Cowboys Need To Hit The Ground Running

In order to get back on the right track Wyoming needs to get back to fundamentals here and go with a power running game.  I'm not saying take the ball out Brett Smith's hands here.  I'm saying make it easier for Smith and the passing game by emphasizing the running game more and keeping the defense off balance.

Last week Wyoming was running the ball well to start the game but when Utah State took a big lead the Pokes abandoned the run and Smith ended up having a season high 46 pass attempts.  It was also the first time Smith failed to pass for a touchdown this year but he he did run for a score. 

Wyoming has a three headed running attack but hasn't utilized it properly this season.  Do you know who the Pokes leading rusher is this year?  Do you know who has the most rushing attempts for the Pokes this year?  Hint:  They are not the same player.  Ghaali Muhammad leads the team in rushing yards while simultaneously having the least amount of carries on the team.

2011 Wyoming Rushing Leaders

Name Attempts Total Yards Yards Per Carry Attempts Per Game
Ghaali Muhammad 34 267 7.85 6.8
Alvester Alexander 54 241 4.46 10.8
Brandon Miller 44 222 5.05 8.8
Brett Smith 42 173 4.12 8.4

 

Brandon Miller has not been effective against FBS opponents.  Against Weber State and Texas State he totaled 160 yards.  In games against Bowling Green, Nebraska and Utah State he's totaled just 62 yards.  Alvester Alexander has gotten better as the season has progressed.  He is averaging 5.03 yards per carry over the last three games compared to 3.8 in the first two contests.  He certainly deserves to have double digit attempts each game and has proven he handle more then that.

Still the fact that Ghaali Muhammad is averaging 2.8 yards more per carry then another running back stands out to me.  The game against Bowling Green was the only time he has averaged less then 6 yards per carry.   He is the biggest back for the Pokes and has enough speed to return kicks.  He is a locomotive with the ball and defenders don't enjoy trying to tackle him.  So in others words I need more Ghaali.  I've got a fever and the only cure is more Ghaali.

 

Right now Muhammad is on the kick return team as well as kickoff and punt coverage.  He's willing to do whatever it takes to help the team win.  But he certainly has earned more carries based on his production.  The three headed running back system needs to be scaled back to feature Muhammad and Alexander with Miller mixed in periodically.

The Cowboys upcoming opponent UNLV is giving up 140 yards on the ground and 330 yards in the air.  So does that mean Wyoming should go with a big air attack this week?  No and if you look closer you'll see that the Rebels give up plenty of yards on the ground - it's just that most of their opponents don't run the ball much.  Wisconsin and Nevada both ran for 240 yards against the Rebel defense.  But playing pass heavy Hawaii, Washington State and Southern Utah brought down their average to make it look more respectable. 

The pass coverage for UNLV is abysmal and Wyoming can exploit that.  However the foundation of the offense needs to be laid down by the running game over the last seven games.  Smith has done a nice job passing the ball but drops by receivers have hurt his numbers.  The veteran group of running backs have done a great job of holding on to the ball and can consistently move the ball. 

Wyoming has 192 passing plays compared to 180 running plays.  Certainly a balanced attack but the skew needs to be more towards the running game.  The numbers of rushes per game has dropped each time since the Texas State game when the Pokes had 50 rushes all the way down to just 27 against Utah State.  Obviously the defense has struggled for Wyoming this year.  A heavier ground game will eat up the clock and reduce the playing time for the defense which may improve their play.

The Pokes need to get an upset on the road  to get seven wins and San Diego State and Air Force are their best chances.  Which two teams give up the most rushing yards per game in the Mountain West?  You may surprised to find out that it is the Aztecs and the Falcons. 

2011 Rushing Yards Allowed Per Game

Boise State 118.60
TCU 133.67
UNLV 140.80
Colorado State 168.00
Wyoming 206.40
New Mexico 228.60
San Diego State 229.00
Air Force 235.20

 

The opportunity is certainly there for Wyoming to exploit that weakness against both teams as well as New Mexico.  The Cowboy defense needs to improve regardless of what the offense does but a bigger emphasis on the running game will help the Pokes quest for seven wins and a bowl berth.

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