Wyoming nearly ruined the debut of the newly enlarged Memorial Stadium. A tremendous effort by both the offensive and defensive units helped the Pokes battle back when it appeared that Nebraska was about to pull away. Several times it appeared that Nebraska was about to pull away but the Pokes kept finding ways to score and refused to go away. Wyoming outgained Nebraska 602 to 530 in a high octane game.
It's tough to write this article after such an exciting 4th quarter. Coming so close to a huge victory and yet still the record sits at 0-1. Unfortunately moral victories don't show up in the standings. There is plenty to be excited about after watching the Cowboys performance. It will require effort similar to tonight if Wyoming wants to make some noise in the Mountain West.
Instead of recapping the game drive by drive we'll analyze what went well and what went wrong.
- Brett Smith turned a lot of heads and made himself known to those that weren't familiar with Wyoming. His stat line was truly impressive: 29-43 for 383 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. He also ran for 92 yards on just eight attempts. The only error was the interception that was lofted up during an off balance throw in double coverage. He more then made up for that with his pinpoint accuracy on most of his throws. Smith outplayed Taylor Martinez the entire game.
- The run game was surprisingly strong. The commentators kept saying that Wyoming not a running team. That wasn't true, they were just a "poor" running team last year. The offensive line was able to create large running lanes and the running backs continued to break through holes and tackles. Last year it seemed that the runner would go down nearly instantly after contact. Shaun Wick looked much stronger as he powered his way for 101 yards on 12 carries and a touchdown. Brandon Miller ran nine times for 27 yards but also caught five passes for 63 yards and a touchdown.
- The play calling was impressive. Christensen showed that he hadn't lost his touch from his OC days at Mizzou. When Nebraska put an extra man in the box to stop the run in the second half, he adjusted and attacked through the air. There are two calls that were controversial. Letting the clock run out in the first half despite being at midfield. That is a typical Christensen move. The more controversial play happened in the fourth quarter. At the Nebraska 24 they had Brett Smith throw a lateral to Trey Norman who tried to then throw a forward pass. Unfortunately it took a while for the play to develop and Norman was hit as he throwing which resulted in a poor pass that was intercepted. That was really the only trick play Wyoming used and it didn't work out. I was fine with Christensen trying to surprise the Nebraska D. Not every Wyoming fan agreed with me as the normal offense was working fine.
- Tackling. The major weakness of the Wyoming defense the last several years has been missed tackles. For the most part, that was not the case tonight. The D was able to wrap and prevented small plays from becoming huge plays. The Huskers still ended up with 375 rushing yards but with so many points scored by both teams you know the yardage totals will also be high.
- Punting. The battle for starting punter was a close one and no one was particularly effective in Fall camp. Freshmen walk-on Ethan Wood ended up winning the job and fared well on the big stage. He punted four times with a 52.2 yard average. His first punt was downed inside the 5 and had another that was inside the 20. The other two were touchbacks.
- Receivers. They were very few incidents of dropped passes. Most incompletions were due to being deflected or were thrown out of bounds. Dominic Rufran looks to be their heir apparent to Chris McNeill's title of best route runner. He caught 11 passes for 120 yards. Jalen Claiborne caught seven passes for 88 yards and a touchdown while Robert Herron caught four passes for 91 yards and a score. So close to having three players break the 100 yard mark.
- Marqueston Huff. The senior captain was fantastic at safety and finished with 18 tackles. He also stripped the ball from Martinez on a fourth down attempt to give Wyoming a chance to close the gap in the fourth quarter. Eddie Yarborough also had 13 tackles including two tackles for loss.
- Third down conversions. The offense did a great job of gaining yardage on early downs. When things got tight the Pokes were only able to convert 1 of 8 third down conversions. Wyoming also was able to get six first downs due to penalties on Nebraska. The Pokes will need to work on extending their drives and not relying on gift first downs to create consistent scoring.
- Kick returns. Wyoming never got great field position when given the opportunity to return a punt or kickoff. Jalen Claiborne and Tyran Finley returned a combined three kickoffs and both had longs of just 18 yards. Claiborne returned two punts for a total of 13 yards.
- Field goal. Stuart Williams was booming kicks all of Fall Camp. He only took one field goal attempt (a 50 yarder) and wasn't even close. Those three points would have come in mighty handy.
- Albert Perez. In his first game as a Cowboy Perez had a couple bad snaps and penalties that hurt drives. This is obviously a huge stage to start his career and things should be much easier for him after this week. He is far and away the best center on the team and must be the glue of the offensive line.
COWBOY JOE - You have to give it to Brett Smith for his tremendous play throughout the game. He made some amazing throws and scrambles to put up 475 total yards. He certainly started the season off at a very high level.
COWBOY LOW - The score. Coming up a few yards and three points short. This would have been the signature win that Christensen has been looking for and really put Wyoming on the road map.
COWBOY FOE - Imani Cross was a beast in the second half for Nebraska. He finished the game with 105 yards and two touchdowns. His strong performance in the opening drive of the second half really got the Huskers off on the right foot. Honorable mention to Quincy Enunwa who also had two touchdown catches and is built like a linebacker.