To give Rams fans better insight into Wyoming, ITR sought the wisdom of GoWyoGo's Tom Lacock. He provides a closer glimpse into the Cowboys and what to expect in the 107th Border War between rivals Colorado State and Wyoming.
1. Wyoming has played at a much higher level this year compared to last year. What are the primary reasons for their better play this year?TL: Wyoming’s offense has been somewhat inconsistent, but is not without talent. Running back Brian Hill (463 yards rushing this year) is about 80 yards from being the school’s all-time leading rusher five games into his junior year. I covered Colorado State for the Gartrell Johnson years and Johnson remains the best comparison to Hill I have ever seen. Strong, fast, and runs like he is in a bad mood.
TL: The rebuilding of the Wyoming program is going to be a marathon and not a sprint. Last year was about as bad as it will get just due to the age of the kids in the program. If memory serves, the Cowboys had seven seniors in the program. I remember standing in the end zone of War Memorial last year for the Colorado State game and remarking that the Colorado State players seemed a head taller than everyone in Brown and Gold.
This year the bulk of the two-deep is still underclassmen, but a strong off-season under new strength and conditioning coach Rick Dennison has the program going in the right direction. Craig Bohl has a formula and you can see the progress, as well as how good the Cowboy program might be down the road, but it isn’t there yet. The progress thus far is very easy to see on the field.
2. What are the strengths of the Poke offense? Who are the go-to playmakers CSU will need to key in on?
Josh Allen (866 yards, 61 percent completion percentage, 6 TD) is quarterbacking the Cowboys in his sophomore year and has potential dripping out his ears. He can run effectively and has an impressive arm. The Wyoming coaches will tell you he has an amazing upside. They know from which they speak if you take into account the fact they recruited and coached Carson Wentz at NDSU. Allen’s receiving corps are decent. Tanner Gentry (Grandview High) has 29 catches for 388 yards thus far and Jake Mulhardt is a tall target with 15 catches already this season. More depth in the wide receiving corps would be helpful and a good deep threat would be welcome on this team.
The offensive line is a great example of where this program is right now. There is one All-Conference senior in center Chase Roullier and then one junior in former Valor Christian tackle Ryan Cummings. Then they get young in a hurry with two true sophomores and a true freshman. That mix has led to inconsistency, especially in the run game. When they are on, they look unstoppable, but have also had their struggles at times, such as last weekend against Eastern Michigan.
3. Defensively, what are the strengths and weaknesses of the Cowboys? Who are their top playmakers on that side of the ball? TL: Defensively the Cowboys are taking strides from their performance of a year ago. There is more depth along the defensive line, which was a major deficiency last year. Chase Appleby and Connor Cain (of Littleton) are strong up the middle. Uber-talented defensive end Carl Granderson (6-5, 245) added enough weight this off-season to no longer be mistaken for a basketball player. Lucas Wacha is the Cowboys’ leader from the defensive side of the ball at middle linebacker. Redshirt Freshman Logan Wilson has had his moments too, but the secondary is much improved over a year ago. Last weekend they intercepted Eastern Michigan four times, bringing two back for touchdowns and yet still gave up 500 yards of total offense. Depth is still an issue for this group and Arvada native and free safety Andrew Wingard, who is truly special, is still making too many tackles for me to feel comfortable about a bowl this year, but the improvement is there.
4. Are there any new playmakers this year we didn't see in last year's Border War? What about new schemes or wrinkles in Bohl's playbook? TL: Josh Allen is certainly a playmaker you didn’t see a year ago in Laramie. He played 13 plays against Eastern Michigan in 2015, led two scoring drives and broke his collarbone putting him out for the year. He is the most talented quarterback we have seen in Laramie since Brett Smith and maybe even before that. He needs experience, he needs reps, he needs the game to slow down for him a bit and he can be truly outstanding - conference MVP-type outstanding.
Defensively, the Cowboy coaches brought in seven defensive backs in this recruiting class, which tells you everything you need to know about the performance of the 2015 defensive backfield. Rico Gafford is starting at corner after coming from Iowa Western Community College. He is a former Iowa 100 meter champ and has two interceptions on the year. He has been a strong upgrade in the secondary.
As far as new wrinkles in the playbook - sore subject. The Wyoming fanbase (some of the more vocal among them) have been unimpressed by the play calling of offensive coordinator Brent Vigen. I get the complaints, but this staff has at least three more FCS title rings than anyone on our message boards and they get to see the team about six days more than we do each week so you have to think they are better at putting their players in a position to succeed than anyone. That said, the play calling can get a little vanilla from time-to-time.
5. What are your keys to a Wyoming victory and a score prediction?
TL: This game will feature two programs both trying to build towards a consistent Mountain West Conference title contender. Neither are there yet and youth has a lot to do with that. Keeping away from youthful mistakes such as turnovers, and penalties will go a long ways towards deciding the victor.
For Wyoming the key to this game is consistent play along the offensive front. Allen and Hill are capable of big things if they have the support of the line, which has the talent to do good things. In addition, Wyoming needs to show they can distribute the ball in the passing game to players not named Tanner Gentry in hopes they don’t face eight and nine-man fronts most of the night.
Defensively, Wyoming needs to get off the field on third down. They are a developing unit, but a strong team with sustained drives can lean on this team and wear them out.
This Wyoming program is on the rise and good things are coming for the Cowboys. I am not sure they are ready for a win in Fort Collins this year. Then again, why not? Wyoming 24, Colorado State 21.