Wyoming makes no secret about what it wants to do offensively. Craig Bohl is an old school, midwestern coach, and his offense is based on that mentality. They are going to control the clock by keeping the ball on the ground, use their big uglies to lean on the defense and wear them out, and limit the number of possessions for the other team. It worked at North Dakota State to the tune of three consecutive FCS national championship (and three more in the four years since he left), and it’s paying dividends in Laramie. Bohl has jump started the moribund Cowboy program, and brought it to the top of the Mountain West, on the back of a defense that creates turnovers coupled with a punishing running game.
Let’s take a look at how that running game works.
I’m always curious to see what teams run on their first play. The first play of the season is your tone-setter. In the Air Raid, it’s probably going to be Mesh or Shallow or Randy/Larry. Some coaches like to throw a trick play out to try and catch the defense being overaggressive.
Wyoming’s first play was Power. How’s that for tone.
Wyoming Formation: Slot Right - Zap motion
NMSU Front: Base 4-3 C.2
The Cowboys are in a two tight end formation to the top of the screen, and use the slot receiver motioning across to pull the corner away from the edge, changing who becomes the force defender. The weakside and middle linebackers bump to the tight ends, balancing the defensive formation a bit. By reducing the cornerback and pulling the backside guard, Wyoming is simply trying to outnumber the Aggie defense. It almost works.
You can see the hole open off the edge. Were it not for the middle linebacker scraping off a block, Nico Evans would have ended up one on one against the crashing safety—always a good sign for the offense. Note the pulling guard, which is what makes this Power. That gives Wyoming six linemen (four OLs, two TEs) on the playside against five NMSU defenders. A couple things save NMSU on this play. One, the stand-up end (roughly equivalent to our Rush defender) comes hard and forces the outside tight end deeper into the backfield, changing Evans’ angle of attack and slowing him down just a beat. Two, the middle linebacker blasts the tight end before he can get to a combo block, then scrapes off and make the tackle.
Wyoming Formation: I-Right
NMSU Front: Base 4-3 C.2
Same play, different formation. You don’t see a whole lot of Pro-I in college football anymore, but here we are.
Exact same concept, except Wyoming is running it to the weak side of the formation, so there is one less OL to account for one less defender. The plan is to still outnumber the defense with a lead back and a pulling guard. Again, New Mexico State’s aggressive play on defense disrupts this play before it gets going. They run a stunt with their defensive end on the play side, crashing him down the line, and sending the outside linebacker off the edge. That twist makes the fullback’s block difficult, and changes the angle of attack for the pulling guard, who still does a pretty good job of sealing the edge. The corner is left as the force defender, and he comes up to make the tackle. Not a huge gain, but I imagine the coaches are fine with three and a half yards on first down.
Wyoming’s other bread and butter running play is inside zone. Generally, you see either teams that zone block or teams that don’t, but Wyoming does a pretty good job of balancing zone scheme and man scheme on the line.
Wyoming Formation: Ace Y-Trips Right
NMSU Front: Base 4-3 C.1
The center and left guard make this play. The center reaches the nose and nearly gets him turned, while the left guard hunts the playside linebacker and puts him on skates. The left tackle also gets away with a hold to open up the hole, but it’s only a penalty if you get caught. The nose does a good job of fighting through and making the tackle, but unfortunately for NMSU it’s seven or eight yards downfield. This will be where we see if Taylor Comfort or Misiona Aiolupotea-Pei can be a replacement for Daniel Ekuale. They have to hold their own in the trenches, or it’ll be a long night for the defense.
Wyoming Formation: Ace
NMSU Front: 4-3 Roll C.3
And of course, if you’re overagressive against the zone, you can open up cutback lanes for the running back, which Wyoming was able to exploit.
The center does well again here, washing the nose out of the play. Left guard hunts the linebacker again (#73 Keegan Cryder is their best lineman, in my opinion. That might be why they run left a significant majority of the time.) although he does manage to slip off the double team and make the tackle way too far downfield. The right guard makes this play by washing out the backside linebacker and opening the cutback lane wide open. Peyton Pelluer and company will have to strike that balance between aggression and assignment.
All that running and clock control is great, but the Cowboys will still have to put the ball in the air a couple times, and the way they prefer to do that is by selling the run and running play action off it.
Wyoming Formation: Ace Y-Trips Left
NMSU Front: Base 4-3 C.4
Again, Wyoming has shown a tendency to be left-handed in the run game. So when they show inside zone left here, NMSU bites hard. The Cowboys then send all four receivers to the short side of the field, flooding NMSU’s coverage areas. Austin Fort, the tight end, gets behind everybody and Tyler Vander Waal hits him in stride for a big gain. The Cougar defenders will have their eye discipline tested, but if they are sound against the run in early downs, that should limit the effectiveness of the play action game. Also Jalen Thompson lives back there, so that’s always helpful.
Wyoming is not subtle. They lean on their offensive line to wear down opposing defenses and take advantage of tired defenders making mistakes. First down will be critical all night long for the Wazzu defense. If they can force Wyoming into second and long, that changes the math for the Cowboy offense and lessens the effectiveness of their power running game, putting the game in the hands of a redshirt freshman quarterback making only his second start. Were I on the defensive staff in Pullman, my mantra this week would be to make Tyler Vander Waal be the one that beats us, not Nico Evans, especially on first down.