It is still September so we needed to sneak in our latest edition of Panel of Pokes. After months of speculation we actually have games and results to talk about and discuss. With four games done this season our panel was given the assignment to review the first four games and grade out the Cowboys. We'll also project out the reason of the Cowboys season as well.
TOPIC: Grade the Wyoming offense, defense and special teams through the first four games of the year.
Our entire panel is back this month. Feel free to leave your grades and comments below. Love to have your feedback on our thoughts.
All of the panel is posted just after the jump!
Shout out to Brad for writing a novel this month for his section. Chad went with the less is more approach which is welcome after reading the 20 page essay that Brad put together,
Under the circumstances, a B grade for the offense is a positive, especially considering the Cowboys have played a true-freshmen quarterback and a number of young players on offense, particularly at wide receiver. I'm giving the WYO offense the B grade with the opinion this unit will be hitting on all cylinders by season's end and can be a very good group by next year.
The offensive line has played better than previous seasons in protection and opening holes for the running game, and is turning into a postive. QB Brett Smith looks to be the real deal and a player the Cowboys have to be excited about over the next several years. The offense is on an upward move, while they still have areas to clean up, I'm optimistic the best is yet to come under Smith's talent.
The defense has had it's ups and downs giving up lots of yardage, though has shown ability to be a solid at times. There has been too many times they've struggled stopping big plays in the pass and run game. The Cowboys secondary needs to pick up the pace and tighten up some as league play approaches. I think as the schedule moves on the Cowboy D should have it's moments against middle-of-the-road competion. My question is can this unit improve against the likes of Boise State, TCU, and SDSU in future games. Teams with good offensive talent.
Special Teams C
It's been some good and things need to improved across the board for special teamers. Senior punter Austin McCoy has been a up-and-down, but has punted better in recent games versus struggling early. K Daniel Sullivan is still breaking his way into major college ball and should only get better in time. The Cowboy kickoffs have been disappointing with short kicks allowing opponents to get good field position in crucial parts of the game. The kickoff and punt coverage has been decent-to-good at times, while a few block kicks including the game winner at Bowling Green is a plus.
The Cowboys have a good shot in my opinion to go bowling and I feel this program is only going to get better as the season progresses and the future is on an upside direction. The key game is Utah State in two weeks. Wyoming has two weeks to get ready for the Aggies and a victory at Logan will put them in a good position for 7 wins and bowling. While games against Boise State and TCU are challenges, as is the road tilt at San Diego State. I like the chances of home wins against New Mexico, UNLV, and competing against front range rivals Air Force and CSU.
Brad Reed - WyoNation
The Wyoming offense has shown flashes of greatness and flashes of not so great. Freshman quarterback Brett Smith has played beyond expectation for a freshman. I think he has done a fine job of taking the team on his shoulders at times and remaining poised under pressure and has made some good reads and big plays. He seems to have a knack for knowing when to tuck and run and when to throw the ball away. His decision making has mostly been good so far. The running backs have been decent so far. Collectively I think they've run for something over 600 yards, respectable, but if we were playing fantasy football this three headed monster would be killing fantasy owners. Each back has their strengths, Muhammad with some power, Alvester with some speed, and Miller with some all around good running. The offensive line is totally underrated this year. Many thought they would be a weakness coming into the season, but my have we been surprised! Brett Smith is remaining mostly upright and our backs are rushing the ball effectively. In my opinion, our weakness so far has been at wide receiver. Timely drops are hurting the offense at key times. Against Nebraska Mazi Ogbonna had two big drops, one that would have been a 3rd down conversion when the Pokes were driving, and another was a likely TD grab.. those hurt in big games. All around, they could be better, but they're doing a nice job in helping the freshman QB. Robert Herron has improved from last season. Grade: B
The defense has been a nice surprise so far. After the Weber State game I was pretty worried about the secondary as Weber's QB was throwing at will, but they've stepped up big at other times this season and have kept the Pokes defense clicking. The run defense, and the front seven, have had moments of great (Korey Jones 3 straight sacks vs. Texas State) and moments of not great (333 yards rushing yards given up vs. Nebraska). The front seven were expected to be the strength of this team, and so far they are doing just that. I'd like to see more pressure on the QB, it seems like a couple of these quarterbacks (Bowling Green, Weber) had too much time to throw and the secondary paid the price. We're still a bit undersized at the DT/NT position, but as new recruits come in I think those will get taken care of.. which also led to a lot of rushing yards given up vs. Nebraska. And how about newcomer ! An interception at linebacker already! Grade: B
Wyoming Special Teams:
A really up and down group overall. Freshman kicker Daniel Sullivan will be a great kicker for the Cowboys. Right now he looks like a really nervous freshman. Really up and down with his kickoff distance (some by coaches choice), and is 1-3 on field goals this season. The miss vs. Nebraska wasn't even close. However, I see no reason why this kid won't improve and will be booting FGs from long distance. Austin McCoy has been up and down as well.. Very poor punting average against Bowling Green, but seems to punt better at home. Weird, but he needs to be more consistent for Cowboy special forces. Kick return duties seem to be shared right now, but I really like the potential of returning kicks, he's going to be an exciting player for the Cowboys. Grade: C
Overall this team is on an upward trajectory. The first month of the season has given us hope, even if two of the wins were against FCS teams, one who might be pretty decent, and another who will be in the WAC next season. The Pokes played Nebraska closer than they have played Texas, Boise, and TCU in recent years, which also gives me hope that the Pokes might be bringing in better athletes and being coached better. I hope Christensen can see this project through and not bolt at the first bigger job to come running. The next month'ish will really test the meddle of the Pokes as they have three tough games and one game they should win pretty handily. If the Pokes can finish the next four games 2-2 or 3-1 I think that would be a good success. Utah State can go either way, TCU will be tough, as will San Diego State, UNLV looks like a dumpster fire right now. If the Pokes can go 3-1 in the next four, we're going bowling. If we go 2-2 then the Pokes will have to work pretty hard in November to make a bowl. If they go 1-3.. see ya in 2012!
Brad Reed - WyoNation
Offense - A
The Wyoming offense has looked like an upper tier unit after the first four games of the season. The Cowboy offense is averaging just over 445 yards per game, good for 32nd in the nation. The team is scoring consistently, and left 10 points off the board against Nebraska, after a missed chip-shot field goal and a dropped touchdown pass, which would have helped the team's numbers even more. The three-headed monster in the backfield, Alexander, Muhammad, and Miller, has produced very well, and the offensive line is a night and day improvement from years past. The most unanticipated surprise has been the stellar play of true freshman QB Brett Smith, who is a shoe-in thus far for Mountain West Freshman of the year, and a possible Freshman All-American selection. The first year gunslinger has just shy of 1,000 yards passing, a quarterback rating of 126.6, and 7 touchdown passes after 4 games. The offense has been close to perfect, and is operating the spread offense with ease and efficiency.
Defense - C
The Cowboy defense has disappointed me thus far this season. Not because they have cost games or played horribly, but because I had such high expectations for them. The unit has been inconsistent to say the least, struggling in different facets of the game, and excelling at other times. If it weren't for the missed tackles against Nebraska, the team would have looked even more competitive. I have faith with what I have seen so far, that the Cowboy defense will come out of the bye week and play up to the level that was expected of them during fall camp.
Special Forces - B
The Wyoming Special Forces have shined at times for the Cowboys, and struggled at others. The Pokes have blocked several field goals and PATs, none bigger than the block to win the game against Bowling Green. The team has also looked good getting close to blocking punts in every game, though they haven't got one yet. The unit has had its struggles, especially finding a consistent return man, and shoring up the field position battle. Special Forces has cost Wyoming big field position in a couple of games this season so far, including giving Nebraska a short field on more than one occasion. Special Forces is young, and I think as the season moves along they will improve game to game.
Overall I feel the Cowboy football team is the most talented they have been since Coach Christensen has been here. The team looks incredibly athletic, and can finally match-up, athlete to athlete, with almost any team in the country. True freshman QB Brett Smith has been a savior, and has fully bought-in to the Cowboy Tough mentality and the spread offense. He reads the defense and makes decisions within the realm of the offense. Overall, this Cowboy football team will continue to improve, and will make a splash in conference play. I think the Cowboys definitely make it to a bowl game, and finish in the top 5 of the conference standings.
MATT BLAYLOCK - Poke Pride
MATT BLAYLOCK - Poke Pride
On offense the team as a whole has more speed and with that speed the team is more situated to run the spread offense that Christensen made so popular and effective at Missouri. The big surprise is freshmen quarterback Brett Smith, this is a kid who enrolled at Wyoming early so he could get a head start on his playing career, and man has that early enrollment helped. Smith has kept his cool in some tough situations and has been a calming force for a young team, and he is one of the youngest on the team. With the way have played through the first four games you have to be happy with the offensive play. Averaging over 30 points a game and if not for a few correctable mistakes against Nebraska, Wyoming could easily be 4-0. A 3-1 start easily makes the offense a Poke so far in 2011.
The defense still is an area of concern; they are undersized and seem to get pushed around easily and especially late in games. This is a defense that is giving up an average of over 400 yards a game. Christensen is an offensive minded coach and his defense shows that. Speed is great but eventually you have to have some size too and until The Pokes get some size on the defensive side of the ball they will never be a Poke and continue to be a Choke on the team.
The biggest area of concern for Wyoming right now has to be in its kicking game. Not is punter Austin McCoy but in freshman kicker Daniel Sullivan. Sullivan has hurt the Cowboys more than he has helped them this season. He is only 1-3 on field goal attempts and that is not the way to keep a job at 7220. Kick coverage has been reasonably good, returns and punts not too bad but because of the Sullivan miscues (not putting points on the board) it makes the special teams look bad. This is a toss-up as a Poke or Choke; we will say Poke for the whole special teams except for Sullivan who is easily a Choke.
Earlier this year I picked the Cowboys to go 8-4 and I also picked them to be 3-1 going into their bye week so things look pretty good right now. If The Pokes continue to play on offense the way they have they may even be able to pull an upset this season and get to 9 wins, but either way with 8 or 9 wins the Cowboys should easily make it to an early season bowl game.
Offense: I am happy with what I have seen from the offense so far with Brett Smith running the show. The offense has scored on average 10 more points per game than it did last year but there is still room for improvement. C+
Defense: The defense is not much better than it was last year and last year was very bad. The Pokes rank in the bottom half of college football in pretty much every important statistical category. D
Special Teams: The kick return game has been less than solid but the kick coverage units have done well for the most part so far. Austin McCoy has had an up and down season punting the ball and Daniel Sullivan is still finding his way as a freshman kicker. D+
The Pokes need 4 wins in their last 8 games to make a bowl game. I have a hard time finding 4 wins with Boise State, Air Force, TCU, and Utah State on the schedule. The Pokes are going to be forced to win 1 or 2 of those games if they want to play another game in late December. Chances of making a bowl at this point in time is 35-40%.
MATT HARGLEROAD - Cowboy Altitude
The Cowboy offense has gone through a huge improvement this year. Gregg Brandon and an improved offensive line deserve plenty of credit but the biggest difference is QB Brett Smith. Not even looking at his stats I can say Smith is a better quarterback then his predecessor. He has poise in the pocket and a quick release which is why he has only been sacked three times this year. Even when he can't make a play he makes a good decision with the ball. The opening drive of the Nebraska game Smith was scrambling on third down and ended up just throwing the ball away and the Cowboys punted. Not the result you were hoping for but it was a smart decision by Smith. He either would have been sacked for loss or tried to force a ball into tight coverage and risk a turnover deep in your own territory. The fact that a true freshmen realized it was best to cut his losses on the opening drive against the #9 team in the nation shows me he has plenty of discipline. He's never looked rattled on the field when either he or one of his teammates makes a mistake.
The running back trio has worked very well and I'm glad to see that all three players have bought into the system. Alvester Alexander is used to be being the star running back but is ok with the team performing better even if he gets a few less carries. Plus he is now fresher and can make the most out the carries he has instead of taking a pounding on every single drive. GRADE: B+
While the defense has had trouble this year I'd still say they are better overall as a unit. The defensive line is more aggresive and there are certainly more playmakers now after a second year at the 4-3 defense. The emergence of Sonny Puletasi and Mark Willis bode very well for next year as well when Knapton and Biezuns are gone. The secondary has been a disappointment but they are missing three starters from last year: Prosinski, Gipson and Gary. Kenny Browderis back now and hopefully he can help solidify things at safety. The defense certainly looked much better against Nebraska then they did last year when playing Boise or TCU. There were plenty of missed tackles against Nebraska but tackling Rex Burkhead is not an easy thing to do. Thought they handled Taylor Martinez well and limited him to making bad throws.
With young guys like Blair Burns stepping up the Pokes are setting themselves up well for the future. The bye week will help the defense the most in my opinion. The competition is going to be stepped up and they will do a better job going forward. Grade: C+
Aside from the two blocked kicks against Bowling Green there haven't been many highlights for special forces. Sullivan has only made one field goal but luckily it hasn't us a game yet. Austin McCoy had a awful game punting against Texas State but rebounded the following two weeks. Punt returners have done nothing and are averaging just a yard per return. Relying on blocked kicks to win you games is a recipe for disaster. The kick and return game need to improve greatly for Wyoming to sniff a bowl game. Grade: D+
3-1 is right where I thought Wyoming would end up at this junction. This game with Utah State is certainly going to be tougher then expected and will be key for a bowl berth. I certainly think that Wyoming is better team then Colorado State and compares well to San Diego State. With the two bye weeks the Cowboys are certainly getting the a big advantage. Happy with the success of this team so far and excited for the rest of the year. With a win over Utah State I'd expect the Cowboys to return to the postseason.