Wyoming’s head coach and players praise Oregon but take inspiration from many successful moments against the Ducks
Although the score line of Saturday’s game was a comfortable 48-14 win for Oregon, the Wyoming Cowboys can hold their heads high under their 10-gallon hats after consistently racking up yards against the Ducks throughout the game. Wyoming ran more plays than their Autzen Stadium opponents (74 to 68) and threw for nearly as many yards as the Ducks (284 to Oregon’s 293) despite the blowout. “There were definitely some holes out there,” Cowboys wide receiver Tanner Gentry, who caught two passes for 35 yards, said of the Oregon defense. On the ground, Shaun Wick also carried for 125 yards and a robust 7.6-yard average, and he wasn’t the only Cowboy to break free for large gains.
But ultimately Oregon’s Marcus Mariota-led offense left the Cowboys grasping the air and gasping for breath too many times.
“There are times on the road against a great football team that can be discouraging. You try and tackle a guy and he’s two times faster in the 40,” Cowboys coach Craig Bohl said afterward from Wyoming’s makeshift pressroom, a small tent just inside the east gate. “I don’t know if anybody here has a vote for the Heisman trophy, but I would encourage you to take a look at casting a ballot for Oregon’s quarterback. He’s a tremendous player and I thought he played extremely well. Michigan State is an excellent football team, and last week sometimes five guys would miss the quarterback. I knew it would test us and it did. They certainly deserve the N0. 2 [Associated Press poll] ranking. But certainly I was encouraged by some of our playmaking ability.”
Although the Cowboys were effective taking to the air, especially on screen passes to players such as D.J. May (who finished with 101 yards receiving), Bohl credits Wyoming’s establishment of the running game (despite losing two offensive lineman to injury) for the Cowboys’ ability to move the ball successfully, on drives such as the 11-play, 98-yarder that gave Wyoming an opening 7-0 lead. “That really began to change some of the dynamics,” he said. “This is a pretty impressive defensive front, so we were pleased that we were able to get the running game going at times.”
May, who finished with 48 yards rushing and 5.2-yard average, blamed his own blocking difficulties for some of the sacks Wyoming gave up to the Ducks’ offense. But he also said Oregon didn’t bring as much pressure as Air Force did against the Cowboys a week ago, which seemed to have enabled Wyoming’s passing game.
But after the game, Duck defensive coordinator Don Pellum spoke of Oregon’s sometimes sloppy play, which cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu echoed. “There were a lot of blown assignments,” Ekpre-Olomu said. “I’m not sure why, whether it was your eyes on the backfield or them just outworking you. They did a good job. Some plays we could see they’d have a guy slipping through and there were three guys who could make the play and no one makes it. That can’t happen.”
Defensive end Eddie Yarbrough echoed Bohl’s praise of Mariota and extended it to the entire Ducks offense. “I’ve personally never seen a team play at that pace,” he said. “Obviously you can’t perfectly replicate that in practice.”
Both Coach Bohl and Wyoming’s offensive players said there wasn’t much Oregon’s defense threw at them that they hadn’t seen on tape. “We knew they had a pretty large arsenal of different types of defensive coverages,” said Colby Kirkegard, who was 19-of-33 from the air against the Ducks. “We saw a little bit of zone, a little bit of man, some two-man. We saw “Okie fronts,” even fronts. They’re a sound defense. My hat’s off to them. But having two offensive linemen down and still being able to move the ball, that’s encouraging. We were moving the ball quite a bit even if the score didn’t show that. We just turned the ball over too many times. That’s not a recipe for success. Keeping that offense on the sidelines as much as you can is key.”
It may be true that even if Wyoming had played the error-free football Bohl believed was necessary, Oregon would still have won comfortably behind its fast-break offense. After all, the Ducks won by 34 points with their starting signal caller not even taking the field in the second half. Yet while the Cowboys were deferential to the team that beat them, they weren’t intimidated.
“The crowd was pretty hyped out there. Even though we were the away team, it was fun to play out there. And I definitely feel like we were encouraged,” May said. “We got some things accomplished today and we could have done a lot more. It could have been a different kind of ballgame.”
Brian Libby is a writer and photographer living in Portland. A life-long Ducks football fanatic who first visited Autzen Stadium at age eight, he is the author of two histories of UO football, “Tales From the Oregon Ducks Sideline” and “The University of Oregon Football Vault.” When not delving into all things Ducks, Brian works as a freelance journalist covering design, film and visual art for publications like The New York Times, Architect, and Dwell, among others.
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