The news was expected, but still bad nonetheless.
Wyoming football coach Craig Bohl said prior to Tuesday’s practice that senior outside linebacker Mark Nzeocha is “extremely doubtful” to be back this season because of a knee injury suffered in the first half in last Saturday’s 27-20 overtime loss to San Jose State.
Nzeocha leads UW with 59 tackles, and also was one of the team’s better players on special teams.
“Mark played critical roles on the punt team and the kickoff coverage team, and we view all those things as critical as well,” Bohl said. “When all those defensive starters get hurt, typically there’s a residual effect that comes on special teams. We are preparing for that right now.”
Nzeocha joins senior free safety and co-captain Darrenn White as defensive starters lost due to knee injuries. And, you can make a strong point that both guys are the two most important players on UW’s defense this season.
Nzeocha is a four-down linebacker who is good against the run and the pass. He played middle linebacker in nickel situations this season. White was the quarterback of the defense making calls and also making sure guys were lined up right.
The two combined for 101 tackles, six pass break-ups, two fumble recoveries and two forced fumbles.
Bohl said senior defensive end Sonny Puletasi (leg) is “questionable at best, but may be serviceable later in the week.” Puletasi was hurt late in the San Jose State game. Bohl added if Puletasi can’t play Saturday at Colorado State, he could return the following week at Fresno State.
Bohl also said senior cornerback DeAndre Jones (unknown injury) is probable this week, although he didn’t practice Tuesday. Junior Tyran Finley and freshman Robert Priester figure to get more playing time this week if Jones can’t play, or is limited.
If those three don’t play, that will be four senior defensive starters out with injuries — two to season-ending knee injuries. Along with Nzeocha, senior free safety and co-captain Darrenn White was lost in the Oct. 11 game at Hawaii.
As far as replacements, Bohl said junior Jeff Lark and sophomore Lucas Wacha will get looks at Nzeocha’s spot this week in practice. During defensive walk-through period early in Tuesday’s practice Lark ran with the first-team defense, along with senior Jordan Stanton in the middle and senior Devyn Harris as the other outside linebacker.
Junior Malkaam Muhammad and Wacha were the outside linebackers with the No. 2 defense, and senior Alex Borgs was in the middle.
Bohl said it who plays where will depend a lot on the down, distance and situation.
The loss of Puletasi gives UW only three defensive ends who have played this season,
and Bohl said it will likely remain that way — at least this week. Junior Siaosi Hala’api’api is Puletasi’s backup and is expected to start along with junior Eddie Yarbrough at Colorado State. Senior Riley Lange is the third defensive end.
“We may bring a fourth guy into the loop, but I’d venture to say we will go with a three-man rotation,” Bohl said. “We’re going to have to have those guys suck it up and go a few more reps.”
True freshman Seth Edeen, a Cheyenne Central graduate, took a few snaps with the No. 2 defense during walk-throughs early in Tuesday’s practice.
UW practiced outside Tuesday, despite a brief spell of cool and windy weather that blew through Laramie.
Quarterback Cameron Coffman, who transferred from Indiana and must sit out this season, is the Cowboys’ scout team quarterback this week trying to imitate Colorado State senior Garrett Grayson.
Sophomore Trent Sewell is trying to be like CSU sophomore receiver Rashard Higgins this week. Higgins is second in the nation in receiving yards (937), receiving yards per game (137.6) and touchdown receptions (10) this season.
Two NFL scouts were at practice, including one from the Philadelphia Eagles.
For more UW football coverage, see Wednesday’s Wyoming Tribune Eagle and Laramie Boomerang and log on to wyosports.net,