Defense Comes Out On Top In Latest Cowboy Scrimmage
It was a day for the defense on Wednesday as the Wyoming Cowboy defenders built a big early lead on way to a 72-62 scrimmage victory over the offense. The defense’s win was keyed by the ability to put pressure on UW quarterbacks and force turnovers. Cowboy defenders intercepted three passes, returning two of them for touchdowns. The Cowboy “D” also recorded nine tackles for loss of 32 yards, four quarterback sacks for a -22 yards and broke up four other passes.
Junior cornerback Blair Burns intercepted the first pass off of sophomore quarterback Jason Thompson on the seventh series of the scrimmage. Four series later, junior strong safety Darrenn White intercepted junior quarterback Brett Smith and returned the interception 22 yards for a touchdown to give the defense a 40-15 lead at that time. Five series following that, senior cornerback Marqueston Huff intercepted Smith and returned it 84-yards for a touchdown. At halftime of the scrimmage, the defense had built a 71-22 lead. The scrimmage format pitted the No. 1 offense against the No. 1 defense and the No. 2 offensive and defensive units against one another.
During the first half of the scrimmage, the defense allowed the offense only one first down and forced three, three-and-out series, before the offense scored its first touchdown on the fifth series of the scrimmage. The first TD came on a 37-yard TD pass from Smith to junior wide receiver Dominic Rufran. That touchdown was set up by a 35-yard pass from Smith to senior wide receiver Robert Herron on the previous play. While the offense was awarded points for gaining first downs and generating plays of 20 or more yards in subsequent series, the offense would score only the one TD in the first half.
In the second half, the offense rallied to score on its first two possessions of a red-zone period, beginning at the defense’s 25-yard line. Following an offensive holding penalty on a third-down play in the first red-zone possession, the ball was moved back to the 28-yard line. Smith then hit Herron on a 28-yard touchdown pass. The offense also scored on its next possession when sophomore running back D.J. May carried the ball into the end zone from 10 yards out. That narrowed the defense’s lead to 72-38.
The next period saw the Cowboys practice their two-minute drill. On the first play of the two-minute drill, Smith connected with Rufran on their second touchdown pass of the day -- a 69-yarder to make the score 72-45 in favor of the defense.
The Wyoming offense generated a 28-yard Stuart Williams’ field goal on its next possession as Thompson led the No. 2 offense on an eight-play, 58-yard drive against the No. 2 defense.
In the final period of the scrimmage, the Cowboys practiced their goal-line situation, with the ball placed at the defense’s four-yard line. The No. 1 offense scored on a third and goal play from the two-yard line when sophomore running back Shaun Wick powered his way into the end zone. May then scored his second rushing touchdown of the day on the next possession, carrying the ball in on first and goal from the four-yard line to pull the offense to within 10 points at 72-62. But that was the final play of the day as the defense recorded the victory. The scrimmage included 109 plays from scrimmage plus a kicking period.
Wyoming head coach Dave Christensen commented on his defense’s performance following the scrimmage.
“The defense was able to create some takeaways today, and I thought they played much better today, much more sound and more physical,” said Christensen. “I thought the defensive backs’ breaks on the ball were good, their pressure (on the quarterback) was good. At the end, we gave up two big plays during the two-minute period and gave up a couple scores from the four-yard line, but through 85 percent of the scrimmage they pretty much dominated. That was good to see. They got it handed to them last week. This week they came out and played much better.”
He was also asked to talk about the veteran playmakers he has returning in the secondary, three of whom came up with interceptions on Wednesday.
“It was absolutely good to see those guys (Burns, White and Huff) come up with interceptions,” said Christensen. “We are counting on those guys to be big playmakers for us, and today they played really well. I’m excited to get in and see the film. I think we made a lot of progress defensively today. The key now will be to come back out on Friday and continue to play at that level.
“There certainly are some things offensively that we need to straighten out. It’s hard to run an offense if you can’t snap the ball to the quarterback, and we had balls everywhere today. Thank goodness we have a junior-college center coming in this June, because if we can’t get consistency out of the kids we’ve got we’re going to have to count on him to play that position.
“I thought we forced some balls today. Our quarterbacks haven’t done that a bunch this spring. It wasn’t a great day from that standpoint, but the good news was we went out last week and our offense completely dominated the scrimmage, and today the defense pretty much dominated. The defense made adjustments and got better, and that is encouraging.”
In regard to the comeback the offense mounted in the second half of the scrimmage, Christensen was quick to comment on how much he likes the positive demeanor of his quarterbacks.
“He (Brett) is not going to get rattled,” said Christensen. “He came back and made some plays. Jason (Thompson) came back and made some plays. On a fourth down and long, Jason made a play to get us within field-goal range, and we converted the field goal. He bounced back too. They’re great competitors. The good news is we don’t have guys who are going to pout and sulk. They come back and fight and compete and improve.”
Finally, Christensen was asked what he hoped to accomplish in the next week as the Cowboys prepare for the Spring Game on Saturday, April 27.
“We want to continue to come out and get a lot of reps in each practice,” said Christensen. “Offensively, we still have things to get corrected. Defensively, we’ve got to continue to work on not giving up big plays and fine tune things, and we’re still working to get all the right players in the right places. As coaches, we want to get as much video to evaluate each player on. We’ll come out again this Friday and next Monday and Wednesday with good spirited practices. We will probably back off a little bit the following Friday to get ready for the Spring Game.”
One of the players on defense who had an exceptional day was sophomore defensive end Eddie Yarbrough, who was credited with five tackles, one sack and one tackle for a loss. After the scrimmage, Yarbrough was asked to provide his assessment on the defense’s play.
“It took a little bit of time, but the whole team came together today and it was great to see,” said Yarbrough. “We’ve had great competition going back and forth with the offense. We’ve been working on growing together as a defense, and really just trying to be great together. It’s all about the team.”
Another Cowboy defender who had a good day on Wednesday was senior cornerback Huff, who not only had the 84-yard interception return for a touchdown, but broke up another pass, recorded two tackles and blocked a field goal.
“It is always good to make plays on the ball,” said Huff. “We did a good job of coming out and creating turnovers today. The previous scrimmage we didn’t have the opportunity to get turnovers, but it felt great today to get the ball out a couple times.
“I’ve been working all offseason on my start off the line (on field-goal situations). I’ve been really trying to get off the ball quick, and today I had an opportunity to come off the corner and get my hands on one.”
Other top performers for the Cowboy defense in Wednesday’s scrimmage were: junior linebacker Jordan Stanton, who recorded 11 tackles; senior linebacker Devyn Harris, who had nine tackles; senior defensive end Jeff Roueche, with five tackles, one sack and 2.5 tackles for loss; sophomore defensive end/linebacker Siaosi Hala’api’api, who recorded four tackles, one sack and two tackles for a loss; and junior cornerback DeAndre Jones, who made four tackles and broke up one pass.
The Cowboy offense generated 399 passing yards and 122 rushing for 521 yards of total offense. Smith completed 11 of 20 passes (55.0 percent) for 221 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. Thompson completed 7 of 19 passing (36.8 percent) for 199 yards and threw one interception. The leading receiver for the second consecutive scrimmage was Rufran, who had six receptions for 134 yards and two touchdowns on Wednesday. Herron caught four passes for 74 yards and one TD. Freshman running back Omar Stover led all rushers, with 46 rushing yards on 11 carries. May ran for 37 yards on 14 carries and scored two touchdowns. Wick totalled 23 rushing yards on nine carries, and scored one rushing touchdown.
Junior place-kicker Williams continued to be impressive, converting 6 of 6 point-after-touchdown attempts and making five of six field goals. His only failed kick attempt was the field goal blocked by Huff.
A new face seen playing on the defensive side of the football on Wednesday was senior J.J. Quinlan at linebacker. Quinlan formerly played linebacker for the Cowboys in 2011. In 2012, he was moved to the H-Back position on offense. He played in all 12 games for the Cowboys in 2012, primarily on special teams. Quinlan did have one reception in 2012 -- a five-yard TD reception versus UNLV. He had been playing H-Back throughout 2013 spring drills up until this week.
It was announced on Wednesday that senior strong safety Andrew Meredith of Green River, Wyo., has decided not to play his senior season and is no longer with the team.
Two players who did not participate in Wednesday’s scrimmage were senior offensive guard Tyler Strong and junior free safety Jesse Sampson. Both were injured in this past Monday’s practice. They will miss the remainder of spring drills, but are expected to be ready to play in the fall.
A unique scoring system was utilized in Wyoming’s scrimmage on Wednesday. The scoring system awarded the offense and defense points based on certain plays.
The offense earned a normal six points for a touchdown, one point for a point-after-touchdown, two points for a two-point PAT and three points for a field goal. In addition, the offense earned one point for each play of 20+ yards and one point for each first down.
The defense earned five points each for an interception or a recovered fumble. If they returned an interception or fumble recovery for a TD, the defense received 12 points. The defense earned three points for forcing a punt, blocking a field goal or by stopping the offense on a fourth-down play on the offense’s side of the 50. Two points were awarded to the defense for a safety, a quarterback sack, stopping the offense on a fourth-down play on the defense’s side of the 50 or stopping a two-point conversion attempt. Finally one point was earned by the defense for forcing a missed field goal, tackling a ball carrier for a loss of yardage, blocking a point-after-touchdown attempt or when holding the offense to a field goal after the offense began its series in the red-zone (inside the defense’s 25-yard line).
The Cowboys return to practice on Friday, April 19 for an 8 a.m. practice. All spring practices are open to the media and the general public. The next scrimmage will be the Spring Game on Saturday, April 27 at 2 p.m.