Two years ago Wyoming’s defense struggled and last season it was one of the best in the nation. The Cowboys ranked number one in the nation in takeaways, 9th in scoring defense, and 23rd overall. This season many publications say Wyoming will have one of the ten best defenses in the country.
Their defensive line could arguably be the best in school history and senior strong safety Andrew Wingard could set the school record for tackles. Head Coach Craig Bohl doesn’t like harping on individuals, but he admits these guys are pretty good.
“Andrew’s an instinctive player, he’s playing fast, and he’s a great tackler. Carl Granderson, you know he’s put on close to 90 pounds and he’s really athletic. And Youhanna Ghaifan, Logan Wilson and I think Tyler Hall, these guys are guys who could play for a lot of different people and I think a lot of them are going to play on Sundays," said Bohl.
Which means, he thinks they will all play in the NFL. The architect of the defense is Scottie Hazleton. He’s a veteran assistant coach who recently was an assistant with the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars, but he jumped at the chance to come to Wyoming and lead the defense. Hazleton said he simply got them pointed in the right direction.
“We had really good players, we had guys that liked playing ball and weren’t scared of working really hard and so it’s more a credit to them than anything we did as staff," said Hazleton.
But Safety Andrew Wingard said it was more than that. He said Hazleton simplified things.
“It wasn’t guys having to do this and that and be thinking on the field, we were all out there reacting and that’s what you’ve got to do on defense. If you think for one second you’re wrong.”
Hazleton said Wingard is one of a strong group of team leaders that have taken ownership of the defense. He says they have a swagger that’s translated to the rest of the unit.
“It’s fun to watch them because they hold each other accountable and they strain to work really hard and they talk trash to each other when they aren’t doing it right and so it’s fun to see them and they took great ownership of it.”
Defensive End Carl Granderson, who at 6-5 and 261 pounds, is one of the top pass rushers in the nation. He said not only are they bringing back some great players, but the younger players are getting better and better, which will keep the unit from tiring. Granderson added that the squad is good, but it can get better.
“But we’ve got room for improvement on takeaways and stopping the run. “
Which is an interesting statement considering that Wyoming led the nation in takeaways last year. Granderson also has some personal goals.
“Sack numbers, I want at least 17, so that’s probably one and a half sacks a game, that’s the goal. But I do whatever it takes for the team you know," said Granderson.
That number of sacks and would have easily led the nation last season. One of his fellow first team all-conference defensive lineman Youhanna Ghaifan can’t wait for the season to start.
“I think we can handle anything an offense can throw at us," said Ghaifan. "I think we’ll do so much better than last year which is crazy because we really killed it last year, but I think we’re going to be even more dangerous than we’ve ever been.”
That might sound cocky to some, but Ghaifan said he disagrees.
“We walk around with our chest up as a whole defensive group and we just think that nobody can really stop us, but that’s not really cockiness, that’s confidence right there.”
Wingard said the defense remembered the teams that ran up the score on them two years ago and so the unit played with a chip on its shoulder most of last season. He said if they continue to play that way, he believes the sky’s the limit for the Wyoming defense this season.