Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Cowboy defense turns the table

UW photo
Freshman free safety Shamiel Gary makes a tackle during Tuesday's scrimmage.

Scrimmage statistics

by UW Media Relations

This time it was the defense's turn.

The Wyoming Cowboys scrimmaged for the second time in fall camp on Tuesday and the Cowboy defense captured its first scrimmage victory of the fall with a 29-28 win in War Memorial Stadium.

Wyoming’s defense forced three turnovers, two interceptions and one fumble, while recording 9.0 tackles for losses of 39 yards, including 6.0 sacks for a minus 34 yards. Cowboy defenders also broke up six passes on the day, and didn’t give up a passing touchdown. Tuesday’s scrimmage consisted of 93 plays.

The defense’s win Tuesday came after an impressive 78-30 win by the offense last Friday. All of Wyoming’s fall scrimmages will use a scoring system that rewards the offense and defense for big plays, as well as scoring plays.

The defense was led by senior defensive tackle Mike Neuhaus, who recorded 2.0 sacks for 16 yards and intercepted a pass from junior quarterback Robert Benjamin. UW’s other interception was made by redshirt freshman linebacker Adam Barry, who intercepted junior quarterback Dax Crum. Among the day’s other top performers for the defense were senior free safety T.J. Atwater, redshirt freshman linebacker Ben Durbin and redshirt freshman defensive tackle Corey Orth, who each recorded four tackles to lead the No. 2 defense against the No. 1 offense. Durbin also had one pass breakup, Orth had 1.0 sack for four yards and 2.0 tackles for losses of six yards.

The third turnover forced by the defense came on a fumble. Freshman linebacker Jeff Roueche forced the fumble, which was recovered by fellow freshman linebacker Todd Knight. Freshman running back Tedder Easton lost the fumble for the offense.

“I thought defensively we played much better in this scrimmage,” said Wyoming head coach Dave Christensen. “I thought that side of the ball has made improvement over the last couple of days in practice. They did a nice job of keeping things contained and not giving up big plays. That was a big plus. When you don’t give up any big plays, you force a team to try and slowly work themselves down the field. The more plays an offense has to run the more chance the offense will make mistakes.”

UW’s offense scored four rushing touchdowns on the day, but only one of those scores came from the No. 1 or No. 2 offensive units, and all four scores came during the redzone portion of the scrimmage with the offense beginning its drive on the defense’s 20-yard line. Sophomore wide receiver Brandon Stewart scored on a 4-yard run for the No. 1 offense against the No. 2 defense. Sophomore running back James Davis scored on a 20-yard TD scamper with the No. 3 offensive unit facing the No. 3 defensive unit. Redshirt freshman running back James Caraway scored from seven yards out in another series with the No. 3 units facing each other. The fourth offensive touchdown was scored by sophomore Lorne Bridgford, who ran it into the endzone from 20 yards out for the No. 4 offense against the No. 4 defense.

“Offensively, I was very disappointed in our mechanics of running the spread offense,” said Christensen. “That includes not doing a good job of communicating, not lining up properly, mental errors. I thought the offense took a huge step backwards today, and it’s something we’ve got to get corrected. It’s about execution. It’s about getting your mind right before you come out here on the field, and then executing and playing at a high level each and every day. Like I told our kids, if you go out one day and have a great practice and then come out the next day and not practice at the same level that is the way your season is going to be -- some weeks you’re going to play well and some weeks you’re not. We’re looking for consistency.”

For the offense, none of the Cowboy quarterbacks had outstanding days in Tuesday’s scrimmage. Benjamin, who moved up to the No. 1 offense in the second scrimmage after throwing for 178 yards and three touchdowns and rushing for 62 yards and another TD on Friday, didn’t have the same success in scrimmage No. 2. Benjamin completed only 5 of 10 passes (50.0 percent) for 89 yards and threw one interception on Tuesday, while gaining only one yard rushing. Senior Karsten Sween, who guided the No. 2 offense in second scrimmage, after being with the No. 1 offense in the initial scrimmage of the fall, completed 9 of 13 passes on the day (69.2 percent) for 107 yards with no TD passes and no interceptions. Sween threw for 122 yards in the first scrimmage last Friday, guiding the No. 1 offense. He had one touchdown pass in that first scrimmage with no interceptions.

“Neither one of our top two quarterbacks played very well today,” said Christensen. “When that guy doesn’t play very well, it’s going to be hard for the entire offense to play well. Today was the first time we practiced in two-minute mode, and I wasn’t pleased with the way that went as far as handling the offense. But we have a lot of practices left, and we will continue to work on that.

“It’s not all on the quarterbacks though. The line, the receivers, the running backs -- you can name any position and they didn’t play very well on offense today.”

Stewart led all receivers in Tuesday’s second scrum. He caught seven passes for 92 yards. Junior wide receiver David Leonard had three receptions for 34 yards. Junior tight end Joe Evers caught two passes for 15 yards, and 10 other Cowboys had one reception each. The two longest plays of the day came on a 48-yard pass from Benjamin to junior wide receiver Zach Bolger, and a 41-yard completion from freshman QB Austyn Carta-Samuels to freshman tight end T.J. Smith.

In addition to Sween’s 9 of 13 (69.2 percent) completions for 107 yards and Benjamin’s 5 of 10 (50.0 percent) for 89 yards, Carta-Samuels completed 6 of 12 passes (50.0 percent) for 86 yards. Junior Crum completed 1 of 5 pass attempts (20.0 percent) for four yards.

Davis led the team in rushing with 36 yards and one TD on four carries. Bridgford had three carries for 26 yards and a touchdown. Junior Darius Terry carried the ball five times for 21 yards. Freshman Alvester Alexander rushed for 16 yards on four carries, and redshirt freshman Caraway gained 12 yards on eight rushing attempts and scored one TD.

In the competition for the starting place-kicking position, senior Jake Scott made six of eight field-goal attempts, while sophomore Austin McCoy made five of eight. Both Scott and McCoy were four of five in point-after-touchdown attempts.

Senior defensive tackle John Fletcher did play on Tuesday despite suffering a slight knee sprain in UW’s first scrimmage of the fall. Fletcher recorded two tackles on Tuesday. Freshman wide receiver Chris McNeill, who suffered a slight concussion late in the fall’s first scrimmage last Friday, did not play in Tuesday’s scrimmage. Freshman linebacker Devyn Harris, who sprained a knee in the first scrimmage, also didn’t participate on Tuesday. There were no new injuries to report after Tuesday’s scrimmage.

Wyoming’s offense was penalized six times for 55 yards. The defense had only two penalties called against it for 11 yards.

There are two remaining scrimmages planned for the Cowboys this fall. Those two scrimmages will be Saturday at 10 a.m. and Aug. 26 at 3:30 p.m. Both are scheduled for War Memorial Stadium. Wyoming will return to practice on Wednesday with an 8:45 a.m. practice scheduled.

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