LARAMIE – An area of emphasis for the University of Wyoming football team during fall camp paid off in a big way during last Saturday’s season-opening win over Montana State.
Trailing by four with the clock winding down under two minutes, the Cowboys needed a score and a stop to secure a victory. They got both, and ultimately edged out the Bobcats 19-16.
While the Pokes’ overall performance wasn’t pretty by any stretch of the imagination, their showing in these key moments was a positive takeaway – and a testament to UW’s focus on two-minute situations over the past month.
“I was really impressed with our two-minute offense and defense,” Pokes coach Craig Bohl said. “I thought at the end of the game we played with some great poise and composure. The defensive guys did a super job of knowing how much time Montana State had left, and put us in a coverage to make sure they bled that clock down, which we were able to do.
“I also thought our offensive line was outstanding during two-minute, and (quarterback) Sean (Chambers) really showed some great poise and composure.”
Two-minute drills were a regular occurrence for the Cowboys during fall camp, with this emphasis in practice translating into success on the field with the game on the line.
UW started what become the game-winning drive from its own 25-yard line with 2:17 remaining. Junior quarterback Sean Chambers started the possession with an eight-yard keeper up the middle, before hitting Joshua Cobbs for his first career reception – a 24-yard gain that brought the Pokes into MSU territory.
Three plays later, Parker Christensen hauled in a nine-yard catch to convert on third down, with a six-yard scramble from Chambers followed by an incomplete pass setting up another third-down situation. The Cowboys only needed four yards to convert, but with less than a minute on the clock and junior tight end Treyton Welch in single coverage in the slot, they decided to take their shot.
Creating space with a move off the line of scrimmage, Welch gained an early step on the MSU cornerback Level Price Jr. Chambers placed the pass where only his receiver could catch it, and Welch did exactly that, putting UW on top with a one-handed, 21-yard touchdown grab.
The Cowboys’ offense struggled for a large chunk of the day, mustering just 109 total yards in the first half and failing to put together a touchdown drive until the fourth quarter. Given their extensive work in practice in late-game scenarios, however, the group wasn’t rattled when called upon to keep UW in the game in the final two minutes.
“It wasn’t too big of a worry because we had many of those situations in fall camp,” senior running back Xazavian Valladay said. “Just being able to execute those situations and not panicking is something I thought we did really well. Practice makes perfect, and we came out on top after the two-minute situation.”
Added Chambers: “It paid dividends for sure. You can’t replicate that drill enough.”
Forty seven seconds remained following the go-ahead score, leaving the Cowboys’ defense – which overmatched Montana State through three quarters, but had allowed back-to-back scoring drives – with one more stop to make.
Victor Jones and Garrett Crall teamed up for a sack on the first play of the drive, before back-to-back completions brought the Bobcats to midfield. MSU needed just a field goal to force overtime, but also was outside its kicker’s range, with no timeouts left. UW junior cornerback C.J. Coldon capitalized, bringing down Isaiah Ifanse one yard short of the first down and just inside the sideline, with time running out before Montana State could take another snap.
Coldon credits defensive coordinator Jay Sawvel for preparing them for the moment by throwing an array of scenarios at them throughout camp. He also says going up against the Pokes’ No. 1 offense in practice played a part in their late success.
“It helped us out a lot,” Coldon said of the team’s focus on two-minute situations in practice. “We always go over two-minute every Monday, and we worked on it a lot this camp. Coach (Jay) Sawvel did a good job of bringing different scenarios and situations to us, and we practiced against the (starting) offense all the time.
“It’s tough, but we work on it a lot.”
Coming off a near-upset at the hands of an FCS team, albeit a ranked one, the Cowboys have plenty of areas for improvement.
Senior linebacker Chad Muma acknowledges this. However, he also sees their two-minute performance as a sign for optimism as the Pokes look to improve to 2-0 against Northern Illinois on Saturday.
“That was one of the strongest things we can take away ... The amount of time we were able to work on it during camp really paid off,” Muma said.
“It showed on both sides of the ball. Not only on our offense, and not only on our defense. We were both able to go out there and do that.”