At least, it seemed that way yesterday, when the Pokes' defenders put the brakes on the Cowboys' running game and reminded UW quarterbacks why they were the eighth-ranked pass defense in the nation last year.
Senior inside linebacker John Prater put up seven tackles (two for losses), intercepted one pass and broke up another as the defense outshined a sporadic offense during the Cowboys' second and final scrimmage of the fall preseason.
Prater's interception was his second in as many scrimmages, and the senior is proving to be one of the Pokes' best pass defenders at the linebacker position. He and Luke Chase (inside LB) combined for 13 tackles, while Ward Dobbs (inside LB) and Sean Claffey (outside LB) each added a sack. It was a preview of the kind of play that many analysts believe will make the ‘07 linebacking unit one of the best in school history.
"I thought the defense probably had the upper hand tonight and really looked like they're humming," said Wyoming head coach Joe Glenn after the scrimmage. "The defense is doing a good job of making plays, rallying to the ball and making sure tackles. We had several batted balls from the defense tonight. I think Mike Neuhaus (redshirt sophomore defensive end) has knocked down 11 balls during fall camp and he had one tonight, so he's been one of our best pass defenders at the line of scrimmage.
"I feel good about our defensive line. They're young, but they all played a lot for us last year, and we've got John Fletcher (sophomore defensive tackle) back from a finger injury that caused him to miss a lot of last season. John is a force up there. We can't block him. Freddy (Givens, sophomore noseguard) is tough inside, and Mitch Unrein (sophomore defensive end) is having a good camp, so I feel we're really, really solid on defense."
Unrein led UW in sacks on the night with two for a minus 13 yards, and defensive tackle Danny Dutmer added a sack.
The offense, while struggling on the ground, showed signs of life in the passing game. Sophomore wide receiver Greg Bolling led the way during the 72-play scrimmage, catching two touchdown passes from starting quarterback Karsten Sween, including a spectacular 24-yard leaping grab at the goal line early in the night. He finished the scrimmage with four receptions for 70 yards to lead all receivers.
Senior wideout Michael Ford was productive, catching three balls for 47 total yards. He looked especially impressive on a short pass from Sween over the middle. Avoiding several would-be tacklers, Ford turned the corner and sprinted down the sidelines for 32 yards before finally being knocked out of bounds.
Sween completed 66 percent of his passes (12 of 18) for 163 yards and tossed two touchdowns, but his one interception, which Prater took back 36 yards, was the only pick thrown by any quarterback during the scrimmage.
Backup QB Ian Hetrick looked far less accurate with the second string offensive unit, completing just three of 11 passes (27 percent) for eight yards. Freshman Chris Stutzriem showed why he was the No. 1 ranked high school quarterback in the state of Oklahoma last year, completing five passes on eight attempts for 57 yards, including a 34-yard touchdown strike to a streaking Donte Morgan early in the scrimmage.
"We did some good things offensively," said Glenn. "But I had hoped our No. 1 offense would have ran the ball a little bit better. Greg Bolling certainly was sensational on a couple of catches he had."
Wyoming's offense ran the ball 36 times for 71 net yards, and totaled 299 yards of total offense. The Pokes' two top running backs, juniors Devin Moore and Wynel Seldon, carried the ball only five times for fourteen yards between them going against the No. 2 defense. Seldon was able to pound in a touchdown during the scrimmage.
A couple of young backs got the majority of the carries. Redshirt freshman Darius Terry rushed five times for 28 yards and true freshman Chris Sherwood, a walk-on from Laramie, led all rushers with 46 yards and a touchdown on eight carries against the No. 3 defense.
Despite a short first punt, senior punter Billy Vinnedge boomed the ball throughout the rest of the scrimmage, averaging 44.6 yards per punt on five attempts, with a long of 54 yards. He also kicked two kickoffs into the endzone from the 30-yard line.
The field-goal competition between Vinnedge and sophomore Jake Scott is still not where Glenn wants it. Both were perfect in PATs -- Scott was three for three and Vinnedge was two for two – which was an improvement upon the first scrimmage, where Scott missed a PAT, but Scott converted only two of his three field-goal attempts, successfully hitting from 29 and 21 yards while missing a 36-yard attempt. Vinnedge was only one of two in field goals, hitting from 36 yards but missing from 47.
"Our punting game is strong," said Glenn. "Billy punted well…Four of (his punts) were well over four seconds in hang time. Every thing in our punting game is looking good -- our ball-handling, our snapping -- we're getting the ball off in under 2.2 seconds, which is where you need to be.
"Place-kicking, Billy and Jake Scott were okay. Each of them left one field goal out there. They did both make all of their extra points, but we've got to be better in converting field-goal attempts. They both continue to work hard at it, but they've got to start nailing the ball between the goalposts."
When asked if he was pleased with where the Cowboys were at this point in fall camp, Glenn answered with his normal candor.
"No I'm not -- we need some work," said Glenn. "Whether it be blocking on the perimeter in our pass protection or running the ball better, we're not there yet. I told the kids after the scrimmage, the hay is not in the barn. We've got some work to do, and we can get better between now and 10 days and a wake from now when we play Virginia.
"We've got to keep working and improving and maybe play with a little more gusto. Our No. 1 offense needs to come out and get going a little bit quicker. It took us a couple of series to get going against our No. 2 defense, and the offense needs to be more effective than that."
On the injury front, the Cowboys came out of the second scrimmage in great shape with no new injuries to report. Glenn commented that a couple of projected starters may be back at practice later this week after suffering injuries earlier in fall camp. Senior cornerback Michael Medina (bruised left foot) and junior outside linebacker Mike Juergens (sprained left foot) may both be back practicing by the weekend.
"I just spoke to Mike Medina, and he hopes he might be able to start practicing again Saturday," said Glenn. "Mike Juergens' situation is similar. I think he's about ready to get going again."
Defense Plays Strong in Final Fall Scrimmage
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