Saturday, October 10, 2009

Defense puts it together in the second half

Richard Anderson photo/Senior linebacker Weston Johnson clutches the football after an interception as he is greeted by teammates.

By Richard Anderson

Some of their problems were their own fault in the first half, some of them were not.

The Wyoming defense made sure the second half and final score was no problem at all, pitching a shutout in the final two quarters as the Cowboys rolled to a 37-13 win over New Mexico Saturday at War Memorial Stadium.

The Cowboys gave up a 24-yard touchdown pass on a one-play drive that was set up by a fumble on a fake punt attempt. They then gave up two field goals on long drives by the Lobos, the second with less than a minute to play until halftime.

Although Wyoming was up by four points at halftime, it wasn’t the effort the Cowboy defense was looking for.

“We challenged them at halftime and I thought they came out in the second half and made some big stops,’ Wyoming head coach Dave Christensen said.

Per man, the solution was almost identical; they had to do the little things well to play big.

“We just went out there and didn’t have any mental errors,” Wyoming senior defensive tackle John Fletcher said. “They had a wheel play that as a defensive end, we were suppose to come down the spill and we weren’t getting that in the first half. Coaches got on us a little bit. We started hitting it in the second half and they weren’t getting anything on us. Once we were able to shut down the run and get them in passing situations, that’s when we did the best up front, getting pressure.”

Added senior defensive end Mitch Unrein: “We didn’t execute as well in the first half as we should have. We got a little talking to there. Then everyone came out and just did their job. That’s what we try to stress on the defensive side of the ball.”

The Wyoming linebackers said they were guilty as charged, not filling the gaps the way they needed to stop the New Mexico ground attack.

“It’s just the little plays. There might be a broken pass coverage or not filling the right gap. It’s little things like that that need to be fixed. That’s all it was,” said sophomore linebacker Gabe Knapton, who led the Cowboys with 11 tackles, his fifth straight game of double-digit tackles. “When we came into halftime, we all knew what we needed to do. We all came together and came out and played great defense.”

Senior linebacker Weston Johnson said much of the same thing as Knapton.

“We just had guys not doing their exact assignment, not filling the gap,” said Johnson, who had 10 tackles (two for a loss) and one pass interception. “The coaches got on us and it kind of woke us up. We knew we could play better, so we just came out and focused on that.”

The Wyoming coaches got on the Cowboys and they listened. After giving up 178 yards and 13 points in the first half, the Lobos had just 112 yards and a goose egg on the scoreboard in the final 30 minutes.

“First half, definitely not. In the second half, we got a shutout and played the way that we know we can play," Johnson said about how he thought they played. “I think it gives our team offensively and defensively going into next week’s game against Air Force.”

Johnson said that on defense, preached all week about players being responsible, being accountable to their teammates.

“There were a few plays, including myself, where guys were coming out of coverage or not doing what they were supposed to on that play," Johnson said. "That enabled New Mexico to move the ball on us that they would like.”

In fact, the Lobos had 25 yards rushing on their first three carries, all by James Wright. New Mexico finished with just 47 yards on the ground in the game.

“We came out in the second half and played mistake free and cleaned up on those errors. If we keep doing that, we’ll get better every single week,” Unrein said.

Maybe one of the first half highlights for the Wyoming defense was when Unrein caught Wright in the end zone on a little swing pass for a safety -- the team’s first points of the game.

Unrein, who had put good pressure on this season but had little to show for it, finished with one quarterback sack and three tackles. He was actually surprised he was credited with the sack.

“Sweet, I didn’t know that,” Unrein said when he was told that he had a sack. “It’s nice to get on the sheet. It has been kind of a long five games. I’d get back there but he (quarterback) would get the ball off. We have such great playmakers on the defensive side of the ball. If somebody is blocking me, that frees up somebody else. It’s just a team effort. I don’t care what my stats are, I just play as hard as I can. I’m more worried about us winning the ballgame.”

Wyoming’s sackmaster -- Fletcher -- caught New Mexico quarterback Donovan Porterie one time as well, as the Cowboys finished with five sacks in the game.

“Every week Coach C is getting us ready to play. If you do your technique, the big hits will come. I think from the beginning of fall camp to now we have become more physical unit than we ever have been,” Fletcher said.

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