Air Force defense presents defensive challenges for Cowboys

Every time Wyoming plays Air Force in football there is talk about how unique the challenge is to go against the Falcons’ option-based offense.

Colby Kirkegaard

Colby Kirkegaard

That’s the case again this week as the Cowboys and Falcons open Mountain West play against each other Saturday night in Laramie.

But Air Force’s defense poses some challenges to Wyoming’s offense.

“They have a three-man front so they like to bring different linebackers from different areas,” senior quarterback Colby Kirkegaard said. “They do some unique things, so we have to take that into consideration. It’s more different than anything, and also more challenging for us going against a team with a traditional four-man front.”

Wyoming’s game plan this season is to control the line of scrimmage and run the ball, and one would think the Cowboys will have an advantage Saturday going against a traditionally small Air Force line.

But UW offensive coordinator Brent Vigen wants to see the the offense be more balanced after running for 209 yards and passing for just 92 in last week’s 17-12 win over Montana.

“Air Force moves and plays really hard, and they and pressured a little bit more against Nicholls (a 44-16 Air Force win),” Vigen said. “We need to throw the ball more and more effectively. We didn’t take but maybe one shot (down field) last week.”

Here is Vigen on that, and recapping the offense’s play against Montana:

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UW-Air Force Monday press conference highlights

Mondays are when media has the most access to Wyoming football players and coaches during game week.

Here are some of the more notable items:

–First-year coach Craig Bohl recapped the 17-12 win over Montana, and said UW’s minus-2 turnover margin was something that needs to improve. “We can withstand one, but we need to do a better job (defensively) when the ball is in the air and stripping that the ball.”

Colby Kirkegaard

Colby Kirkegaard

–Senior quarterback Colby Kirkegaard said the biggest improvement he and the offense needs to make is with those turnovers. Kirkegaard lost a fumble and threw an interception in the end zone against the Grizzlies. “Some of our negative plays were self-inflicted,” he said. “There were a lot of factors in that. We have to smooth out those first-game jitters, I guess, and just be more consistent with the positive plays.”

–Bohl described the players’ attitude leading up and during the Montana game as “excellent.” He added: “Some people on the outside may not think that’s a big deal, but it is.”

–Sophomore running back D.J. May and senior receiver Jalen Claiborne didn’t finish the Montana game due to injuries, but Bohl said both were expected to practice Monday night. Both were listed on UW’s two-deep roster Monday.

–Bohl said Air Force is an “excellent” team. After just watching tape of the Falcons’ 44-16 win over Nicholls last Saturday, Bohl said the Falcons are much better than their 2-10 record of last season due to the play at quarterback, running back and fullback. For more on that, and a minor change to UW’s depth chart this week, see Tuesday’s Wyoming Tribune Eagle and Laramie Boomerang, and log on to

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UW-Montana postgame notes and quotes

Here are some leftover notes and quotes from Wyoming’s 17-12 season-opening win over Montana Saturday:

Craig Bohl

Craig Bohl

–“It was a good start, but we can be better.” — UW coach Craig Bohl on UW having only one penalty in the game — an illegal motion penalty early in the fourth quarter — and how his team managed the clock throughout the game. UW’s time of possession was 34:54. It’s best last season was 28:31.

— “That why he was in there. He wa ble to make a play. He has a bright future. You never know they’re going to react, and he answered the bell.” — Bohl on the 18-yard run late in the fourth quarter by true freshman running back Brian Hill.

“I just kind of go out there and do it, and have fun doing it. I remember I was out there and (the public address system) was playing one song that I really like (Closing Time). I was like, that was my song and I was out there just running over guys.” — junior running back Shaun Wick on a couple of his second-half runs when he ran over and dragged Montana defenders for extra yardage.

–“That was amazing. I was so happy for him. I was like ‘that was my little brother out there making plays.’ ” — Senior outside linebacker Mark Nzeocha on the blocked punt by his brother — sophomore tight end Eric Nzeocha.

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FAMOUS FIRSTS: First for Cowboys to start the Craig Bohl era

Here are some of the firsts for Wyoming in the first half of the first game of the Craig Bohl era as coach in Saturday’s season-opener against Montana:

First coin toss: Wyoming wins the toss and defers to the second half.

First kickoff: Senior Stuart Williams boots the ball five yards deep in the end zone for a touchback.

First play: Montana senior quarterback Jordan Johnson executed a bootleg play and completed a 12-yard pass to senior running back Travon Van for a first down.

First video review: In the second quarter Montana senior running back Jordan Canada ran for 1-yard before senior defensive end Riley Lange tackled him and appeared to force the ball out. But after further review, Canada was ruled down and play stood as originally called on the field.

First forced punt on defense: UW forced Montana to three-and-out after that initial first down on its initial offensive series.

First offensive play: A 14-yard run by junior running back Shaun Wick where senior quarterback Colby Kirkegaard may have changed the play at the line of scrimmage.

First pass: A Kirkegaard completion for 10 yards to senior tight end J.D. Krill — his first-career catch for the Cowboys. Continue reading

UW-Montana key to the game

Here is WyoSports senior editor Robert Gagliardi’s top key to the game for today’s Wyoming football season opener against Montana:

1. A positive start: Whether that means points on its first few offensive series’ or some

Colby Kirkegaard

Colby Kirkegaard

defensive stops, Wyoming needs to generate some positives early to build their confidence with all the changes the team has gone through with a new coaching staff and philosophies. A good start is especially important for redshirt senior starting quarterback Colby Kirkegaard, who makes his first start since 2012.

What do you think folks, agree or disagree?

For more keys and more on the game, see Saturday’s Wyoming Tribune Eagle and Laramie Boomerang, and log on to

If you can’t be at the game, join Gagliardi for his live chat from the game. It starts at 1:30 p.m. and links can be found on this blog and at

UW sports live chat replay

Here is the replay of WyoSports senior editor Robert Gagliardi’s first live chat on University of Wyoming sports for the fall season on Thursday, Aug. 28.

Be sure to join Gagliardi for his live chat from Saturday’s Wyoming-Montana football game, starting at 1:30 p.m. Links to the chat can be found at and at

Live Blog University of Wyoming live sports chat

UW-Montana notes and quotes

Here are some notes and a few quotes for Saturday’s Wyoming-Montana football game:

–“I think I’ve come far enough, but I wouldn’t say I’m done growing.” — UW senior strong safety and team captain Darrenn White. White was a starter last season, but suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in the sixth game of 2013.

Craig Bohl

Craig Bohl

–When UW coach Craig Bohl was at FCS North Dakota State, his teams didn’t play Montana a lot but came close in two of the last three years in the FCS playoffs where the Bison won three straight FCS national titles. Bohl and many of the staff members he brought with him from North Dakota State to UW scouted Montana plenty. Could that be an advantage for the Cowboys today, and could Montana be at a slight disadvantage not knowing completely what UW will do? “It means a little bit, but we’re not going to do tons of different things that we did at North Dakota State. There will be some new things we do different offensively and defensively to adapt to our personnel here. I’m sure (Montana’s) coaches have taken a look at North Dakota State film. A lot of their guys on their team we tried to recruit (at North Dakota State) so we know a lot about them.”

–Bohl was 7-3 against FBS teams while at North Dakota State. Now he is on the other side of that fence at UW. “A lot of it comes in a point of reference. The years we played a Big Ten school it had some impact. But with (UW and Montana) being bordering states like this, you can throw all the numbers out. This is going to be an excellent game and we’re excited to play it.”

Sam Hardy

Sam Hardy

–“At first I started second-guessing myself if I made the right decision. But as time went on I liked it way more than playing defense.” — UW sophomore offensive guard Sam Hardy, who could start today at right guard, on the move he made from defensive line to offensive line last season.

–Montana junior receiver and return specialist Ellis Henderson is listed as an ‘or’ starter at receiver for the game. Henderson did not do much during fall camp due to an illness. He is one of the Grizzlies’ top big-play threats at receiver and in the return game.

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Kiely confident UW offensive line is ready for season

What is one of your biggest concerns about the Wyoming football team heading into this season?

There may be many, but one many fans have talked to me about — and I share their concerns — is the offensive line.

Rafe Kiely

Rafe Kiely

Can this group make the transition from a finesse spread offense and to a more physical pro-style offense — and be effective?

UW junior starting center Rafe Kiely thinks so.

This is what he told me earlier this week about that:

“Biggest shift we’ve made since the spring is we’re getting the finer details of this offense down. We can go to the line now and know what we’re going to do before we even seen the defense. I didn’t think we had that in the spring.

“After this first game comes, I think all the questions are going to be answered as far as our physicality. I know over the last few years here at Wyoming there have been questions if the offensive line is tough enough and can they do it, and they don’t seem to like to hit. A lot of that has to do wiht the ofense we ran. It wasn’t very aggressive for an offensive line. Now we are taught to go knock people out. That’s a huge difference people will see on Saturdays. It’s not read and react, it’s us attacking them and they better be ready for it.

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UW-Montana football Q&A

WyoSports senior editor Robert Gagliardi did a question-and-answer session with Bill Speltz, who covers Montana football for the Missoulian newspaper in Missoula, Montana, about Saturday’s game with the University of Wyoming in Laramie.

Follow on Twitter: @billspeltz

Here is a sample of the Q&A, and for the rest of it, see Thursday’s Wyoming Tribune Eagle and Laramie Boomerang, and log on to

How vital is senior quarterback Jordan Johnson to the offense, and who does the offense and the dynamic of this entire team change when he’s not in the lineup?

Jordan Johnson

Jordan Johnson

He is easily the most important player on the team. To give you an example, when he was unable to play in 2012 because he was fighting a nationally-publicized sexual assault charge, Montana went 5-6. He came back and Montana went 10-3 last season. He’s an accurate passer and extremely smart – a high school coach’s son. Just as important with a young line, he has the ability to make something out of nothing with his scrambling. In his absence, Montana would probably go with redshirt senior Shay Smithwick-Hann, who has struggled as a starter in the past.