Sunday, August 31, 2008
UW NOTEBOOK: First-timers fare well
From left, Gabe Knapton, Tashaun Gipson, Donate Morgan.
By Richard Anderson
There was more than one sigh of relief Saturday afternoon after the Wyoming Cowboys squeaked out a 21-20 win over Ohio at War Memorial Stadium.
Yes, the Cowboys were grateful for the win. A few players, however, were pleased to get that first Division 1 game under their belts.
“This was probably the most fun that I have ever had in my life. I’m so amped up,” Wyoming redshirt freshman linebacker Gabe Knapton said. “There for a while in the first series, I was a little nervous, but as soon I got the hang of it, I settled down and played well.”
Other first-timers on the D-1 level included sophomore Dax Crum at quarterback, freshman Tashaun Gipson at cornerback and junior Donate Morgan at wide receiver.
“Today, I didn’t even feel like a true freshman,” Gipson said. “I put on my cleats and my pads and I looked over to the other 10 guys and I felt like a veteran. When I came out and saw the crowd, that’s when the true freshman kicked in.”
Gipson’s older brother, sophomore cornerback Marcell Gipson, got his first start of his Wyoming career, although he played a few games briefly his freshman season.
The Gipson brothers were able to be on the field together basically for the first time in their competitive careers. They shared a distinctive moment after the game.
“I talked to him during the game, but after that it was a special feeling that me and him accomplished our first win together,” Tashaun Gipson said. “That was special, something between me and him.”
Crum, who won a spirited battle with incumbent quarterback Karsten Sween, said he slept well before the game with his parents in town and basically wasn’t too nervous about his first start.
Crum connected on a 23-yard touchdown pass to Morgan for what proved to be the game-winner. Morgan was asked by reporters how he thought Crum handled his first start. Morgan’s answer was that he did great.
Morgan was then quickly asked how he thought he did for his first D-1 game.
His answer? Pretty much the same.
“I handled it real good. I got a touchdown, so that was great,” Morgan said with a smile. “At first, I had butterflies because this was the first time playing on the D-1 level. After that first snap, I was like, ‘Let’s just play ball.’ I think I did real good today.”
Wyoming senior safety Quincy Rogers got a big pass interception for the Cowboys in the fourth quarter, as Wyoming was clinging to the one-point lead. Rogers stepped in front of a Theo Scott pass intended for Robert Preston on the 9-yard line. It was basically Scott’s only mistake of the game.
Rogers said he had to make the play … coming off of a mistake he made on the same play earlier in the game.
“Earlier, he ran the same exact route and I missed it and I got into trouble; Coach (Mike) Breske was yelling at me,” Rogers said. “I seen them line up and I saw the tight end; I thought it would be the same exact route. The tight end stayed in to block so I ran to the center of the route. I didn’t think the quarterback was going to throw it. He was on for much of the day and when I saw the ball coming, my eyes were like getting big. I said to myself, catch it, catch it, catch it.”
Defense bends but does not break
The Wyoming defense gave up just 13 points in the game, with the other seven points coming from a 100-yard kickoff.
Yet, the Bobcats seemed to have the Cowboys on their heels a times, especially in the first half. Scott was outstanding with his short passing game, completing 26-of-35 for 224 yards and a touchdown.
“That’s a pretty tough football team,” senior linebacker Ward Dobbs said. “They put together some plays against our D. I’m just thankful that we picked it up in the second half.”
Tashaun Gipson said he came into the game knowing they were going to try to test them at cornerback, with their inexperience.
“That was one of my biggest concerns for us being young, me and my brother,” he said. “The defense played well overall. I thought we cracked down a little heavier than we did (in the first half). They ran shorter routes than we expected. Watching film, they seemed like a deep-pass team and they were going to test us long. We were expecting the deeper routes and we gave up some short routes, and I had to come up and make tackles.”
Wyoming head coach Joe Glenn defended the Gipson brothers, saying they didn’t get beat deep.
“They’re standing here in the winner’s circle,” Glenn said. “I know you have to grade the film, but they might have played a little light. Marcell hadn’t played in three years and the last time Tashaun played he was a quarterback at Kimball High School. This is a big difference, playing a Division 1 football game. I didn’t see any bombs over their head. They played off a little bit, more than I thought they might. But you know what, they are standing in the winner’s circle today.”
Knapton said the defense was kind of flat for a while, but picked it up in the second half. Knapton easily made his best play of his young career late in the second quarter when he stopped Ohio running back Chris Garrett for no gain on fourth and 2 on the 16-yard yard line.
“I just saw the flow, got to the left and followed it; the hole opened up right there and I just grabbed him,” Knapton said.
The Wyoming defense had just one sack of Scott in the game -- by linebacker Jake Edmunds -- but put good pressure on the QB in the second half. Junior defensive tackle John Fletcher said he Ohio linemen did a good job of getting in their stances early because they played off of the ball.
“It was hard for us to rush them,” Fletcher said. “We just have to keep working and working and we finally got it.”
When it was all said and done, the defense gave up just one touchdown in the game.
“Everybody just calmed down and played together a little bit,” Dobbs said. “We just played responsible defense like we were supposed to. We’ll go back and look at the film; I’m sure there are things we can work on. As of right now, I’ll take it.”
Special teams not so special
The Cowboys were ranked 118th out of 119 teams in kickoff coverage last season and that didn’t improved against the Bobcats when Donte Harden returned a kickoff 100 yards for a momentum-swinging touchdown.
“Special teams was better after we gave up a huge kickoff return again. We’ll work on it; we have worked on it,” Glenn said.
Wyoming freshman punter Austin McCoy also had a tough day with three punts for 77 yards, including a long of 46 yards. Brought in for short-field punting, McCoy had one punt of a net 2 yards, when he lofted it up high, but for only 12 yards, followed by a 10-yard penalty.
Sophomore Nick Landess had one punt for 37 yards.
1-0 is better than 0-1
To regurgitate an old sports cliché, a win is a win. That’s exactly what the Cowboys got as Glenn reminded reporters after the game with a smile.
“A one-point difference in any sporting event makes a huge difference,” Glenn said. “You’d be hounding me for what is wrong (in a loss) and I’d have about the same answers only we won today and you can’t hound me.”
New offensive coordinator Bob Cole agreed: “There are 55 teams right now 0-1, so we’re going to take that and run with it.”
Wyoming senior running back Devin Moore said that it is always good to start off with a win.
“You want to come out with your motor running. One and 0 … that’s what it does for us,” Moore said. “We’ll come back next week with our heads up high and not down. We’ll still have a chip on our shoulder, we’re still hungry, but we just had a bite to eat. We’re going for 11 more bites and hopefully we can get them.”
The announced crowd of 20,403 on a holiday weekend pleased the Cowboys and Crum, who likely played in front of the largest crowd of his career to date.
“The atmosphere was great today. We have an awesome fan base,” Crum said. “It gets loud in there. Our students are loud and they know when a big play is coming and they should get loud. That really picks you up as a Cowboy.”