Comments on Smith named starting QB

 Certainly no surprise Wyoming coach Dave Christensen named true freshman Brett Smith the starting quarterback. But he jumped the gun a little bit as he said last Saturday he would wait until Aug. 29 (Monday) to do it. He also said after UW’s third scrimmage of fall camp there wouldn’t be any news conference or news release on who the starting quarterback would be.

Well, there was a news release that came out just before practice started Tuesday. But all it did was confirm what most felt would happen based on what occurred in spring drills and fall camp. The most experienced guy got the job as Smith was around for both. Junior-college transfer Colby Kirkegaard and true freshman Adam Pittser were not.

Kirkegaard is the backup and Pittser is No. 3. Christensen said he would like to redshirt Pittser if possible.

Christensen isn’t allowing any of his quarterbacks to talk to the media, but here’s some comments Tuesday from others:

–“We evaluated everything and had a chance to talk to the players. We like to do that before we start announcing things to the public and the media. I would say he’s further ahead than I would have anticipated. The key for him is it has to happen Sept. 3.” — Christensen.

–“Brett definitely earned his stripes with us starting in the spring. He came in doing all the things we wanted him to do, and more. He definitely earned the starting quarterback job here. He’s one of the hardest working guys I know.” — senior receiver Mazi Ogbonna

–“We have all the confidence in him. He’s our starter. He’s our quarterback so he’s got to step it up. We’re going to ride with him.” — sophomore tight end T.J. Smith

–“He’s extremely confident directing the offense. He’s confident and comfortable in the pocket. When he’s been under pressure he steps up and makes a play. (The offense) is extremely confident in him. He’s a freshman, but he’s a leader. He doesn’t act like a freshman. If you didn’t know him you’d think he was an upper-classman.” — junior center Nick Carlson

–“The biggest thing about that kid is he’s a great competitor. He will make himself into a great quarterback because of his work ethic, and he loves to compete. It helps he can throw the ball and he’s pretty mobile. He’s got some God-given ability, but its what’s inside the heart that’s going to get him over the top.” — offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Gregg Brandon

See my column on Smith being named starter in Wednesday’s Wyoming Tribune Eagle www.wyomingnews.com and Laramie Boomerang www.laramieboomerang.com

In some other notes from practice Tuesday:

–This was UW’s first practice since last Saturday. Players were in shoulder pads, shorts and helmets and practiced outside. The Cowboys practice Wednesday, are off Thursday and then practice through the weekend.

–Christensen said he will wait until Monday to announce other starters and depth chart moves.

–Christensen also said possibly half of the true freshmen on the roster could play this season, but nothing has definitely been set in stone.

–Three walk-ons were added to the roster as school started Monday: OL Andrew Crow (6-1, 260) from Laramie; DL Garrison Hocker (6-2, 220) from Augusta, Mich., and OL Carson Kass (6-2, 265) from Naches, Wash.

–Scouts from the New York Jets and Minnesota Vikings were at practice.

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.

Spring game notes and quotes

If Wyoming’s spring football game were a real game, fans would have been in for a treat.

The Gold beat the Brown 14-13 as redshirt freshman defensive lineman Riley Lange sacked redshirt freshman quarterback Emory Miller Jr., on a two-point conversion attempt to seal the victory with 30 seconds to go.

There were good plays by the offense and defense. Not much from the kicking games. No live punt or kickoff coverage, and no field-goal attempts.

I liked how both quarterbacks played. True freshman Brett Smith struggled against the No. 1 defense in last week’s scrimmage, but against a mix and match of starters and backups, he was 16 of 24 for 153 yards and an interception for the Gold. He also ran for 22 yards and a short TD run. I really like how Smith handles himself, and if he gets more comfortable against the No. 1 defense in fall camp I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s the starter.

Miller Jr. is just steady, and always seems to play big when it matters most. He led the team on an impressive 13-play, 59-yard touchdown drive late in the game to cut the lead to 14-13. He also threw a TD pass to senior receiver Mazi Ogbonna. However, he threw two interceptions and four total in two scrimmages and the spring game.

Sophomore receiver Robert Herron was outstanding with five catches for 76 yards for the Gold. Drops have been his issue this spring, and even last season. Not today, or in last week’s scrimmage. He looks to be UW’s go-to guy.

Got to love redshirt freshman running back Brandon Miller. He played for both squads due to a lack of depth at running back, and he scored a touchdown for each team — both in the fourth quarter. The former walk-on earned a scholarship in January and he isn’t taking it for granted. I don’t know if he will play that much this season, but you can’t help but want to root for a kid like that.

Coach Dave Christensen said 15 players expected to contribute this season didn’t see action in the spring game due to injury or suspension. But he indicated they should all be ready for fall camp.

UW handed out several most improved awards at halftime of the game. See my story in Sunday’s Wyoming Tribune Eagle www.wyomingnews.com and laramieboomerang.com for that list. But when I asked him who in particular had good springs, he said both quarterbacks, true freshman linebacker Mark Nzeocha and junior linebacker Korey Jones, who ironically was suspended for the game for a violation of team rules. However, I don’t expect that was too serious of a violation or Christensen wouldn’t have singled him out. Jones also won UW’s most improved linebacker award for the spring.

Here are some quotes from after the game:

–“From a depth stand point and a speed stand point we’re certainly further than we’ve been since I’ve been here.” — Christensen

–“I think if we put both offenses together we can do some damage this season.” — Herron

–“It shows a lot about Emory that he led the team down the field in the last two minutes and scored.” — Brandon Miller on QB Emory Miller’s final scoring drive in the fourth quarter.

–“I’d give them both an A. They both mange the offense really well and have the things like that you look for in a quarterback.” — senior receiver Mazi Ogbonna on both quarterbacks.

–My confidence is getting up there. There’s a lot I still have to learn and I have to put on more weight.” — Lange, who added he is 250 pounds now and wants to get up to 275 by the start of fall camp.

–“Let’s talk about the team that’s here. I have no comment on that. I have two quarterbacks that have done extremely well and I’m excited about the one coming in. We’ll have a great quarterback when we start in the fall.” — Christensen on the Internet rumors that former QB Austyn Carta-Samuels may return to UW.

A DB take on the QBs

Wyoming coach Dave Christensen doesn’t want redshirt freshman quarterback Emory Miller Jr. and true freshman Brett Smith talking to the media this spring. Those two are battling for the starting job, and will be joined by true freshman Adam Pittser later this summer.

Junior safety Kenny Browder has got a good look at both QBs in practice, and should today in the Cowboys’ first spring scrimmage at 9 a.m. at the indoor practice facilty in Laramie.

Here’s what Browder said about both: “Emory is really shifty. I’ve seen him shake a couple of linemen out there. It kind of makes me mad, but it’s good to see we have some moves back there. Brett is showing some ACS (former quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels) out there. A little show-and-go.”

For more on Browder and sophomore cornerback Marqueston Huff, see my story in Saturday’s Wyoming Tribune Eagle www.wyomingnews.com and Laramie Boomerang www.laramieboomerang.com.

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Here are some other news and notes from this week:

— Christensen’s assessment of his receivers: “(Junior) Chris McNeill has been very consistent. He’s battled some minor injuries that have slowed him down some. (Sophomore) Robert Herron’s done some good things. He’s shown great speed and quickness inside. (Senior) Mazi Ogbonna is making some plays and having a better spring than he did last year. He’s picked up a little bit where he left off last year.”

–I loved this quote from secondary coach Alex Grinch on what he told his players prior to the start of spring drills: “You can have a bad play but you can’t have a bad day.”

–On signing day back in February UW wasn’t sure what to do with true freshman Mark Nzeocha from Germany. At 6-3, 220 he was listed at a safety prior to spring drills, but has been taking snaps at middle linebacker. I’m really curious to see what he does there.

–As stated earlier this week on the blog, Christensen has been pleased, and perhaps a little surprised, with the play of the offensive line so far. The player I am most anxious to see in tooday’s scrimmage and the rest of spring is junior Kyle Magnuson at right tackle. Listed as a left guard prior to spring, the 6-6, 317-pound Magnuson played in only four games last season and started one. He didn’t play as a redshirt freshman in 2009. If Magnuson works out at right tackle, that would be a huge boost for an offensive line that remains a question mark heading into the season. I don’t think many of the coaches thought Magnuson would be a significant contributor this season. He’s getting his chance now.

UW-CSU postgame thoughts

History was made in the 102nd Border War football game between Wyoming and Colorado State.

And fortunately for UW it was all good.

The Cowboys won 44-0 for their most lopsided win in the series. It was its first shutout since their 24-0 Border War win in 2006. It was the most points scored in coach Dave Christensen’s two seasons, and most points in a regulation game since Sept. 4, 2004.

And, it was UW’s first back-to-back wins in the Border War since 1991-92.

Those things help erase some of the bad memories of what was a 3-9 season.

Other than a missed extra point and a couple of early drives on offense, UW was flawless. It threw for 267 yards, ran for 212 and held CSU to 162 yards.

Sophomore running back Alvester Alexander ran for 147 yards and a school-record five touchdowns. It was the hardest he ran all season. CSU did a horrible job of tackling Alexander, and many other players the entire game.

Alexander also broke the school record for touchdowns in a season with 14. The guy really ran well near the end of the season.

The defense recorded six sacks. It had 14 in its first 11 games.

That may be the most shocking statistic of them all. But it wasn’t like true freshman quarterback Pete Thomas was under constant pressure. At times he was, but UW’s linebackers and defensive backs didn’t allow many open receivers for Thomas.

I liked what junior receiver Mazi Ogbonna did in the game. He has five catches for 65 yards. He did a lot of damage on short passes and running after the catch. Ogbonna was expected to give UW speed and a deep threat when he came in from junior college this season. There weren’t any deep passes, but he did show me some speed and skill.

Where was that all season?

See my column in Sunday’s Wyoming Tribune Eagle www.wyomingnews.com and Laramie Boomerang www.laramieboomerang.com for more on that.

Junior defensive back Tashaun Gipson recorded his team-best third interception. He was playing cornerback at the time, but also played some at safety for sophomore Shamiel Gary, who was in uniform but didn’t play. Gary returned to Laramie Monday after a death in his family and practiced. Coach Dave Christensen said he wasn’t mentally ready to play, but expects Gary to be fine and back next season.

Didn’t get to talk to sophomore quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels. There was a delay doing player interviews as a fire alarm went off in the weight room of the Rochelle Athletics Center. He was gone by the time we got to getting players out for interviews. Nice to see him play well. He was 23 of 32 for 267 yards, and ran for 46 yards and a touchdown.

It was his best game since he threw for 319 yards and three touchdowns in the season-opener against Southern Utah, and the most passing yards since that game. Carta-Samuels needed a game like this.

Good way for UW to end the season. Coaches will hit the road Sunday to recruit. Winter conditioning starts in January and spring ball in March.

Ogbonna out vs. BYU

Wyoming junior receiver Mazi Ogbonna will miss Saturday’s game at BYU due to injury.

UW released its latest injury report at around 3 p.m., and Ogbonna was the only additional player on the list. True freshman defensive lineman Tyler Strong was on the list Monday and also missed last week’s game against No. 9 Utah.

UW does not list specific injuries, nor does coach Dave Christensen talk about specific injuries to players.

Ogbonna has played in all seven games this season after transferring from Snow College in Utah. He started the first three games. He’s caught nine passes for 92 yards and a touchdown, and is the fourth-leading rusher on the team with five carries for 22 yards.

I wasn’t too surprised Ogbonna didn’t make the trip. He participated in some drills but was limited. However, it doesn’t appear the injury is season-ending.

Expect senior Travis Burkhalter and juniors Jonathan Aiken and DeJay Lester to see more playing time at receiver against BYU. And, true freshman running back/receiver Robert Herron is back this week after missing the Utah game due to injury.

Join me for the live blog for the UW-BYU game starting at about 11:30 a.m. Saturday. Here is the link http://wyomingcowboysblog.com/2010/10/20/wyoming-vs-byu-live-blog-saturday-at-1130am/

Familiar faces for Lester, Ogbonna

They may not have an advanced scouting report, but Wyoming junior receivers DeJay Lester and Mazi Ogbonna are familiar with some of the Southern Utah players when the two teams play Saturday in Laramie.

Lester and Ogbonna came to UW last winter from Snow College in Ephraim, Utah, which isn’t that far from Southern Utah in Cedar City.

Starting right tackle Brandon Beddes, starting defensive end Tyler Osborne and starting punter/kicker Ryan McNamara were teammates of Lester and Ogbonna at Snow.

“I talked to a couple of them (Sunday) night,” said Lester, the backup behind sophomore Chris McNeill at one of the four receiver spots. “They texted and said they were ready to come up here and play. (Southern Utah) has some good persoonel. Some of the players we played with at Snow that are there are high-caliber players.”

Ogbonna is listed as a starter in this game.

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On his radio show Monday night, UW coach Dave Christensen said UW has 71 players on scholarship right now. The maximum for a FBS program is 85.

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After 10 starts as a true freshman last season, you would think UW quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels has a better feel of what to expect in his first start of 2010.

Maybe, but that doesn’t diminish his excitement.

“It’s incredibly different and really exciting starting a new chapter with a whole new team, and me being a major part of it,” he said. “Every year is a different year and for me my year really started against UNLV last year (his first ever start). I have that  same feeling in my stomach now.”

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This will be UW’s first true night home-opener since 1988 when it beat Brigham Young 24-14. It also will debut its new suites and club seats, and the hype seems to be at a similar level for this opener that the one in 2007 when  a sellout crowd watched the Cowboys beat Virginia 23-3.

But that game was played during the day.

“You can’t get caught up in the hype, but it adds excitement to the whole thing,” Carta-Samuels said. “College football is more exciting because more people are involved and  more is riding on each game. But high school football is the most fun to play because you’re playing at night under the lights. You have everyone you know there.

“It’s going to be awesome under the lights in our home stadium. I will have my family there behind me, as well as the student body who is like my new family. It will be really exciting.”

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The first Mountain West Conference coaches teleconference was Tuesday morning. It went about 30 to 40 minutes long due to the influx of questions.

BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said he knows nothing, and likes it that way, in terms of whether or not his school will leave the MWC. BYU has until Wednesday to decide if it wants to be elsewhere next season.

MWC Commissioner Craig Thompson wasn’t available for comment on the call. He often is at the end after all the coaches are done.

TCU coach Gary Patterson put his teams through the heat this summer, and Colorado State looks to be the only FBS team to start a true freshman at quarterback.

For more on that, see Wednesday’s Wyoming Tribune Eagle www.wyomingnews.com and Laramie Boomerang www.laramieboomerang.com.

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I made a mistake in my post yesterday. My live chat to talk Wyoming football, or anything for that matter, will be at 3 p.m. THURSDAY. Not Friday as I stated yesterday. Here is a direct link to the chat http://wyomingcowboysblog.com/2010/08/31/live-chat-cowboy-football/

On Friday, our special UW football section comes out. I think you’re going to like it. You definitely need to pick up a copy of the Tribune Eagle or Boomerang that day to check it out!