The Wyoming Cowboys football season fell apart last year. The Cowboys finished with five wins and seven losses, but lost five of their last six games. After the season ended the Cowboys also lost their Coach, and watched their starting quarterback AND his backup leave the team. New Coach Craig Bohl had a lot of success coaching at North Dakota State where he won three National Championships in a division below Wyoming. The question is whether he and his coaching staff can turn things around in Laramie.
It’s a sunny day in August as the Wyoming Cowboys run through drills with the full offense playing against the full defense. The new coaching staff has changed everything about how the team plays. On defense, the main focus is to help the unit play better. Wyoming’s defense was dreadful last year, giving up over 48 points per game in 5 of its last 6 games. New Defensive Coordinator Steve Standard has had a lot of success as a defensive coach over the years and he is looking forward to watching the Cowboys improve.
“We constantly talk about where our expectations are and our practice habits and what we expect from a finish to an effort level and we hold that bar up there and we keep grinding towards that bar.”
Standard says the team didn’t always play hard for four quarters in the past and gave up too many big plays.
Defensive back Blair Burns says the coaches insist that every player run to the ball.
“So if we have everybody flying to the ball and everyone’s throwing their heads in there and you know trying to get in there on tackles, and in on ball carriers and receivers and things like that, they’re going to be scared to catch the ball and scared to run the ball.”
Burns says the change has been noticeable.
On offense, the biggest change is that record setting quarterback Brett Smith is no longer with the Cowboys and the starting job falls to Colby Kirkegaard who’s had limited playing time in the past.
Head Coach Craig Bohl said in the spring that Kirkegaard would need to make a lot of progress. Apparently that’s happened. Last year’s leading receiver Dominic Rufran has been impressed.
“You can’t deny the doubt that everybody had at the beginning of the year, I mean personally myself I had doubt as well. But now what I’ve seen in the spring and what I’ve seen in the summer and what I’ve seen in the fall, I couldn’t be more pleased with the job Colby is doing as a quarterback. He’s doing a fantastic job leading the offense, he’s doing a fantastic job making the throws.”
His offensive Coordinator Brent Vigen says Kirkegaard made tremendous progress over the summer and he is leading the team.
“I think there is a real sense of urgency that this is his opportunity. Really his one and only he’s had in his career here. It’s also an understanding, you go through and you work as hard as he and the team did this summer, you learn things much better, you know what you’re doing.”
Kirkegaard admits that his confidence has grown along with his understanding of the offense. Wyoming’s old offense was known as a spread where the Quarterback did a lot of running and throwing.
The new Wyoming offense resembles what most NFL teams play with the Quarterback closer to the ball and running backs behind him. Kirkegaard says that better suits his talents.
“I think it distributes the weight of the offense more evenly across the board. We’ve got so many weapons we can use whether it’s our running backs, our tight ends, our fullback, our receivers, so there’s just a lot of elements that you use in it.”
Wyoming’s offense should put points on the board, but the work in progress is the offensive line. Coach Vigen says they want the line to be more aggressive than it’s been in the past. He says that change in mentality is coming along… slowly.
“It was such a quick…get rid of it scheme here in so many cases that they didn’t have to pass block much here either, so it’s just now about our physical nature in the run game, it’s about our guys becoming better pass blockers.”
Vigen says they are getting better, but they still haven’t settled on the starters.
The new look Cowboys open the season in Laramie on August 30th against Montana.