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LARAMIE – Craig Bohl didn’t send out a distress signal, but if he did it would have sounded something like this:

Houston, we have a problem.

Then suddenly Wyoming had a solution for its quarterback search during the 2019 recruiting cycle.

After being unable to land a QB during the early signing period, Bohl made a late pitch to Levi Williams – who was granted his release from a commitment to Houston following a coaching change – to join the Cowboys.

Williams, a three-star prospect from Canyon Lake, Texas, was added in late January to an impressive haul from the Lone Star State that included wide receivers Isaiah Neyor (Arlington), Devin Jennings (Houston) and Alex Brown (Klein), running back Titus Swen (Fort Worth), linebacker Shae Suiaunoa (Houston) and offensive lineman Jake Lookabaugh (Coppell).

“The stars aligned,” Bohl said after signing the 6-foot-5 Williams. “We’re really excited about Levi, and Levi’s excited about being here. Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.”

UW will be hoping one of the team’s star-crossed signal-callers can provide a spark during Saturday’s homecoming game against New Mexico at War Memorial Stadium (1:30 p.m., Stadium).

Since Williams joined a thin quarterback room that only included Tyler Vander Waal and Sean Chambers, the Cowboys haven’t had much luck or consistent production at the most important position in football.

Vander Waal struggled trying to follow the legend of Josh Allen in 2018, completing 48.8% of his passed with five touchdowns and four interceptions during a 6-6 finish for UW.

Chambers replaced Vander Waal as the full-time starter in 2019, but the gutty team captain suffered season-ending injuries in each of the last three years.

In 19 career games, the 6-3, 225-pound Chambers has completed 48.6% of his passes for 2,191 yards (111.8 yards per game) with 16 touchdowns and nine interceptions. The dual-threat quarterback from Kerman, California, has also rushed for 1,056 yards and 15 touchdowns.

Bohl reopened the competition for the starting position this week in the aftermath of Chambers throwing three interceptions and losing a fumble in the 17-0 loss to Fresno State.

“They are very similar in so many different ways as far as drive, as far as running the ball, as far as passing the ball,” tight end Treyton Welch said of Chambers and Williams. “I don’t think there’s many differences between the two. My dad had even asked me, ‘Is there a difference between the two in the huddle or whatever?’

“I said no. We treat them both the same and we appreciate them both, and I think they’re both really good quarterbacks.”

‘The proof is in the pudding’

Williams – who flashed his talent during the Arizona Bowl as a freshman but struggled in 2020 playing through a shoulder injury and in relief of Chambers in the fourth quarter against the Bulldogs last week – still believes he can fix what ails the slumping Cowboys (4-2, 0-2 Mountain West) before this season of great expectations completely slips away.

UW has not scored in six quarters and was shut out last week for the first time since 2010.

“I would say our goals are completely attainable, they’re 100 percent still out there,” Williams said. “Everybody’s beating everybody. I mean, you look at Boise (State) this year, someone who’s usually dominating the Mountain West, they’re down a couple games. They just lost the Air Force game. …

“We still have our dreams ahead of us.”

The Pokes are currently peeking up at every team in the Mountain Division except for the rebuilding Lobos (2-5, 0-3). UW still plays Colorado State, Boise State and Utah State, but would lose a tiebreaker to Air Force as a result of the 24-14 loss at Falcon Stadium.

A second-half surge has to start with functional quarterback play.

The Chambers-led offense was booed in Laramie last week, and Williams received some vile threats on social media during his struggles last season.

Bohl, who doesn’t plan to announce a starter before kickoff Saturday, has his quarterbacks’ backs.

“Many times quarterbacks get too much credit when things go well and they get too much blame when things don’t go right,” Bohl said. “I also want to put it in this context: Those guys that are out there playing, whether it’s Sean or Levi, are working extremely hard. They’re doing everything they can to win for the Cowboys.

“I understand the passion of our fan base and things like that, but I also recognize these guys are college students. They’re not playing professional football and they also don’t have a million-dollar NIL deal. I’m going to support them.”

The offensive line could provide a lot of support by playing up to its preseason billing as the strength of the team. UW ranks sixth in the MWC in rushing (160.7 yards per game), and Xazavian Valladay ranks sixth (78.5 ypg) after leading the conference in rushing yards per game the last two seasons.

“Offensively, the proof is in the pudding there,” Bohl said. “When you don’t score any points at all and you really don’t threaten, you’ve got to take a hard, critical look and say, ‘What are we doing?’ …

“There’s a whole host of things we need to do better. We need to maintain the line of scrimmage and finish off blocks better. Our receivers need to catch the balls that were certainly catchable and our backs need to find some good creases.”

‘Top-notch’ leadership skills

Moments after the loss to Fresno State, Chambers emphatically stated that his confidence was not wavering and he was looking forward to fighting to keep the starting job.

Williams, who was 1-for-7 passing for 32 yards with an interception in relief of Chambers last week, also had a lot to prove during preparations for Rocky Long’s New Mexico defense.

“What I’m going be looking for is just the mechanics, the operation, the progression, process, does it look clean,” offensive coordinator Tim Polasek said. “We have to try to cultivate some tougher situations, whether that’s in seven-on-seven drill or on third-down team periods. It’s got to be more difficult in practice so we can get a clean evaluation of that.

“For me, it’s just going to be … the urgency, the process of going through a progression so that we can limit turnovers and we can get completions.”

The 2020 season was miserable for both Chambers, who fractured his leg on the third snap of the opener, and Williams, who completed 49.6% of his passes with three interceptions and one touchdown during a painful 2-4 finish.

“Last year, I didn’t really have too much trust in myself or my shoulder, it was kind of hanging on there by thread,” Williams said of playing through the injury he suffered in the second game against Hawaii. “I think I’ve improved a lot. I’ve been a lot more consistent in practice. Obviously, (against Fresno State) in the situation that I was in, you have to take some shots there at the end being down and it was not exactly the game that I wanted to play. …

“If I get the opportunity to play this week, then hopefully I can get this offense rolling and at a good pace and get us in position to win a game, because we really need to.”

Bohl and the Cowboys could really use a 2019 bookend performance from the quarterback position.

Chambers opened that season with a spectacular stiff-arm and a 75-yard touchdown run to lead UW to a win over Missouri, and Williams capped off the campaign with 234 yards passing and three touchdowns in the bowl victory over Georgia State.

New Mexico is allowing 28.7 points (86th in the FBS), 207.9 yards passing (44th) and 362.0 total yards (56th) per game.

“First and foremost, they’re both great leaders, on and off the field,” senior wide receiver Ayden Eberhardt said of Chambers and Williams. “That’s probably the biggest similarity. You know their leadership skills are definitely top-notch. Everyone respects them, so I think that that’s definitely huge.”

Defensive end Garrett Crall made it clear, after the defense kept the team in position to win by holding Fresno State quarterback Jake Haener to 96 yards passing, that the locker room will not be divided over the offense’s struggles.

Chambers and Williams are also close because they are the only players on the team that truly understand the struggles they have gone through together playing quarterback for the Cowboys.

“It’s a great competition. You know, Sean is a good guy,” Williams said. “He’s a great competitor and you can’t deny it. He’s strong and physical and fast. I think, for both of us, we just need to kind of focus on doing our job and not trying to do anybody else’s job this week.”

Follow UW beat writer Ryan Thorburn on Twitter @By_RyanThorburn

This article originally ran on trib.com.

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