LARAMIE – The University of Wyoming football team seemed well on its way to a bowl game after a 27-point thrashing of Mountain Division champion Utah State on Nov. 20.
However, following a 38-14 beatdown at home at the hands of Hawaii on Saturday this outlook is suddenly much murkier.
The Cowboys have the requisite six wins to play in a postseason game next month. But after going 2-6 in Mountain West play to fall to 6-6, with an ugly loss to a sub-.500 team fresh on everyone’s minds, a bowl invitation is far from a certainty.
UW did go 4-0 in non-conference play, something coach Craig Bohl alluded to while making a plea for an invite. However, only one of the Pokes’ early-season FBS opponents finished the regular season with more wins than losses. It also doesn’t bode well for UW that it entered Saturday ranked 84th in ESPN’s College Football Power Index, and could be close to falling outside the top-100 after a 24-point loss.
“I’m in hopes that we’re given that opportunity,” Bohl said. “I’m going to make a pitch. I think the Mountain West right now is the sixth-rated conference in the country. We won all of our nonconference games. We ran into a tough conference schedule.
“We’ve won six games, and that qualifies us ... I’m in hopes whoever those decision-makers are in those unknown rooms look and say, ‘It’s a heck of a league, (and) Wyoming has done some good things.’”
Seniors Chad Muma and Azizi Hearn both made their case for the Cowboys to keep playing as well.
“I feel like our team always fights,” Hearn said. “We never lay down. We don’t have any quit in us, and we’re going to keep playing until the end. Plus, we’ve lost games that we shouldn’t have lost, but we won games that they didn’t expect us to win as well.
“I’d be surprised if we didn’t get a bowl game. I feel like we deserve one.”
Added Muma: “That’s what everyone on our team wants right now. Everyone is in hopes we will receive a bowl game, and personally, I just have a feeling that we will. Everyone wants to play another game and end on a high note.”
Despite their recent setback, Hearn is confident in the Pokes’ chances to capitalize if they receive an invitation to a bowl game.
“I think you’d see us go out and dominate a team, like we should’ve done in a lot of our games,” Hearn said. “That’s the past, and we learn from it and keep moving. But it would mean a lot to every single one of us – from the players to the coaching staff.”
Bohl admitted after the game that his team was somewhat like “a deer in the headlights” as Hawaii jumped out to an early 24-0 lead.
The coach often speaks of wanting to take a hard look following losses. After his team’s latest defeat, he’s taking a hard look at himself.
“I think our guys had a sense of confidence (after last week’s win),” Bohl said. “We’re doing this, we’re doing that, then all of a sudden it was like, ‘Wow.’
“There are some things I need to address as a head football coach. Hopefully we have an opportunity to play another game and learn from this, because there is a lot of stuff on there. I want to take a look at myself and say, ‘Why in the heck weren’t we prepared?’ Because we weren’t.”
Hearn did not single out the players or coaching staff specifically, but did acknowledge that a lack of preparation played a key part in the Cowboys falling well short of preseason Mountain West title expectations.
“At least one thing I would say personally has caused a lot of these losses, I feel like it has to be our preparation,” Hearn said. “We go dominate Utah State and lose to Hawaii how we just lost. We lose to New Mexico after winning the games we won.
“The only thing I could think of is it has to be the preparation. We have to approach it better or something. I haven’t figured it out ... but we have to take preparation more serious every week, regardless of who the opponent is.”
Keeping it conservative
Even with the Pokes trailing by at least 17 points and as much as 24 for the final 42:39, their decision-making never reflected the sense of urgency needed to climb out of such a deficit.
In particular, UW remained conservative to a fault.
There were a handful of illustrations of this, but a few of the most glaring were: declining to call a timeout at the end of the first half with Hawaii facing a third-and-long, when the Cowboys could’ve gotten the ball back and cut into the deficit; punting on fourth-and-5 from their opponent’s 45-yard line in the second half; and running the ball three more times than they threw it in the third quarter.
Seniors say so long
UW recognized its seven “super seniors” – running back Trey Smith, receiver Ayden Eberhardt, offensive linemen Logan Harris and Alonzo Velasquez, defensive end Garrett Crall and safeties Braden Smith and Esaias Gandy – prior to their final game at War Memorial Stadium.
The Cowboys have 10 more traditional seniors that have the opportunity to return for one last season. Muma, a Butkus Award finalist and Senior Bowl invitee, has declared for the NFL draft.