LOGAN, Utah – The University of Wyoming’s first possession of Saturday’s 44-17 victory at Utah State seemed like the same old story for the Cowboys.
UW trotted out a one-wide receiver set for three consecutive plays, as the Aggies loaded eight to 10 defenders in the box and forced a quick punt. Then the Pokes made an adjustment, and what a difference it made.
Wyoming didn’t get away from its trademark run-first attack, evidenced by its final total of 362 rushing yards. What the Cowboys did do was open up the playbook, mixing in downfield passes at an accelerated rate, utilizing three-receiver formations and spreading the ball around to more than just standout sophomore Isaiah Neyor.
The result was an all-around dominant 44-17 victory, during which the Pokes out-gained the top offense in the Mountain West 604-362.
UW coach Craig Bohl said after the game he’s seen signs of this potential from his team, even amid a 1-5 start to conference play. It finally came to fruition on Saturday.
“I've coached a long, long time, and I even talked to (Utah State) coach (Blake) Anderson before the game,” Bohl said. “He asked me how I felt about stuff, and I said it's been frustrating. I felt like this football team has had good potential, but we haven't been producing.
“I saw some signs of different things coming, and (Saturday) was a culmination. I thought we played better than we did (in a 31-17 win) against Colorado State. It was a long time coming, and I was really pleased with that.”
Utah State still packed plenty of defenders near the line of scrimmage throughout the game, but the threat of the passing game eliminated the predictability that has hindered UW for the majority of the season.
Sophomore quarterback Levi Williams completed 12 of 15 passes for 242 yards, two touchdowns and an interception that appeared to occur as a result of a missed pass interference call. Neyor had his second consecutive 100-yard game, hauling in four catches for 125 yards and a touchdown, while sophomore receiver Joshua Cobbs had a career-high six catches for 76 yards and a score.
With the defense’s attention shifted, running backs Xazavian Valladay and Titus Swen capitalized. Swen had 169 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries, with Valladay adding 145 yards on the ground.
“That was a big factor in (our success) running the ball,” Swen said. “I feel like we have a lot of good receivers that deserve the ball and need the ball. Josh Cobbs, Isaiah Neyor, all of the rest of them, they did a hell of a job. Our O-line did a hell of a job. Our coaching staff stepped up and did a hell of a job. It's just a good team win.”
Added Bohl: “I thought it had a huge impact. Any time you're able to throw the ball effectively ... Isaiah Neyor is a great threat, but Josh Cobbs and Wyatt Wieland also made a couple nice plays. That loosens things up.
“They were still stacking the box at the end, so it was encouraging that we were knocking people off the ball and moving the ball on the ground. That's part of our formula.”
Utah State senior receiver Deven Thompkins entered Saturday's game leading the country in receiving with 144.1 yards per game. The Cowboys cut this production by more than 50%.
Thompkins still managed to find the end zone for his ninth touchdown catch of the season, but was largely held in check outside of his one score. The Biletnikoff Award semifinalist finished with five catches for 67 yards, 41 of which came on one play.
With cornerbacks C.J. Coldon and Azizi Hearn in man coverage all night on the outside, the Cowboys were able to bring pressure at will. They only had one sack, but recorded five quarterback hurries and forced a handful of errant passes.
“I thought they played excellent,” Bohl said of Coldon and Hearn’s performance. “That was our plan. We knew we could leverage that, basically take those guys out and play nine men against everybody else. They weren't really running the quarterback, so we were able to have deep-middle players, but that's all to be attributed to how our corners played.”
The Cowboys haven’t had many opportunities for big plays on kickoffs, with just 11 returns and a season-long of 37 yards entering Saturday. That changed in the first quarter at Utah State.
Moments removed from a game-tying touchdown by the Aggies, sophomore cornerback Cameron Stone – making his second start of the season at kick returner – picked up a low kick and took it 99 yards to the house to give UW a 14-7 lead.
Stone gives all the credit to his blockers, who opened up a seam and allowed him to sprint untouched to the end zone.
“Those guys did a great job and allowed me to make it happen,” Stone said. “I don't know what hole was bigger, parting the sea or that one. They let me walk in there basically.”
With their victory over Utah State, the Cowboys brought the Bridger Rifle back to Laramie for the first time since 2017 and improved to 2-0 in trophy games this season. UW also secured the Bronze Boot after beating CSU earlier this month.
“Coach Anderson didn't know that they had a traveling trophy and they had it, but we took it back and it's where it belongs,” Bohl said. “It needs to be in Laramie.”
The Pokes will have another chance to secure some hardware next Saturday, as they take on Hawaii with the Paniolo Trophy on the line.
“We love trophies,” Stone said. “Hopefully we can get another one.”