Another RB challenge for Wyoming’s defense

Wyoming’s defense has allowed seven 100-yard rushers this season, and one 200-yard performance by San Diego State’s Ronnie Hillman.

It faces another quality running back in Saturday’s Border War game with Colorado State in sophomore Chris Nwoke, who ran for 269 yards and two touchdowns in the Rams’ loss to Air Force last Saturday.

“Nwoke is a physical runner and they’re blocking well up front,” coach Dave Christensen said during his Monday news conference. “We need to have guys in position and wrap up. If we don’t he’s going to get a lot of yards. … “He runs down hill, he runs guys over and he has good speed. We need to force him to bounce to other guys.”

UW also plans to prepare to see CSU true freshman quarterback Garrett Grayson, who has started the last two games for injured sophomore Pete Thomas. Grayson is more of a run threat than Thomas.

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Video: Brandon Self

The Wyoming senior offensive guard is in his fifth year and his first year of playing full time. Great to see him rewarded for his hard work throughout his career. Self talks about that, UW’s rotation along the offensive line and the challenges of blocking against San Diego State’s 3-3-5 defense. For more on that, see today’s Wyoming Tribune Eagle and Laramie Boomerang.

Video: Zach Rushing

What makes Wyoming junior offensive guard Zach Rushing so unique? Find out in Wedensday’s Wyoming Tribune Eagle or Laramie Boomerang, or also check out this video interview. A neat kid to talk to, can’t help but dig his southern accent.

UW depth chart prediction

Monday afternoon Wyoming football coach Dave Christensen will speak to the media leading into Saturday’s season-opener against Weber State.

Christensen will release the depth chart for the first game. Some positions (quarterback) we know who will start. In fact, I don’t think there should be many surprises. But why wait until Monday afternoon? Here is how I think the depth chart will look. Would love to hear your thoughts.

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Pick the 10

I’m following up on something Wyoming co-offensive line coach Pete Kaligis told me after Tuesday’s scrimmage. He said he has 10 offensive linemen who are ready to play for the Cowboys this season.

By the way, eight linemen played for the Pokes last season, six of which got starts.

Who do you think the 10 players are Kaligis is talking about?

Let’s start with the starters.

Junior center Nick Carlson is a lock. At guard, senior Brandon Self and sophomore Tyler Strong have played exclusively with the No. 1 offense in the Cowboys’ first three scrimmages, along with junior right tackle Kyle Magnuson.

Seniors Clayton Kirven (two scrimmage starts) and John Hutchins (one start) likely will alternate at left tackle, and are two of the most experienced linemen UW has. Hutchins also can play guard.

That’s six.

Junior Josh Leonard has starting experience at tackle and is Magnuson’s backup right now, so he makes seven. Junior-college transfer Zach Rushing is pushing both Self and Strong at both guard spots so that’s eight.

Coach Dave Christensen said after Tuesday’s practice that redshirt freshman offensive tackle Daniel Fleischman should be ready to return from injury in about a week, so I’m going to include him because I know Christensen and the other coaches have been high on him since he signed.

OK, we’re at nine.

My 10th right now would be redshirt freshman Travis Bogard at center, listed as Carlson’s backup. If I needed a wildcard I would go with redshirt freshman guard Skyler Hinton.

Any thoughts or opinions on this?

Speaking of offensive linemen, see my story in Thursday’s Wyoming Tribune Eagle www.wyomingnews.com and Laramie Boomerang www.laramieboomerang on Self and Strong, and their improbable path to becoming likely starters.

Smith closer to being named starting QB

You tell me if it sounds like Wyoming football coach Dave Christensen has any doubt who is starting quarterback will be:

“It’s going to be hard for (true freshman) Brett Smith to get beat out right now,” said Christensen after Tuesday morning’s scrimmage that ended in a 26-26 tie using a modified scoring system.

“We’re probably not going to have to have a big press conference and a huge release to let everybody know who our leading candidate at quarterback is. If you can’t figure it out, then we’ll let it continue on.”

Smith was 9 of 14 for 80 yards with a touchdown. In three scrimmages, all running the No. 1 offense, he’s 48 of 65 for 563 yards with five touchdowns and one interception.

True freshman Adam Pittser was 8 of 12 for 58 yards and a touchdown Tuesday. Junior-college transfer Colby Kirkegaard, going mostly against the No. 1 defense, was 13 of 19 for 104 yards with a touchdown and interception. Both have struggled mightily against the defensive starters so far in camp and it’s about even between the two on the backup job.

Some other notes and quotes from the scrimmage:

–” It felt good to be back there. I’ve been working my butt off over the summer. I feel I can help my team in a big way this fall.” — junior running back Ghaali Muhammad. He had only two carries for four yards, but he dove into the end zone for a 1-yard score and caught a pass for 26 yards. His first run was for three yards, but it took about five guys to get  him down. He will get a few more reps in Saturday’s fourth an final scrimmage of camp, and it looks like he can definitely help this team at running back after moving from linebacker.

–Co-offensive line coach Pete Kaligis said he thinks there are 10 offensive linemen who can play for UW this season. The same starters from the second scrimmage were out there Tuesday: tackles Kyle Magnuson and Clayton Kirven, guards Tyler Strong and Brandon Self and center Nick Carlson. I will have a story on Strong and Self later in the week. Christensen said redshirt freshman tackle Daniel Fleischman could be back after an injury in a week or so, and I know the coaching staff are high on him.

— “Doctson made some big-time plays today.” I don’t care if you’re playing with the ones tows or threes. When you’re covered and make big catches that shows me something.” — Christensen on true freshman receiver Josh Doctson, who caught three passes for 36 yards and a 9-yard touchdown pass from Pittser. Christensen also said true freshmen Trey Norman and Dominic Rufran played well, as did fellow true freshman Kevin Robertson (with a touchdown catch) despite trying to catch up after being injured early in camp. Don’t be surprised if Doctson, Norman and Rufran play this season.

–One area Christensen isn’t happy with right now is his kickoff return team: “We’ve got to find some guys that have great courage, are head-hunters and want to go down and hit some people.”

–Competition will continue in the place-kicking duties among redshirt freshman Stuart Williams and true freshman Daniel Sullivan. Williams had the better day Tuesday, but it appears Williams has the better overall skills once he finds his consistency. A decision could be made after Saturday’s final scrimmage of camp on who the starter will be.

–Christensen said Saturday’s scrimmage will consist of one quarter of the clock running like in a regular game. He and his staff usually talk about more scrimmage specifics the day prior to the scrum.

–Christensen said no one reported any injuries to him after the scrimmage. Senior defensive end Josh Biezuns and true freshman linebacker Mark Nzeocha didn’t play, but both should be ready for the season-opener Sept. 3 against Weber State.

–Great to see sophomore defensive end Mark Willis back and playing well. His season ended after six games last season with an injury. In three scrimmages he has 12 tackles, five for loss and three sacks. I will have more on Willis in the coming days.

Thanks to everyone who joined me for today’s live chat during the scrimmage. We will do it again Saturday as long as the team is in the stadium. It was a lot of fun. See Wednesday’s Wyoming Tribune Eagle www.wyomingnews.com and Laramie Boomerang www.laramieboomerang.com for more on Tuesday’s scrimmage.

Look ahead to scrimmage #3

The third of four scrimmages of fall camp for the Wyoming football team is Tuesday morning, starting at about 9:20 a.m.

Here are some things I will be most interested in:

–Coach Dave Christensen said the scrimmage will be about half as long as the first two, which should be around 60 or 70 plays. With fewer plays, it’s vital everyone takes advantage of their opportunities. Not just at quarterback, which I know we all are interested in, but at every position. Those who take advantage of their opportunities the most are likely going to be the guys we see a lot not just in the season-opener on Sept. 3, but through much of the season.

–True freshman quarterback Brett Smith will run exclusively with the No. 1 offense for the third straight scrimmage. Another solid day from Smith likely solidifies the starting job. Who separates themselves at No. 2 among true freshman Adam Pittser and junior-college transfer Colby Kirkegaard may be the most intriguing thing to watch. Christensen didn’t say if there will be a lot of ones vs. ones, etc. I would think Pittser and Kirkegaard would split time with the twos and threes. Who has the better day could go a long way to who is No. 2 at the start of the season.

–UW is moving two defensive linemen — junior end Mat Birkeness and redshirt freshman tackle Riley Lange — to H-back to bolster the position after the loss of senior Bryson Studnicka because of a season-ending injury. Birkeness was a backup who has played in every game the last two years, and Lange was a promising prospect inside, despite being undersized at about 260 pounds. Who steps into their roles along the defensive line will be interesting, not to mention how they block on offense.

–Christensen mentioned there is good competition going for starting jobs at both tackle and guard spots. Who grabs the latest edge will be interesting. At guard, senior Brandon Self and sophomore Tyler Strong have played with the ones the first two scrimmages. Seniors Clayton Kirven and John Hutchins have both garnered time with the ones in the first two scrums at left tackle. Who else puts their name in the hat for playing time and/or a starting job. Tuesday could be a big day for guys like junior-college transfer guard Zach Rushing and junior tackle Josh Leonard at right tackle. If anything, UW appears to be deeper along the line, or at least at guard and tackle, which is good.

–Will the young kickers be healthy and kick better? Christensen gave true freshman Daniel Sullivan and redshirt freshman walk-on Stuart Williams some time off since the last scrimmage to get over some nagging injuries and soreness.

–I’m anxious to see junior Ghaali Muhammad play running back. He hasn’t played in any of the first two scrimmages as a precaution from an injury in the spring. Christensen said he should see some time Tuesday.

–Will any freshmen receivers step up? I though Dominic Rufran and Trey Norman has good days as true freshmen in the second scrimmage, as did redshirt freshman Sam Stratton. Also watch for true freshman Josh Doctson — I really like this young receiver.

What do you guys think, or want to see Tuesday.

Hopefully you will join me during the scrimmage for another live chat to discuss these matters, and more. The first one was a blast, thanks to the great participation. Here is the link http://wyomingcowboysblog.com/2011/08/15/live-blog-cowboys-3rd-scrimmage-august-16th-9am/

Talk to you in the morning.

Number crunching through two scrimmages

Was crunching some numbers from Wyoming’s first two scrimmages of fall camp to try and come to some conclusions on who we might see play this season. Here’s what I came up with.

At quarterback, true freshman Brett Smith has the best numbers so far. He’s 39 of 51 (76.5 completion percentage) for 483 yards with four TDs and one INT. His yards-per-completion is 12.4. Smith has ran the No. 1 offense in both scrimmages, and based on those numbers I would guess he will continue to.

Junior-college transfer Colby Kirkegaard seems to have an edge over true freshman Adam Pittser right now in the backup battle. He is 35 of 46 (76.1 completion percentage) for 221 yards with no TDs or INTs. Pittser is 24 of 53 (45.3 percent) for 210 yards with a TD and a INT. Both guys played better in last Friday’s second scrimmage compared to the first last Tuesday. I’ve been impressed with Kirkegaard’s accuracy, although he hasn’t attempted a lot of deep throws.

At running back, sophomore Brandon Miller has ran 19 times for 146 yards and two touchdowns, and a team-best 7.7 yards per carry (thanks in large part to a 53-yard run Friday). Junior Alvester Alexander has the most carries at 24 for 104 yards and three TDs. True freshman Kody Sutton has 23 carries for 114 yards. All three have shown some good things, and we’ve yet to see junior Ghaali Muhammad (injury). I think UW will be fine at running back, whoever gets the carries.

Sophomore Robert Herron and redshirt freshman Sam Stratton are the top receivers so far with 11 catches apiece. Senior Mazi Ogbonna has eight catches for 150 yards and two TDs, including a 76-yard touchdown. Miller has caught seven passes for 77 yards out of the backfield. Among the true freshmen receivers, Dominic Rufran has 12 catches for 65 yards, Trey Norman has five catches for 50 yards and Josh Doctson has four for 17. I wouldn’t be surprised if all three of them play this season.

Perhaps most impressive than anything from the receivers so far? Only three dropped passes in the first two scrimmages.

Haven’t seen a lot of movement or experimentation along the offensive line so far, which I think is good as the coaches must like what they’re seeing. Seniors Clayton Kirven and John Hutchins each have took turns playing with the No. 1 offense at right tackle. Wouldn’t be surprised if that continues all season.

Defensively, junior-college transfer linebacker/defensive end Korey Jones has been spectacular with 12 tackles, including five for loss. True freshman defensive end Eddie Yarbrough has six sacks. I really like the looks of this kid and could see him playing this season. Sophomore linebacker Todd Knight is taking advantage of his opportunity with some injuries at the position with 16 tackles. I would like to see how this defense can play when it gets some of its other LBs back like senior Brian Hendricks and true freshman Mark Nzeocha.

Other than Yarborough, I’ve been impressed with true freshman cornerback Blair Burns, who has 10 tackles, two pass break-ups and one tackle for loss in the two scrimmages. He saw a lot of time with the No. 2 defense in the second scrimmage. He could be a solid nickel back behind senior Tashaun Gipson and sophomore Marqueston Huff.

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Here are some links to stories for some of UW’s 2010 opponents. Note the trouble brewing at Colorado State.

http://www.standard.net/stories/2011/08/11/turnovers-most-important-stat-wildcats-2011

http://www.coloradoan.com/article/20110814/SPORTS/108140352/CSU-suspends-3-due-rule-violations

http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/2011/aug/13/sdsu-riddle-one-ball-four-starting-tight-ends/

http://www.lvrj.com/sports/unlv-freshman-jefferson-steps-into-void-as-qb-s-key-protector-127677558.html

http://www.idahostatesman.com/2011/08/14/1759969/defense-dominant-in-first-scrimmage.html

http://www.golobos.com/sports/m-footbl/spec-rel/081411aac.html

http://www.gazette.com/sports/cobb-123199-fullback-steffon.html

Hope you will check out and vote in the new poll question on the blog. Another possible shake-up in terms of the college athletics landscape could be coming if Texas A&M and others go to the SEC. I don’t see this move having an impact on the Mountain West. If others follow A&M’s lead and leave the Big XII, then things could get interesting. But even then, I see the MW being OK and surviving all this. Thoughts?

Also hoping to do another live chat for Tuesday’s third scrimmage at UW. Will post more on that on Monday.