From the desk of Tim Harkins
Laramie – Three mistakes cost the Cowboys a chance to upset Utah State at War Memorial Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
The Aggies extended their winning streak to six games since a season-opening loss to Michigan State, pulled out a 24-16 victory over Wyoming at War Memorial Stadium on Saturday.
The Cowboys did, however, take a step forward. They held a Utah State team that had averaged 478.7 yards in their first six games to 194 yards total offense, just 53 passing, 247 shy of their per-game average, and 141 yards rushing, 57.7 yards shy of their average in the six previous games. Oh, and 24 points, 27.7 points below their Aggies average in the first six games.
They, however, took advantage of three Cowboy missteps to score their three touchdowns. On the third play from scrimmage, Utah State running back Darwin Thompson broke loose for a touchdown. and in the third quarter, Thompson scored on a three-yard run on the first play after a second-half opening interception of Wyoming quarterback Tyler Vander Wal, and Savon Scarver ran a third-quarter Wyoming kickoff back 99 yards for a 24-6 lead.
Utah State improved to 6-1 overall and 3-0 in the conference, becoming bowl eligible for the seventh time in eight years. The Cowboys fell to 2-6 overall and 0-4 in the MW, leaving them in need to winning their final four games to be bowl eligible.
The Cowboys, however, made a move to address the struggles of redshirt freshman quarterback Tyler Vander Waal, slipping true freshman Sean Chambers into his first college game for a two-play series that ended with him fumbling away the ball in the first half, and then for the bulk of the second half where he was behind center for drives that led to 13 of the Cowboys 16 points, including a 53-yard Nico Evans touchdown run in the third quarter. It was the Cowboys first offensive touchdown in 11 quarters.
“It was great to see Sean (Chambers) come in and do some excellent things,” said Cowboys coach Craig Bohl. “I know there will be questions during the week especially when you change quarterbacks like that.”
The next move with Chambers will be interesting. Under the new NCAA rules, a player can appear in four games and still be given credit for a redshirt season. Chambers appeared in No. 1 on Saturday, and four games remain.
Junior linebacker Logan Wilson led the Cowboys, with 11 tackles, one interception (that he returned for 13 yards to set up a field goal) and 1.0 tackle for loss. It was the 10th double-figure tackle game of Wilson’s career and fourth in eight games this season. The interception was his first of the season and fifth of his career.
Senior safeties Marcus Epps and Andrew Wingard had six tackles each. Epps added 1.0 tackle for loss, and Wingard recorded a half TFL. Senior nose tackle Sidney Malauula also was credited with six tackles. The Cowboy defense as a group recorded 7.0 tackles for loss and 1.0 sack to go along with putting pressure on Utah State quarterback Jordan Love all day. Cowboy defenders also broke up five passes to go with Wilson’s interception.
Wyoming had two 100-yard rushers on the day in senior running back Nico Evans, who rushed for 133 yards and one touchdown, and Chambers, who ran for 100 yards. Wyoming ended the day with 231 rushing yards and 100 passing yards for its 331 yards of total offense. It was Evans fourth 100-yard rushing game in the six games he has played this season. The last time Wyoming had two 100-yard rushers in the same game was Oct. 12, 2013, against New Mexico when then Cowboy quarterback Brett Smith ran for 138 yards and running back Shaun Wick ran for 116.
USU running back Darwin Thompson also ran for 109 yards on the day. Utah State QB Love entered the game averaging 259.5 passing yards per game and was completing 67.2 percent of his passes, but was held to only 53 passing yards by the Cowboy defense and completed only 12 of 28 passes (42.9 percent).
“There were a couple of untimely mistakes that we made,” said Bohl. “Our effort was really good on defense and our effort improved in the second half offensively. Utah State’s offense is very prolific. They were scoring 50-plus points and completing nearly 70 percent of their passes (coming into this game), so I thought our defense went out and played well today.
“We gave up the one long run, so kudos to Utah State on popping that. Outside of that, we really hunkered down and made some plays.”
The game began with Wyoming place-kicker Cooper Rothe kicking the opening kickoff out of bounds and Utah State took the ball at its own 35-yard line. The Aggies opened their initial drive with a nine-yard completion. After an incompletion on second down, Utah State running back Darwin Thompson broke loose for a 56-yard touchdown run to give Utah State a 7-0 lead with only 30 seconds gone in the game.
Utah State place-kicker, Dominik Eberle, also kicked the ball out of bounds on his first kick, and Wyoming took over at its own 35-yard line. The Cowboys couldn’t move the ball on their first drive and were forced to punt. In fact, neither team would move the ball on each of their next two possessions.
On Wyoming’s third possession, true freshman quarterback Chambers was inserted into the Cowboy lineup in place of starter Tyler Vander Waal. It was Chambers first game of the season. He ran the ball on first down for three yards. On second down, Chambers kept the ball again, but after gaining six yards he was hit by USU linebacker David Woodward who knocked the ball loose. The fumble was recovered by Aggie defensive end Adewale Adeoye at the Wyoming 36-yard line. Wyoming’s defense forced three consecutive incompletions and Utah State had to attempt a 53-yard field goal, which was missed wide right by Eberle.
Vander Waal came back in the game on the next Wyoming possession and played the remainder of the first half. The Cowboys put together an eight-play drive on the ensuing possession driving down to Utah State’s 36 before UW punter Ryan Galovich punted the ball into the end zone. On Utah State’s first play following the punt, Aggie quarterback Jordan Love was intercepted by Cowboy linebacker Logan Wilson. Wilson returned the ball 13 yards to the Utah State 13-yard line. Three plays later, Cowboy place-kicker Rothe made a 27-yard field goal to make the score 7-3. It improved Rothe’s season field-goal totals to a perfect 10 for 10. It was his 13th consecutive made field goal dating back to last season. The first quarter would end with the score Utah State 7, Wyoming 3.
The only scoring drive of the second quarter came on Utah State’s second possession as they drove 52 yards in 12 plays, concluding with a successful 45-yard field goal by Eberle to extend the Aggies’ lead to 10-3. Every other drive by both the teams ended in a punt, except for the final possession of the half by the Pokes that ended with time expiring. The halftime score was 10-3 in favor of Utah State.
The second half started much like the first half, with Utah State making another big play, but this time it was the Aggie defense. On the first play of the second half, USU linebacker Jontrell Rocquemore intercepted Cowboy quarterback Vander Waal at the UW 23-yard line and returned the interception 20 yards down to the three. One play later, USU’s Thompson scored his second rushing TD of the game, giving Utah State a 17-3 lead.
Chambers was reinserted into the Cowboy offense on the next possession. After the two teams exchanged punts, the Cowboy offense generated an eight-play, 37-yard drive on its third possession of the second half, taking the ball down to the Utah State 30-yard line. Rothe came in for a 47-yard, field-goal attempt which he knocked through to improve his streak to 14 consecutive made field goals and narrow the lead to 17-6.
The Aggies would strike quickly on the kickoff as wide receiver Savon Scarver took the ball at his own one-yard line and returned the kick 99 yards for a touchdown. It was Scarver’s second kickoff return TD of the season and third of his career, extending USU’s lead to 24-6, with 4:11 remaining in the third quarter. It would be the last points Utah State would score in the game.
The Cowboy offense responded to the challenge on its following series, starting from its own 25-yard line. Chambers completed a 13-yard pass to tight end Tyree Mayfield on first down, taking the ball out to the UW 38. Evans then added a nine-yard run to the 47. After a rush for no gain by Chambers on second down, Evans took the handoff from Chambers on third and one and broke through the middle of the Utah State defense for 53 yards and a touchdown, pulling the Pokes to within 11 at 24-13. That is how the third quarter would end.
The Cowboys had one more scoring drive in them in the fourth quarter. UW took over at its own 18-yard line after a Utah State punt. Chambers carried the ball for four and six yards on first and second down. On the third play of the drive, Chambers threw a pass to Evans that went for 47 yards to the Utah State 25. The Pokes made it all the way down to the four-yard line. Facing a fourth and goal from the four, Rothe came in for his third field-goal attempt of the day. He converted from 21 yards out to make the game a one-score game at 24-16, with 5:32 remaining in the game.
On the ensuing kickoff, Scarver would return the kick to the USU 24-yard line, but an unsportsmanlike penalty against the Aggies moved the ball back to the 12. Utah State would gain one first down, but UW’s defense forced another punt and Wyoming would take over at its own 25-yard line with 2:02 remaining.
Cowboy quarterback Vander Waal was inserted back into the game to run the two-minute offense, but the Cowboys were unable to complete a pass on their four plays. Utah State took over at the Cowboy 25-yard line and ran out the clock to capture the 24-16 road win in Laramie.
It marked the first loss for Wyoming in the series in three years as the Pokes won the last two meetings against the Aggies.
Next week, Wyoming will play its only Friday night game of the season. That game will be the 110th edition of the Border War against rival Colorado State. The game will kick off at 8 p.m., Mountain Time from Fort Collins.