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Interactive Graphic: Could Wyoming be what Coug D needs to get started?

Maybe we shouldn’t be so scared of that running attack after all.

NCAA Football: Stanford at Washington State James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

I was listening to The CougCenter Hour this week and got hit with a rush of optimism. During Michael Preston’s great interview with Rob Gagliardi, they started talking about the Wyoming Cowboys’ offensive performance against New Mexico State. Gagliardi mentioned that senior Wyoming running back Nico Evans rushed for more yards in their game against the Aggies than he had in his entire career leading up to that game.

A little bit before Michael had Rob talking about the offense, they were discussing the very formidable Wyoming defense. I know that the title of this post is about the Washington State Cougars’ defense potentially finding a soft landing vs the Cowboys, but as someone who prefers bad news first, we need to take a quick look at the Wyoming defense.

Led by Andrew Wingard and Marcus Epps in the secondary, the Cowboys forced a ton of turnovers in 2017. Their season total of 38 was helped by forcing 8 in their bowl game, but this crew from Laramie is a ball-hawking bunch. When they weren’t taking the ball away, they were shutting offenses down. They were first in the Mountain West in drop backs per sack, getting a sack every 11 pass attempts; 3rd in yards per attempt (6.8), which would put them around Colorado and USC in the Pac-12; and were 13th in the nation in passing yards per game, giving up 174.9.

The below chart looks at how many possessions a game every defense in the FBS faced in 2017 and what % of those possessions resulted in a takeaway. The goal being to see if a team forced a bunch of turnovers because they had more opportunities to take the ball away or if they indeed were better at getting the offense to cough up the ball. If you highlight a team it will show their progress over the prior 4 seasons. Last year Wyoming forced a turnover on 24% of their possessions, or every 4.16 possessions. That’s crazy.

If you’re on mobile turn your phone horizontal, or if you want to open the chart in a new tab (or if you’re on Apple News or Google AMP), click here.

In the words of Kevin McCallister, don’t get scared now. My ears really perked up during the CougCenter hour when the conversation shifted away from that defense and to how Wyoming’s starting QB is a redshirt freshman, Tyler Vander Waal. He played a fine game against New Mexico State, but I’m not overly impressed by his stat line. If we take a look at how Wyoming performed on offense last year, it should hopefully provide the Cougar faithful with some encouragement.

The below chart is a long list of various stats that are focused on the Mountain West, with Wyoming highlighted. It shows where each team has ranked in these stats since 2014. Hover over a logo and you’ll get more detail about that stat.

Of the 9 categories I have in this chart, the only one where Wyoming ranks higher than 8th in the 12-team Mountain West is in drop backs per interception, where they ranked 6th in 2017. The Cowboys averaged 4.6 yards per play, 3.1 yards per carry, and converted 33% of their 3rd downs.

If you’re on mobile turn your phone horizontal, or if you want to open the chart in a new tab (or if you’re on Apple News or Google AMP), click here.

WSU wasn’t a juggernaut by any means on offense last season, and they will likely struggle for stretches on Saturday. The defense has also shown a propensity in years past to get run in the opener, which could very well happen again. However, while Wyoming’s defense is legit, I have to think that their offense provides a nice starting point for the Cougs. They’ll be tested, but versus an offense with a new QB, new starting running back and not much of a history of success, I have to hope that the Cougs cause the Cowboy offense some fits. It’s going to be close on Saturday, but I think the Cougar defense will do enough to get WSU a win in Wyoming.