Saturday, September 12, 2009

Cowboys failure to finish continues to haunt

Richard Anderson photo
Wyoming's Weston Johnson, 36, and John Fletcher, 91, chase Texas quarterback Colt McCoy on Saturday.

By Richard Anderson

The Wyoming Cowboys are living a chapter out of the sport cliché book titled, “You have to play all four quarters.”

For the first 29 minutes, the Cowboys gave No. 2 Texas all it could handle Saturday at War Memorial Stadium.

The last 31 minutes … well, that was a different story, as the Longhorns would eventually roll, 41-10.

Wyoming led 10-6 with just over one minute left in the first half. But the Longhorns, led by Heisman Trophy candidate, senior Colt McCoy, took offense to it all and scored a late touchdown to escape the first half with a three-point lead.

It was all Texas from that point on, as the Longhorns scored three touchdowns in the third quarter and another in the fourth, while the Cowboys struggled for any consistency.

“I think the problem with us on defense was that we didn’t finish,” Wyoming senior defensive tackle John Fletcher said. “We had some mental errors and they capitalized on them. It’s a combination of them being the No. 2 team in the country and us making some mental errors.”

Offensively, the Cowboys missed out on a golden opportunity for a touchdown in the second quarter when Texas punter John Gold tried a fake and was caught on his own 8-yard line. The Cowboys had to settle for a field goal, which was the theme of last Saturday’s win over Weber State.

Against the Longhorns, the Wyoming offense often struggled after a first down or two. The Cowboys were especially woeful on third down, converting just 3 of 17 third-down attempts.
Wyoming junior wide receiver David Leonard also said the Cowboys’ main problem is not finishing.

“We talk about finishing in the fourth quarter,” Leonard said. “In the second half, we didn’t do that today, and that is very disappointing to us. We’ll contrive to strive in our conditioning and focus, so when we come out next Saturday, we’ll be prepared for that as much as possible.”

When you talk about finishing, no one knows more about that as Fletcher, who didn’t quite wrap up on a third-down sack of McCoy, who got out of the tackle, scrambled and found Dan Buckner for a 33-yard touchdown pass to basically put a dagger in the Cowboys back.

“He kicked into another gear when I was after him,” Fletcher said. “He’s fast, he’s strong. He’s a legit quarterback, a Heisman Trophy candidate.”

McCoy finished the game completing 30 of 47 passes for 337 yards and three touchdowns. Two of his TD throws came on scrambles from Wyoming pressure.

“It was similar to everybody who plays against him. He has a knack of getting away,” Wyoming coach Dave Christensen said. “It’s like I told Fletch, you had him wrapped up for a sack to where they would have had to punt or kick a field goal, and he gets away. We’re not the only team that he has done that too. He’s a great football player. He’ll be in the finals for the Heisman Trophy and I think he displayed some of the reasons why today."

At the same time, the Cowboys know they can’t use playing a talented player like McCoy or one of the best teams in the country as an excuse. The game would have had a different look if they had finished on both offense and defense.

“The first half was great,” Fletcher said. “We were getting pressure on them and they weren’t getting too many deep balls on us. The second half, we weren’t wrapping up on our tackles and we were letting them get yards after the catch. That was a big part of it.”

The Longhorns put up four touchdowns and 301 yards of offense in the second half (544 in the game).

“Defensively, we just didn’t come out focused,” Wyoming junior cornerback Marcell Gipson said. “After the blocked punt, the drive that they scored on, there was maybe a minute or two left. I think we were just so anxious to get out there and make a stop, we didn’t play sound football.”

Not to take anything away from the talented Longhorns, Gipson said it was more the Cowboys than the Longhorns in that regard.

“We came into halftime anxious. After seeing the scoreboard, we knew we could play with them and we came out in the second half flat -- offensively and defensively,” Gipson said. “We have to pick that up in practice.”

After getting prime field position in the second quarter after the failed fake punt, the Cowboys had an incomplete pass to the corner of the end zone. Another play later, the Longhorns were called for an unsportsmanlike penalty. Instead of it being an automatic first down, it was still third down and again the Cowboys failed to punch it in.

Leonard said not getting an extra down with the penalty was no excuse for not scoring a touchdown.

“Our offense doesn’t need excuses for not punching it in,“ Leonard said. “We have to have the mindset that whenever we are in the red-zone, we have to get a touchdown. We’re over-relying on field goals and that is something we can’t do. That is something we’re going to have to work on and we’ll continue to work on it in practice when we get a chance.”

The Wyoming offense had just 273 of yards on offense after that competitive first half.

“I thought we started out pretty good and executed pretty well in the first half, but in the third quarter, we just couldn’t get it started like we did in the first half,” said Wyoming junior quarterback Robert Benjamin, who was 16 of 38 passing for 120 yards. He also led the team in rushing with 53 yards. “The No. 2 team stepped it up in the second half and we didn’t do the same. That was the outcome and we lost.”

Junior halfback Darius Terry, who had just 18 yards rushing in the game after 99 against Weber State, said the offense didn’t come out ready to go in the second half.

“In the first half, I thought we played pretty good, but we let Texas off the hook in the second half and gave them a couple of scores with good field position,” Terry said.

Leonard said plain and simple: The Longhorns came out and played as much better than the Cowboys in the second half.

“They were making bigger plays than we were in the second half” Leonard said. “We can’t let that happen. We have to make more big plays than they do to be successful.”

While most of the 31,017 in attendance were surprised that it was a competitive first half, Christensen said he always expects to compete. He’s told the team that he is not into moral victories, and he told them again at halftime.

“It’s real simple: Either you win or you get your butt kicked. We got our butt kicked in the last 30 minutes of that football game,” Christensen said. “But I think our kids competed and they fought. We were still driving and trying to score at the end. There’s no give-up there. That’s what I am looking for in guys. We’ll look at film and make sure that every single kid gave the ultimate effort on every single play. If they do that, we’re going in the right direction.”

The Cowboys will prepare for Colorado next week with the same attitude: Play four quarters like they played the first two against the Longhorns.

“If we can play like that in the first half, like we did today, it’s looking pretty good,” Wyoming sophomore linebacker Brian Hendricks said. “We just have to continue to play like that. The main thing right now is that we have to come out and finish, and obviously we didn’t do that today. We have to come out and finish in that fourth quarter and we’ll make some noise.”

And by doing that, they’ll be able to sustain more confidence as they go, Fletcher said.

“We played with the No. 2 team in the country in the first half, we just didn’t go out and finish,” Fletcher said.

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