Saturday, April 25, 2009

Wind, drops hamper Cowboy offense

Spring game statistics

Spring game photo slideshow

By Richard Anderson

Saturday might not have been a great day to showcase Dave Christensen’s no-huddle, spread offense for those who hadn’t seen it before.

After practicing for much of the spring season indoors, the Cowboys were outside for the Brown and Gold spring game on a cool and windy afternoon in War Memorial Stadium.

And after making big strides all spring, the UW offense had its ups and downs -- or ups and drops on Saturday. The Brown prevailed 20-3 in a game that was marred by several dropped balls from the receiving corps.

“We’ve made a point to them that you have to play catch. You throw the ball and you have to catch the ball," Christensen said. “They weren’t all the greatest throws in the world, but I don’t think the wind affected us that much. The ability to catch the ball was just horrible today. That wasn’t the wind. Some of it was courage, which I challenged them afterwards.”

The Cowboys have also been short-handed on defense this season and many of the blowout scrimmages this season would have been much closer with a full UW defense. On Saturday, eight former Cowboys suited up on defense to help out.

With that said, the injured players are all expected to be ready to go by fall drills, and with the addition of two more quarterbacks -- junior college transfer Robert Benjamin and freshman Austyn Carta-Samuels -- along with some talented recruits at receiver and running back, there could be some more firepower to work with.

What bothered Christensen the most after the spring game, though, was his receiving corps, which was minus two regulars from last season -- Greg Bolling and Donate Morgan. Quarterbacks Karsten Sween and Adam Barry combined for 23 catches, but there were 35 incomplete passes on the day.

“I was disappointed in our ability to catch the football,” Christensen said. “If you want to play wide receiver in this offense, you have to catch the football, you better have courage.

“I saw some things turned down, I saw some drops. That has got to get corrected or somebody is going to have to find another position to play.”

It's all about focus, Sween said.

“It windy and not the best throwing conditions, but I think it was just a wakeup call for the receivers,” Sween said. “They have to focus more. It might not be the best thrown ball, but they have to think, ‘I have to focus more and catch it.’ For us quarterbacks, we have to get it in our head to not worry about the wind and focus on your mechanics more.”

Sophomore wide receiver Brandon Stewart led the Brown with five catches for 49 yards, while junior David Leonard had four catches for 39 yards and the lone score. Sophomore walk-on Kaither Holiway led the Gold with five catches for 50 yards.

“We can’t give excuses, that is on us,” Leonard said about the drops. “We didn’t focus and we didn’t concentrate enough. When it is a windy day like that, you have to have 100 percent concentration in catching it. You have to catch first and run second. That is something we have to work on in the off-season with the jugs and the quarterbacks.”

There were some highlights offensively, with Stewart scoring on a 22-yard end around and Leonard catching a late 13-yard touchdown pass from Sween. Junior running back Darius Terry also gained 49 yards on 11 rushes and scored one touchdown. Sophomore James Davis ran for 60 yards on 11 rushes for the Gold, highlighted by a 29-yard run.

“I thought Karsten did a nice job in that last two-minute drill,” Christensen said. “That is why we played the clock like we did, to get to that situation. I didn’t put him in a situation where I said that we’re down by two or six, I wanted to see what we could do when we got down there. He did a nice job, throwing a touchdown pass. He managed the clock well. It was probably the best executed two minute offense that we have done all spring.”

Sween, who took all of the snaps for the Brown, was 16-of-34 for the day for 154 yards. He was also 1-of-2 in one series with the Gold.

Barry was 7-of-24 for the Gold for 64 yards and one interception. Junior Dax Crum was suspended for the scrimmage and did not play.

The depleted Wyoming defense also had some highlights, as senior free safety T.J. Atwater had an interception for the Brown and a 27-yard return. For the Gold, sophomore cornerback Tashaun Gipson picked off Sween and returned it 13 yards.

The two interceptions were the only two turnovers of the day.

“Defensively, we’ve got to take the ball away better, and the defense got two turnovers today,” said Christensen. “Offensively, we of course want to reduce the turnovers. I think we’ve done a good job of that this spring.”

Leading the No. 1 defense for the Gold team was senior outside linebacker Weston Johnson, who had nine tackles. Senior defensive end Mitch Unrein had five tackles, including one sack for three yards. Sophomore inside linebacker Brian Hendricks and sophomore defensive lineman Alex Stover were also each credited with five tackles.

Four Cowboys on the Brown defense tied for the lead in tackles with five apiece -- sophomore noseguard Marcus Felker, redshirt freshman free safety Patrick Hartford and two alums who played in the game -- former Cowboy linebackers Sean Claffey and Guy Tuell.

Saturday's Brown and Gold game concluded Christensen’s first spring with the Cowboys.

“I wish we had more time. I wish we had the ability to have more players out there,” Christensen said. “We had a lot of guys who were injured and we didn’t get a good evaluation. Some of them we know are established players, but everybody needs to work. Hopefully, when fall comes we will have a lot more bodies. We’ll practice a little different when we get to fall.”

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