LARAMIE – Following each of the University of Wyoming football team’s three victories to start the season, Cowboys players and coaches have reiterated their 2021 mantra: to go 1-0 every week.
Coming off a blowout victory over 2020 MAC champion Ball State, the Pokes are sticking to this mindset – even with a winless opponent looming on Saturday.
Wyoming will look to keep its undefeated start rolling this weekend at the University of Connecticut.
The Huskies enter the contest having lost their first four games by an average of 33.75 points. But, while the matchup might appear to be lopsided on paper, the Cowboys have plenty to accomplish in their final tune-up before Mountain West play.
“We set a high bar,” UW coach Craig Bohl said. “There are things we did well in the (Ball State) game ... but we left some meat on the bone out there. There’s stuff on the tape that is going to become apparent to all the groups, especially the lines of scrimmage, where we need to get better.
“We really focus in on one game at a time, and along with that, what we need to improve. Our guys have high expectations of themselves, and as a head coach, I have expectations of this football team. I think we have an opportunity to be good, but we’re still a work in progress.”
One area where the Pokes have seen significant progress is on the offensive line.
After struggling to overpower Montana State in the season opener, with UW averaging just 3.5 yards per carry, the Cowboys have picked up their production in the ground game over the past two weeks. This was on full display last Saturday, as they racked up 177 yards and three touchdowns on 39 carries, good for 4.5 yards per attempt.
Still, senior center Keegan Cryder sees room for improvement.
“Just continuously improving our technique,” Cryder said of the O-line’s greatest focus this week. “It’s all technique and fundamentals. (If we) keep working on hand placement, our feet and our eyes, it doesn’t matter what another team is doing.”
Defensively, it’s difficult to poke holes in UW’s performance last week.
The Cowboys held Ball State to just 260 total yards and 3.5 per play, while recording six tackles and returning a pair of interceptions for touchdowns – matching the Cardinals’ scoring output by themselves. And yet, senior defensive end Garrett Crall isn’t satisfied.
After shutting out Ball State in the first half, UW gave up 12 points in the second half. Crall believes the Pokes can do better.
“People are going to talk about how you have to travel across the country and go play on the road and all that kind of stuff, things that don’t have to deal with Xs and Os that can be a distraction,” Crall said. “I just want to see this defense come out and have a great week of practice. If we have a great week of practice, we’re going to go out there and play. That’s how I feel every week, and that’s just something we have to keep our minds on this week.
“We gave up 12 points at the end of the game the other day, and I don’t want that at all. Single digits or zero, that has to be what we’re striving for. Guys were happy after the game, don’t get me wrong. But we’re also like, ‘Why did we let them score 12?’ That’s the attitude we have, and if you want to be a great defense, I think you have to have that attitude.”
In addition to working on themselves, the Cowboys also must prepare for a UConn team that hopes to have injected some life into an offense that is averaging 12.25 points through four games.
The Huskies added coaching veteran Noel Mazzone, a longtime friend of Bohl, to their staff as an offensive analyst last week. Mazzone has more than 35 years of experience across the college and NFL levels, holding offensive coordinator jobs at Arizona State, UCLA, Texas A&M and Arizona in the past decade.
“They hired a dear friend of mine, Noel Mazzone, as an offensive analyst,” Bohl said. “Noel is an experienced offensive guy, and how much impact he’s going to have on creating some different schemes offensively, I really can’t say. But I’m happy for Noel, and I’m looking forward to saying hello to him before the game.”
As for the Cowboys, senior cornerback Azizi Hearn says coaching plays a key part in their ability to hone in on the upcoming foe.
This remains true week to week – whether they’re facing the defending MAC champions or a UConn team that boasts the worst loss margin in the country against FBS opponents.
“That goes back to our coaching,” Hearn said. “We weren’t coached to get up on this team and take it easy, we’re coached to go out there and start and finish. We have to trust and believe in our coaching, and we have to finish what we start. It’s a life value.”