achieve that. If I have to hand the ball off to Josh [Quezada], J.J. [Di Luigi] or Bryan [Kariya], I'll hand the ball off every play if they ask me to. But as an offense I think we're better off as a balanced passing-run attack. We have a strong run game and we have to get to the point where we can attack through the air as well. I think the bye week and through this past week we have progressed in those aspects."