Spring scrimmages normally belong to the defense. That wasn't the case on Thursday for the Wyoming Cowboys.
While the Cowboy defense had seemingly been in control this spring in the offense versus defense drills, first-year Dave Christensen's new spread offense showed some signs of life in Thursday's 69-play scrimmage.
In a complicated points system, the offense prevailed 38-27 in the Indoor Practice Facility. Thursday‘s scrimmage, which will be followed up Saturday by a full scrimmage, gave Christensen and his coaching staff a chance to evaluate players at full speed in game-type situations.
"We took the blue jerseys off the quarterbacks and made everything live," Christensen said. "We were a little bit short at a couple of positions, so we had to mix the No. 1s and No. 2s together, but it was good for us to put the players in game situations in preparation for what will be a longer scrimmage on Saturday."
The Cowboys problems offensively in the last couple of years -- turnovers and penalties -- showed improvement as well, with just three flags thrown -- two offensive procedures and one defensive holding.
Wyoming did turn the ball over twice, but in a scrimmage situation, Christensen took a positive take as well, pointing towards his defense.
"We had two turnovers offensively that were disappointing, but on the other side of it, the defense got two takeaways," Christensen said. "We've been emphasizing having a positive turnover margin, and when you're practicing against yourself one side has to come out on top."
Led by senior quarterback Karsten Sween, the No. 1 offense scored three touchdowns. The first came on a 65-yard drive against the No. 2 defense that was capped by a 5-yard TD pass from Sween to senior tight end Orlando Arnold on the first series of the scrimmage.
The second score by the No. 1 offense came on a 55-yard drive that was keyed by sophomore wide receiver Brandon Stewart, who broke a 38-yard reverse down to the No. 1 defense's 1-yard line. Senior running back Darius Terry scored on the next play.
The final score by the No. 1 offense started on a series from the defense's own 25-yard line. The offense took four plays to go the 25 yards, with Terry once again scoring from 1-yard out against the No. 2 defensive unit.
The No. 2 offense, quarterbacked by redshirt freshman Adam Barry, scored one touchdown on its final series of the scrimmage versus the No. 1 offense.
That TD came on a 2-yard run by sophomore running back James Davis to complete a 25-yard drive. The No. 3 offense also scored one touchdown behind junior quarterback Dax Crum versus the No. 3 defense. That scoring drive covered 55 yards, culminating in a 9-yard TD pass to junior tight end Joe Evers.
"I was pleased with the way the offense moved the football," Christensen said. "But we only had five healthy defensive linemen available today, so it is a little hard to evaluate that particular part of our play at this time."
Sween completed 7 of 9 pass attempts for 72 yards and one TD. Crum was also 7-of-9 for 43 yards and a touchdown pass, and Barry completed 5-of-10 passes for 38 yards and threw one interception.
Crum was the leading rusher on the day, carrying the ball six times for 48 yards. Stewart who had two rushing attempts for 46 yards, while Terry carried eight times for 38 yards.
Junior wide receiver Travis Burkhalter led all receivers with three catches for 31 yards. Fellow junior wideout David Leonard had two receptions, also for 31 yards.
Defensively, sophomore linebacker Brian Hendricks was involved in both takeaways. He intercepted a pass thrown by Barry that bounced off the hands of Burkhalter. Hendricks returned the interception 18 yards.
The defense's other turnover came when senior linebacker Weston Johnson forced a fumble by Barry following a bad snap from center out of shotgun formation. Hendricks recovered that fumble for his second takeaway of the day.
Hendricks finished with four tackles, while Johnson also had four tackles, including one tackle for a loss and one pass breakup.
Senior defensive end Mitch Unrein and sophomore linebacker Gabe Knapton each had eight total tackles, while senior free safety T.J. Atwater had seven tackles. Junior linebacker Jimmy DeAndrea had six before leaving with a sprained knee.
Christensen said the Cowboys competed fairly well for the first live scrimmage.
"We have a lot of things to work on, but the good thing about having a live scrimmage under our belts is we, as coaches, now have about 68 or 69 plays of film to grade and evaluate and identify the things we need to work on," he said. "We want to look for mental errors when we grade the film and get those corrected. I want to see players playing to the end of the whistle. Those are all important things to evaluate to see what kind of progress we are making."
On special teams, senior Jake Scott and junior Nick Landess alternated at the place-kicking position.
Both struggled early by missing their first extra point attempts. Both recovered and hit Scott their next PATs each attempts. Landess hit two 37-yard field goal attempts and Scott was 1-of-2, making a 37-yarder and missing from the same distance.
Scott was one of two in field goals, making one from 37 and missing one from the same distance.
Among those injured or sick and not competing were senior wide receiver Greg Bolling, who had arthroscopic surgery on his injured right shoulder on Wednesday and senior noseguard Fred Givens, who is suffering with a right shoulder sprain.
Bolling will miss the remainder of spring drills. Senior defensive tackle John Fletcher was diagnosed with mononucleosis on Thursday and is expected to miss an undetermined amount of time this spring.
Sophomore noseguard/defensive tackle Alex Stover was held out due to the flu. Wide receivers Donate Morgan, a senior, and Matt Sando, a sophomore, both were suffering symptoms from concussions and so didn't participate in Thursday's scrimmage.
During Thursday's scrimmage two players suffered injuries -- DeAndrea with a sprained a knee and redshirt freshman cornerback David James, who bruised some ribs. Both might return for Saturday's scrimmage.
One scholarship player has decided to leave the program -- redshirt freshman defensive tackle Dylan Kildahl from Ault, Colo.
The Cowboys will scrimmage again on Saturday at about 9:45 a.m. Practice begins at 9 a.m. Christensen indicated that Saturday's scrum will consist of 100-120 plays.
It is expected that Saturday's scrimmage will be in the IPF again because of bad weather. For safety concerns, fans will be allowed to watch the scrimmage from the west end zone, but will not be allowed on the sidelines. Only media members with press credentials who are covering the scrimmage will be allowed on the sidelines.