It was an impressive first game for the Wyoming Cowboys with a 29-7 victory at New Mexico State Saturday night.
The defense held New Mexico State to 135 yards and minus-9 yards rushing. It was the fewest yards since allowing 100 against Virginia in the 2007 season opener. UW’s school record for fewest rushing yards allowed is -104 yards vs. Utah State on Sept. 21, 1968, in a 48-3 win in Laramie. Virginia had -7 yards rushing in the 2007 game.
The Cowboys scored a safety against New Mexico State after senior defensive end Carl Granderson tackled New Mexico State junior running back Jason Huntley in the end zone in the first quarter. UW didn’t force a turnover, but perhaps that is being a bit knit-picky.
Senior running back Nico Evans ran 24 times for 190 yards with touchdown runs of 24 and 56 yards. Although the offense stalled in the second quarter, and had some issues on some third-and-short yardage plays, the unit didn’t turn the ball over and wore down New Mexico State’s defense with 321 yards.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Tyler Vander Waal’s first-career start started well as he completed his first seven passes for 56 yards — all in the first quarter. UW had a good game plan in terms of getting Vander Waal some easy throws early. Vander Waal had his ups and downs after that, and finished 12 of 21 for 133 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions. UW didn’t commit a turnover.
A lot of credit should go to UW’s offensive line. With three redshirt freshmen starters, that group, the Cowboys wore down the Aggies in the run game and Vander Waal wasn’t sacked.
Special teams were solid as junior kicker Cooper Rothe made both of his field-goal attempts from 36 and 39 yards. Rothe has made his last 14 field goals of less than 40 yards going back to last season.
The Cowboys had seven players start their first game: cornerback C.J. Coldon, defensive end Garrett Crall, Vander Waal, Evans, offensive guard Keegan Cryder, center Patrick Arnold and offensive tackle Rudy Stofer.
Wyoming had 13 players appear in their first college football game: Eric Abojei (OG), Arnold, Jevon Bigelow (RB), Keyon Blankenbaker (CB), Coldon, Cryder, Jesse Hooper (LS), Raghib Ismail Jr. (WR), Chad Muma (LB), Stofer, Zach Thatcher (OG), Xazavian Valladay (RB) and Nate Weinman (TE).
An impressive debut for UW, but it can improve in some areas, and its next opponent — Washington State at home Sept. 1 — will pose a much bigger test.