2013 Wyoming football's 10 things to know: Consistency is not always a good thing

Troy Babbitt-US PRESSWIRE

Wyoming's win total changes drastically each year, even though its overall quality barely changes at all. Entering his fifth year in Laramie, head coach Dave Christensen wields a strong passing game and almost no other proven quantities. After a forgettable four-win season that included an unforgettable post-game rant, does he need to get back to a bowl to save his job?

For more on Cowboys football, visit Wyoming blog Cowboy Altitude, plus MWC blog Mountain West Connection.

Confused? Check out the glossary here.

1. Same team every year

Consistency isn't always a good thing. Over the course of four seasons with Wyoming, head coach Dave Christensen has taken a team that ranked 110th in the F/+ rankings when he inherited it and has produced squads that ranked 101st, 108th, 104th, and 100th, respectively. Because of some strange variance in close wins (a ton one year, very few the next), the Cowboys' win total has changed drastically in his time in Laramie; it has either gone up or down by at least three games in every season. But relatively speaking, the quality has not changed at all. With each progressive year, the offense gets a little better and the defense gets a little worse, but it has been a nearly zero-sum relationship overall.

A team that ranks in the 100s isn't very good. Christensen's two bowl runs probably helped to earn him a fifth year in charge, but if he wants a sixth year, that win total will need to go up again. He seems to have a thing for odd-numbered years, even going back to his years with Gary Pinkel at Toledo and Missouri. But "Hey, it's an odd year! We're cool!" probably isn't going to get you very far. Measurable improvement is needed. And while Wyoming returns a ton of experience from last year's squad, so do the other teams in the bottom half of the MWC. Not all of them can improve their win totals at the same time.

2012 Schedule & Results

Record: 4-8 | Adj. Record: 2-10 | Final F/+ Rk: 100
Date Opponent Score W-L Adj. Score Adj. W-L
1-Sep at Texas 17-37 L 22.8 - 28.1 L
8-Sep Toledo 31-34 L 36.0 - 27.7 W
15-Sep Cal Poly 22-24 L 16.8 - 26.1 L
22-Sep at Idaho 40-37 W 25.9 - 45.9 L
6-Oct at Nevada 28-35 L 17.3 - 28.8 L
13-Oct Air Force 27-28 L 29.0 - 29.9 L
20-Oct at Fresno State 14-42 L 17.4 - 22.8 L
27-Oct Boise State 14-45 L 24.6 - 34.1 L
3-Nov Colorado State 45-31 W 28.2 - 46.1 L
10-Nov at New Mexico 28-23 W 26.3 - 36.4 L
17-Nov at UNLV 28-23 W 36.3 - 30.8 W
24-Nov San Diego State 28-42 L 30.0 - 43.2 L
Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
Points Per Game 26.8 75 33.4 99
Adj. Points Per Game 25.9 83 33.3 105

2. No continuity, no momentum

If you were to rank Wyoming's offensive performances in 2012, using Adj. Points, you would find the Cowboys' second-best performance (Toledo) preceding their worst (Cal Poly). Their second- and third-worst sandwiched their fourth-best. It was an up-and-down season, and it didn't stop on offense. Wyoming played at a reasonably average level against Nevada, Air Force, and Fresno State but gave up a terrible number of yards and points to Idaho and Colorado State. This is typically of a team that is either really young or really banged up, and to be sure, Wyoming was plenty of both. The Cowboys leaned on a sophomore quarterback (who missed two games) and two freshman running backs and had to shuffle like crazy in the defensive front seven. Their most explosive receiver played only eight games. A starting linebacker played just two games, and their biggest contributions at defensive end came from freshmen.

This team really didn't have a chance, in other words.

Christensen is applying a lot of the principles of Don James' "Process," one in which he became very well-versed while coaching under former James disciple Gary Pinkel. He helped Pinkel to unearth talent and strong athleticism in weird places, and he has attempted to do the same thing in Laramie -- he has players from Germany and Sweden on the roster and has recruited high schoolers from across the country, from Wisconsin to Washington, from Illinois to California. But he has not yet built the depth necessary to field a winning program in a decent conference.

He'll have depth and experience in 2013; can he take advantage?

Offense

Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 72 88 87 87
RUSHING 102 117 109 117
PASSING 38 50 61 47
Standard Downs 117 112 119
Passing Downs 39 46 35
Redzone 73 75 69
Q1 Rk 59 1st Down Rk 115
Q2 Rk 70 2nd Down Rk 54
Q3 Rk 111 3rd Down Rk 99
Q4 Rk 105

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2013 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals Comp Att Yards Comp
Rate
TD INT Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Brett Smith 6'3, 205 Jr. ** (5.4) 205 330 2,837 62.1% 27 6 25 7.0% 7.4
Jason Thompson 6'2, 212 So. ** (5.4) 27 52 222 51.9% 1 1 0 0.0% 4.3
Colby Kirkegaard 6'3, 198 Sr. *** (5.5) 16 26 123 61.5% 0 1 0 0.0% 4.7
Tommy Thornton 6'1, 205 Fr. **






3. Brett Smith is pretty damn good

Wyoming's offense, run by two old-school spread offense guys (if there is such a thing) Christensen and Gregg Brandon, was a pretty unfriendly system for quarterbacks in 2012. Wyoming was run-first on standard downs but passed quite a bit more than the national average on passing downs, which meant that a disproportionate number of Brett Smith's pass attempts came on defense-friendly passing downs. This became even more disproportionate when you realize just how awful Wyoming was on standard downs. That he still completed 62 percent of his passes, with a pretty brilliant 27-to-6 TD-to-INT ratio, was quite impressive. Smith also rushed almost 10 times per game with reasonably decent results.

Smith was the Wyoming offense in 2012, in other words. He has been Wyoming's best asset since his first game as a freshman, and assuming he can stay healthy, one would assume that won't change too terribly much in 2013 despite a shift in coaching responsibilities. Brandon is now the offensive coordinator at New Mexico State, and assistants Pete Kaligis and Jim Harding have been promoted to co-coordinators; Christensen will call the plays.

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals Rushes Yards Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Carry
TD Adj.
POE
Shaun Wick RB 5'10, 190 So. NR 92 350 3.8 3.1 4 -13.6
Brett Smith QB 6'3, 205 Jr. ** (5.4) 89 461 5.2 4.3 6 +0.7
Brandon Miller RB 6'0, 188 Sr. NR 84 352 4.2 4.9 1 -11.5
D.J. May RB 5'11, 196 So. ** (5.3) 77 369 4.8 3.5 1 -3.0
Jason Thompson QB 6'2, 212 So. ** (5.4) 38 126 3.3 3.0 1 -8.2
Tedder Easton RB 5'11, 260 Sr. NR 13 44 3.4 1.5 0 -2.8
Colby Kirkegaard QB 6'3, 198 Sr. *** (5.5) 6 20 3.3 2.4 0 -1.0

4. The anti-New Mexico ... or maybe the anti-Colorado State

As we discussed in Monday's preview, New Mexico had a pretty fantastic run game but couldn't pass to save its life; and as we discussed in Tuesday's preview, Colorado State had a pretty solid standard downs offense but fell apart the moment it fell behind schedule.

Wyoming, meanwhile was the exact opposite; the Cowboys had a decent passing game with Smith tossing to Chris McNeill, Dominic Rufran, Robert Herron, and Jalen Claiborne. And Smith was, at times, a passing downs magician, figuring out ways to move the chains after falling into second-and-9 or third-and-7. The problem for Wyoming, of course, was that the Cowboys were absolutely awful at running the football and couldn't stay out of passing downs. Even if you're pretty good at third-and-7, third-and-7 will eventually defeat you. The task for Christensen and his new co-coordinators is simple: figure out how to get five or six yards on first down, one way or another.

Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Yds/
Target
Target
Rate
%SD Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
Chris McNeill WR 100 63 722 63.0% 7.2 25.3% 53.0% 7.0 106.4
Dominic Rufran WR 6'0, 185 Jr. ** (5.4) 68 39 529 57.4% 7.8 17.2% 44.1% 7.6 78.0
Robert Herron WR 5'10, 187 Sr. NR 51 31 657 60.8% 12.9 12.9% 52.9% 12.5 96.8
Jalen Claiborne WR 5'9, 175 Jr. ** (5.4) 51 34 490 66.7% 9.6 12.9% 49.0% 9.6 72.2
Brandon Miller RB 6'0, 188 Sr. NR 42 30 304 71.4% 7.2 10.6% 42.9% 7.1 44.8
Trey Norman WR 6'1, 170 Jr. ** (5.4) 25 17 220 68.0% 8.8 6.3% 56.0% 8.6 32.4
Shaun Wick RB 5'10, 190 So. NR 19 13 95 68.4% 5.0 4.8% 21.1% 6.0 14.0
D.J. May RB 5'11, 196 So. ** (5.3) 16 6 35 37.5% 2.2 4.1% 68.8% 2.4 5.2
Jason Thompson QB 6'2, 212 So. ** (5.4) 6 4 20 66.7% 3.3 1.5% 50.0% 3.3 2.9
Justin Berger WR 6'2, 200 Jr. NR 5 3 36 60.0% 7.2 1.3% 40.0% 8.3 5.3
Keenan Montgomery WR 6'1, 180 Jr. NR 3 2 18 66.7% 6.0 0.8% 100.0% 3.6 2.7
Trent Sewell WR 6'2, 207 RSFr. *** (5.7)








Nico Brown WR 6'3, 205 RSFr. **








Eric Nzeocha WR 6'1, 208 RSFr. NR








J.D. Krill TE 6'6, 255 Jr. *** (5.5)








Oscar Nevermann WR 6'1, 210 Fr. NR








5. You might just want to lean on the pass

The natural conclusion when you see that Wyoming stunk at the run and couldn't get yards on first downs is that the 'Pokes really need to run the ball better. And that's true. With health and better experience in the backfield, it's certainly conceivable that Wyoming will be able to rely on a better run game. But there are a lot of ways to move the ball on first down, and Christensen's later Missouri offenses quite frequently used short passing on standard downs to open up the field and move the chains. With a receiving corps that is deeper than most in the Mountain West, Wyoming could potentially see success by doubling down on the pass.

Leading receiver Chris McNeill is gone, but he was also the least proficient of any of Wyoming's regular targets last year. Robert Herron struggled with injuries early on, but after catching five passes for 173 yards and two scores in the season opener versus Texas, he also finished the season with 16 catches for 376 yards and three scores in the season's final three games. If healthy, he is a potential star heading into his senior season. Throw in Jalen Claiborne (eight catches for 195 yards and two TDs versus CSU, UNM, and UNLV), some decent efficiency options, and some interesting newcomers, and you've got a unit that could do some lovely things when not tasked with a host of third-and-longs.

Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 84.8 2.58 3.56 36.3% 65.9% 20.0% 87.0 6.8% 6.5%
Rank 111 108 32 89 70 82 81 101 65
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals Career Starts/Honors/Notes
Nick Carlson C 37 career starts; 2012 1st All-MWC
Josh Leonard LT 25 career starts
Tyler Strong LG 6'3, 212 Sr. ** (5.3) 23 career starts
Kyle Magnuson RT 14 career starts
Jake Jones RG 6'3, 295 So. ** (5.4) 12 career starts
Austin Traphagan RT 6'5, 308 So. ** (5.4) 1 career start
Walker Madden LT 6'9, 280 Jr. NR
Connor Rains RT 6'7, 318 Jr. *** (5.6)
Rafe Kiely C 6'3, 296 So. ** (5.4)
Chase Roullier C 6'4, 280 RSFr. ** (5.3)
Jacob English RG 6'5, 305 RSFr. ** (5.3)
Nathan Leddige LT 6'5, 289 RSFr. **
Josh Teeter LG 6'3, 268 RSFr. NR
Albert Perez C 6'1, 285 Jr. ** (5.2)
Connor Riese OL 6'7, 305 Fr. *** (5.5)

Defense

Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 108 97 90 102
RUSHING 121 85 68 101
PASSING 68 104 115 93
Standard Downs 86 62 92
Passing Downs 112 117 104
Redzone 101 79 112
Q1 Rk 98 1st Down Rk 73
Q2 Rk 83 2nd Down Rk 99
Q3 Rk 99 3rd Down Rk 114
Q4 Rk 98

6. Like Wyoming, Wyoming's opponents probably should have passed more

Wyoming played run-heavy teams like Air Force, New Mexico, and even Texas; plus, the Cowboys trailed quite a bit in 2012. So it should be no surprise that Cowboy opponents spent a lot of time running on Wyoming. That said, opponents spent a lot of the time running the ball. Clearly it worked for the most part (opponents did, after all, go 8-4 against Wyoming last year), but whatever strengths Wyoming may have had on defense, running the ball played to them. Big plays were an issue, but the Cowboys were semi-efficient on the ground against a host of solid run offenses.

Now they just have to hope that their reasons for efficiency are still in uniform. The best play-makers in the front seven were probably tackle Mike Purcell and linebacker Ghaali Muhammad, both of whom have run out of eligibility. End Eddie Yarbrough remains, and a strangely high percentage of end Sonny Puletasi's tackles were behind the line of scrimmage, but a good chunk of Wyoming's play-making against the run is gone.

If the run defense regresses, can the pass defense make up the difference? Possibly. The terrible pass rush probably won't get any worse, and if Wyoming chooses (or is forced) to get a little bit more aggressive in its pass defense, there are some experienced defensive backs who made a reasonable number of plays on the ball despite generally soft coverage.

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 94.0 3.27 3.58 41.5% 73.5% 15.4% 62.0 4.1% 2.7%
Rank 84 105 98 95 98 108 115 79 119
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Mike Purcell DT 12 59.5 8.0% 8 1.5 0 1 2 1
Siaosi Hala'api'api DE 6'2, 240 So. ** 12 43.0 5.8% 0 0 0 2 3 1
Eddie Yarbrough DE 6'3, 253 So. *** (5.7) 11 35.5 4.8% 6 4 0 1 0 0
Patrick Mertens DT 6'5, 287 Sr. NR 12 25.0 3.4% 2.5 2.5 0 1 1 0
Miraldo Michel DE 9 22.0 3.0% 2 0 0 0 0 1
Kurt Taufa'asau DT 7 17.5 2.4% 1.5 0 0 2 0 0
Justin Bernthaler DE 6'2, 256 Sr. *** (5.5) 12 17.0 2.3% 3 1 0 0 1 0
Sonny Puletasi DE 6'3, 247 Jr. ** (5.4) 11 14.0 1.9% 4.5 2 0 0 1 2
B.J. Sumter DT 11 11.0 1.5% 2 1 0 0 0 1
Jeff Roueche DE 6'3, 242 Sr. ** (5.2) 12 7.0 0.9% 0.5 0 0 0 0 0
Sam Awrabi DE 6'3, 245 RSFr. *** (5.6)

Uso Olive NT 6'1, 300 RSFr. ** (5.4)

Chase Appleby NT 6'0, 289 RSFr. ** (5.4)

Sam Hardy DE 6'3, 299 RSFr. ** (5.2)

Troy Boyland DT 6'2, 310 Jr. ** (5.4)

Du'Ryan Ebbesen NT 6'2, 301 Fr. NR

7. Going young

The most likely scenario is that Wyoming's defense improves a bit on passing downs and regresses an equal amount on standard downs. But there are certainly some interesting youngsters who could turn that sentiment around a bit. The most recent version of Wyoming's depth chart (PDF) saw two redshirt freshmen (Uso Olive and Chase Appleby) battling it out for the starting nose tackle job, along with a redshirt freshman (Lucas Wacha) starting at weakside linebacker. Puletasi is lined up in the BUCK position (the hybrid DE/OLB), and other youngsters like linebacker Jeff Lark and end Siaosi Hala'api'api could play key roles. The secondary is experienced and semi interesting, but Wyoming will be relying on some ultra-young players to hold the fort up front. That isn't a strategy that typically works incredibly well, but you never know, right?

Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Ghaali Muhammad SAM 12 88.5 11.9% 10 1 0 1 1 4
Korey Jones WILL 12 76.0 10.2% 3 0 0 2 1 0
Mark Nzeocha SAM 6'3, 230 Jr. *** (5.5) 11 25.5 3.4% 0 0 0 0 1 0
Devyn Harris LB 6'3, 229 Sr. ** (5.2) 2 4.5 0.6% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Zack Berg SAM 6'2, 226 So. ** (5.4) 11 4.5 0.6% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Oliver Schober LB 5 3.5 0.5% 1 0 0 0 0 1
Todd Knight LB 11 2.5 0.3% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Alex Borgs MIKE 6'2, 224 Jr. ** (5.4) 12 2.0 0.3% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Nehemie Kankolongo SAM 5'11, 208 Jr. *** (5.6)
Lucas Wacha WLB 6'1, 201 RSFr. **

Jordan Stanton MIKE 6'0, 246 Jr. ** (5.2)


Jeff Lark WLB 6'2, 203 So. ** (5.4)

Malkaam Muhammad LB 6'0, 225 So. ** (5.4)






Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Blair Burns CB 5'10, 180 Jr. ** (5.4) 12 50.5 6.8% 0 0 1 10 1 1
Marqueston Huff CB 6'0, 195 Sr. *** (5.5) 12 43.5 5.9% 1.5 0 0 7 2 1
Chad Reese FS 5'11, 180 Jr. *** (5.5) 10 39.5 5.3% 1.5 0 3 6 0 0
Luke Anderson FS 11 39.5 5.3% 0 0 0 1 0 0
Darrenn White FS 6'0, 184 Jr. *** (5.5) 12 34.5 4.6% 0.5 0 1 3 0 0
Luke Ruff FS 5 30.0 4.0% 2.5 0 0 0 0 0
DeAndre Jones CB 6'0, 180 Jr. ** (5.4) 12 19.0 2.6% 0 0 1 1 0 0
Andrew Meredith SS 6'0, 200 Sr. *** (5.5) 12 7.5 1.0% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Zaquoya Parham CB 5'10, 177 So. ** (5.2)

Cortland Fort SS 6'0, 182 RSFr. ** (5.2)

Luke Kellum CB 5'10, 184 RSFr. NR

Jesse Sampson FS 6'0, 188 Jr. ** (5.3)

Tim Kamana FS 5'11, 185 Fr. **

Cooper Wise CB 5'9, 170 Fr. NR






Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Tim Gleeson 62 43.0 6 14 21 56.5%
Stuart Williams 5'11, 180 Jr. 1 27.0 0 0 1 100.0%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB TB%
Justin Martin 5'10, 178 So. 59 60.6 26 44.1%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2013
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Stuart Williams 5'11, 180 Jr. 35-37 5-6 83.3% 2-6 33.3%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Returns Avg. TD
D.J. May KR 5'11, 196 So. 9 20.9 0
Shaun Wick KR 5'10, 190 So. 8 16.6 0
Jalen Claiborne KR 5'9, 175 Jr. 6 23.5 0
Blair Burns PR 5'10, 180 Jr. 12 10.2 0
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 118
Net Punting 73
Net Kickoffs 46
Touchback Pct 33
Field Goal Pct 106
Kick Returns Avg 117
Punt Returns Avg 14

8. Justin Martin: a fun combination

Scroll down to his name on Wyoming's roster, and I'm confident that you will be looking at the only Kicker/Strong Safety in the country. Uniqueness is fun. That he was also one of the better members of Wyoming's special teams unit (along with punt returner Blair Burns) is a bonus.

2013 Schedule & Projection Factors

2013 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. Rk
31-Aug at Nebraska 20
7-Sep Idaho 121
14-Sep Northern Colorado NR
21-Sep at Air Force 91
28-Sep at Texas State 107
12-Oct New Mexico 122
19-Oct Colorado State 117
26-Oct at San Jose State 72
9-Nov Fresno State 60
16-Nov at Boise State 12
23-Nov Hawaii 100
30-Nov at Utah State 46
Five-Year F/+ Rk 111
Two-Year Recruiting Rk 108
TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin* +7 / +9.3
TO Luck/Game -0.9
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 14 (7, 7)
Yds/Pt Margin** +0.5

9. Well ... we know Dave Christensen cares

I mean, we can't not mention this, right? We're still only a few months removed.

10. So where's this thing going?

It's rare to get four years into a coach's tenure and have no idea what the ceiling is, or even whether the tenure has been good, mediocre, or bad. Two bowls in four years is certainly nothing to scoff at; hell, Joe Tiller only took Wyoming to one in six years before leaving for Purdue (okay, so his final team went bowlless at 10-2; the point remains), and only one other coach has taken Wyoming to multiple bowls since Lloyd Eaton's stunning run in the 1960s (Wyoming went 20-2 in 1966-67 and finished sixth in the AP poll in 1967). But he's done so without actually building a team of any sort of consistent quality.

In 2013, Wyoming will have a lovely passing game on which it can lean heavily if it so chooses. But its running game and defense still could leave much to be desired. With six opponents projected 100th or worse (and another two projected no better than 72nd), bowl eligibility could be in the cards with another string of quality play in close games. Is that the bar for Christensen at this point? Can he survive another bowl-free year, especially if it is once again accompanied by a level of play that is probably not in the Top 100?

For more on Cowboys football, visit Wyoming blog Cowboy Altitude, plus MWC blog Mountain West Connection.

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