LARAMIE – A woeful offensive showing put a stout defensive performance to waste Saturday afternoon at War Memorial Stadium.
The Cowboys held the nation’s No. 3-ranked passing attack to 300 yards below its season average, but a barrage of miscues resulted in a 17-0 loss to Fresno State.
UW lost the turnover battle 5-0 en route to its first shutout defeat since 2010. The Pokes have not scored a point in their past six quarters, despite driving into opposing territory eight times during this span.
“We were going to need to win the turnover margin, and we failed miserably on that,” UW coach Craig Bohl said. “I thought our guys played hard, but we have to play smarter. We have to do a much better job of taking care of the football, and obviously we have to generate some points.
“We are in a real tailspin. It’s important that I don’t make any broad-based comments until I look at the tape, but if you just look at productivity, we have six quarters without scoring any points.”
UW got off to a strong start, forcing a three-and-out on the opening drive of the game. However, the looming disaster was just moments away from starting to unfold.
Junior quarterback Sean Chambers fumbled while fighting for extra yardage on the second play of the ensuing possession, and the Bulldogs recovered at the UW 41-yard line. The Cowboys’ defense still appeared to limit the damage, with junior safety Rome Weber delivering a crushing hit near the sideline for a third-down stop inside the 10-yard line. Upon further review, though, Weber was flagged and ejected for targeting.
Quarterback Jake Haener found Juan Rodriguez from two yards out on the next play, putting the Bulldogs on top for good.
“It was a big play,” senior safety Esaias Gandy said. “We’re always (thinking) next play. Braden (Smith) had been starting, so we didn’t really miss a beat. Rome is a big part of our defense, though, and it definitely hurt.”
Even with Weber sidelined, the Cowboys kept the Fresno State offense in check for the bulk of the game.
UW held Haener to just 96 yards and 53.6% passing, both season lows. The Bulldogs found a little more production on the ground, rushing for 163 yards, but they still only averaged 3.8 yards per carry.
All 17 of Fresno State’s points came off Pokes turnovers in their own territory.
“I think we showed a lot of resiliency with how we played,” senior defensive end Garrett Crall said. “We came out and had a really good first series. They tried to hit us with a couple run plays, then tried to go to the pass, and I think we honestly held them to doing neither.
“They’re going to make a couple plays here and there, but overall, I think we did a really good job of being resilient.”
Added Bohl: “I thought our defense did some excellent things. Haener is a really good quarterback, and he’s been productive against pretty much everybody. Even with Hawaii, he was productive, he just threw a lot of picks. He’s really good, and I think we did some good things.”
Unfortunately for the Pokes, a masterful defensive effort wasn’t enough to overcome their continued ineptitude on offense.
UW’s running backs rushed for 71 yards on 16 carries, with a lack of push up front resulting in Xazavian Valladay and Titus Swen being hit in the backfield or near the line of scrimmage all game long. The most glaring struggles, though, came in the pass game.
Chambers completed 8 of 23 pass attempts for 111 yards, while tossing three interceptions. Fresno State receiver Jalen Cropper hauled in a three-yard touchdown catch during a possession gained from a pick, while Cesar Silva tacked on a 41-yard field goal after another to stretch the Bulldogs’ lead to 17-0.
The Pokes turned to sophomore Levi Williams midway through the fourth quarter, but the end result was similar. Williams finished the game with 32 yards on 1-of-7 passing, throwing an interception on UW’s only trip to the red zone.
“We need to get back to the basics,” Chambers said. “It’s kind of embarrassing to get shut out, and I take that maybe on my shoulders. We need to get back to the basics and start from square one.”
Bohl noted after the game he will continue to evaluate the quarterback position ahead of next weekend’s game against New Mexico.
“I want to take a hard look at the tape,” Bohl said. “You see things on the sidelines and I have a gut feeling, but we need to cull through that. I need to cull through that and spend some time with (offensive coordinator) Tim (Polasek) to see, ‘What are we doing and what is our identity?’”
The Cowboys will look to pick up their first Mountain West win of the season next Saturday against New Mexico. Kickoff is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. in Laramie.