Three games and three different combinations at the two safety spots for the Wyoming football team.
But when UW (0-3) hosts New Mexico (1-2) in the Mountain West opener for both teams Saturday, it expects to keep the same two starters who played most of the game in last Saturday’s 31-14 loss at Washington State.
True freshman Andrew Wingard is slated to start at free safety, and redshirt freshman walk-on Marcus Epps at strong safety. Wingard made his first-career start Sept. 12 against Eastern Michigan, and he led the Cowboys in tackles at Washington state with 12. Wingard has 24 tackles in the last two games. Wingard played mostly on special teams in UW’s opener against North Dakota on Sept. 5.
Epps started at free safety against North Dakota, and had 11 tackles. He suffered a concussion in that game and missed the Eastern Michigan contest. Epps produced the Cowboys’ first turnover of the season with an interception in the third quarter. Epps also had five tackles and broke up one pass.
The Cowboys had three different starters at strong safety in their first three games. Redshirt freshman Chavez Pownell Jr. started the opener, followed by redshirt freshman walk-on Adam Pilapil against Eastern Michigan.
UW safeties coach and pass game coordinator Curt Mallory said all four safeties have played both positions during fall camp, and Epps, Pilapil and Pownell did the same during spring drills. Despite the youth, Mallory likes this group and the way it approaches the game.
“All four guys have been competing, and is a fun group to coach because they’re unselfish and want to help one another,” Mallory said. “It’s shown on the field. On the sideline at Washington State Chavez and Adam, even though they weren’t playing, were right in the ears of Marcus and Andrew. That’s maturity, and I’m pleased with that. Marcus and Andrew made some strides for having their second start. I’m encouraged with that.”
Mallory said it would help to develop consistent starters at both safety spots, but since all four have played both spots either in games or during fall camp, it’s more important that they continue to learn and improve each week no matter where they play.
UW’s entire defense, not just the safeties, have a different challenge this week compared to the pass-happy attack of Washington State. The Lobos are much more of a run-oriented team that will show triple-option, pistol and other looks and formations to run the ball. They have for different players who have ran for 100 yards or more in the first three games.
“Eye discipline,” Mallory said is the biggest key for UW’s safeties this week. “You try to simulate the speed, but you never get that down. We have to realy be sound where our eyes are and what our responsibility is. Anytime play team like New Mexico, you have to be assignment-sound.
“I’m anxious to get out there and work with these guys this week, and for them to get a taste of this offense they will face. We will make mistakes in practice, and we need to correct them and get them right.”
See Wednesday’s Wyoming Tribune Eagle and Laramie Boomerang, and log on to wyosports.net for my story on Kaden Jackson, who joined Zach Wallace as a pair of true freshmen who started on the right side of the offensive line last week at Washington State. It could be a duo UW fans see a lot more of in the future.
For a preview of that story, here’s my interview with Jackson earlier this week: