LARAMIE – Takeaways have become a regular occurrence for the University of Wyoming defense this season, a trend the Cowboys will look to continue on Saturday at UConn.
Through three games, UW finds itself among the top teams in the country when it comes to winning the turnover battle. The Cowboys rank in the top-15 in the Football Bowl Subdivision with seven takeaways and a plus-five turnover margin, and are coming off a three-takeaway performance against Ball State last weekend.
Those three turnovers – a pair of interceptions returned for touchdowns by Keyon Blakenbaker and Chad Muma, as well as a strip sack fumble forced by Victor Jones and recovered by Jaylen Pate – led to more points than the Cardinals scored all game.
With the Cowboys on the cusp of their first 4-0 start since 1996, UW coach Craig Bohl acknowledges the Pokes’ success in the turnover department has played a pivotal part in their success.
“Anytime you can score on defense it’s a special thing, and to do it twice was great,” Bohl said. “We’ve really done a good job of taking the football away. We have seven takeaways, and we’ve done a good job taking care of the football.
“We’ve given it up twice so we’re plus-five, and this early in the year that’s a great way to start.”
Constant pressure on the quarterback translated into the Cowboys’ most complete defensive performance of the year last week.
UW recorded six sacks, while holding the Cardinals to 3.5 yards per play and forcing All-MAC quarterback Drew Plitt to be pulled at halftime after completing 8 of 14 passes for 60 yards and an interception. John Paddock had slightly more success behind center in the second half, completing 65% of his passes and leading a pair of touchdown drives. However, he still averaged just 4.1 yards per attempt and was intercepted for a touchdown by Muma, who nearly had another second pick-six earlier in the game.
Senior defensive backs Esaias Gandy and Azizi Hearn give credit to the defensive line for setting the stage for the rest of the defense to create big plays.
“The battle starts in the trenches, we all know that,” Gandy said. “Having a good D-line definitely makes it a lot easier on the DBs. It’s nice, because you know the ball has to get out fast.”
Added Hearn: “I feel like it says a lot about our defense. We were getting after the quarterback, and that’s something we need to do week-in and week-out. It’s going to make a difference in a lot of games if we can get to the quarterback.
“They know what they need to do, and we know what we need to do. We need to cover so they can get back there, and they need to get back there so we can make interceptions. It all works together, but we need to make those plays every week if we want to have the success we want.”
Hearn admits that seeing his teammates find the end zone has created a healthy competition on the defensive side of the ball.
Muma, who is tied for the Mountain West lead with three takeaways, is the only player in the conference with multiple defensive touchdowns. Hearn says it’s time for the defensive backs to catch up.
“(Junior cornerback) C.J. (Coldon) came up to me and told me that,” Hearn said. “It’s interesting. I love it. Of course we’re all competitors and want to win games, but we compete with each other too. That’s another reason we all go so hard.”