LARAMIE – Wyoming’s second bye week couldn’t have come at a better time.
In addition to having an extra week to prepare for a pivotal Mountain Division matchup Nov. 9 at Boise State, the Cowboys are hurting at a lot of spots. They are currently without running backs Titus Swen and Trey Smith and offensive linemen Eric Abojei and Alonzo Velazquez, leading to a heavier workload for sophomore running back Xazavian Valladay and a reshuffled offensive front.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Sean Chambers also left Saturday’s 31-3 victory over Nevada with a left knee injury after diving into the end zone for a touchdown.
“I’m glad that we have a bye week right now,” Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl said at his Monday news conference. “It’s well needed.”
Bohl said Monday that Chambers underwent an MRI on his left knee as a precaution, but was cleared to return to Saturday’s game. Bohl also said Smith could return at the end of the regular season, while Swen was “maybe a week ahead of that.”
Abojei’s chances of returning this season are “remote,” while Velazquez’s prognosis is not yet known, Bohl said.
With a week to regroup before the next game, the balance between resting and staying aggressive is difficult to master.
“That’s probably a little bit more art than science,” Bohl said. “It’s important to improve as a football team, and that means working on the fundamentals and schemes. You can do so much in meetings, and you can do some things in walk-through, but you need to replicate some things in practice, which we’ll do.”
Director of Sports Performance Ben Iannacchione said that as far as workouts are concerned during the bye week, the Pokes did a high-intensity leg workout Monday and will do the same for the upper body Thursday. The weight room will also be open today and Wednesday for players to work out on their own.
As opposed to high repetitions of low weight, players will do low repetitions of heavier weight, sometimes as low as a single rep. The reason for this, Iannacchione said, is because more repetitions can lead to soreness and muscle damage.
“The biggest thing that can fatigue, especially in season, is the volume of what we do,” Iannacchione said. “We kept the weight heavy, but the volume was down. … We’re able to do that because we don’t have to worry about playing a game on Saturday.”
Despite it being an off week, Iannacchione said motivating players to work out on their own has not been difficult. The team has a desire to get better and keep getting stronger; players want to be in the weight room.
“We are big believers in creating an environment the kids want to be a part of. … I also think they understand what’s at stake,” Iannacchione said. “Hopefully we’re a stronger team now than we were the first weekend against Missouri.”
VANDER WAAL DISCUSSES RETURN
Sophomore quarterback Tyler Vander Waal played the entire second half Saturday against Nevada, and led the Pokes to a scoring drive on their first drive of the third quarter.
Vander Waal entered the game in the first quarter following an injury to Chambers, who then came back into the game after a drive and finished out the first half before spending the third and fourth quarters on the sideline.
Saturday’s action meant a lot to Vander Waal, who started nine games a season ago in place of an injured Chambers. Vander Waal was relegated to backup duty this season, however, with Chambers healthy, and has thrown just 16 passes this season, compared to 246 in 2018.
“To say it’s been an emotional roller coaster would kind of be an understatement,” Vander Waal said. “I’ve been through a lot. I love this game a lot, and it takes a lot to stay in the fight like I’ve been.
“In high school, you’re the man. You’re the starter … then you kind of get really punched in the mouth, and it humbles you. It’s a gut check.”
Despite taking a back seat to Chambers, Vander Waal has stayed positive and ready this season, knowing his next chance could come at a moment’s notice. He admits he had butterflies his first few plays Saturday, but they dissipated quickly.
“I’ve been playing quarterback since I was 6 years old,” he said. “The love for the game hasn’t died down. So, I think that’s what keeps me going. … I think that the love for the game is really my driving factor.”
WILLIE MACK GARZA RESIGNS
First-year safeties coach Willie Mack Garza resigned Monday, Bohl said in a news release Monday afternoon. Garza was suspended after being charged with driving under the influence and speeding in an urban neighborhood on Oct. 18. He pleaded not guilty to both, per court records.
Defensive coordinator Jake Dickert will coach the safeties, a position he held prior to being elevated to defensive coordinator in January.
“I’m not going to elaborate a lot. He resigned, and we’re moving forward,” Bohl said Monday.
VALLADAY EARNS CONFERENCE HONOR
Sophomore running back Xazavian Valladay was named the Mountain West Offensive Player of the Week after totaling 280 yards and a pair of touchdowns against Nevada.
With injuries to running backs Titus Swen and Trey Smith, Valladay has had to pick up the slack as the lead Cowboys back. Over his first five games of the season, Valladay totaled 59 offensive touches. In the last two games, Valladay has 62 offensive touches. He is fourth in the Mountain West in rushing with 631 yards.
“I can’t let my friends down,” Valladay said Monday. “I have to fight for them.”
Offensive coordinator Brent Vigen said he’s seen Valladay’s mentality change since his workload increased.
“I think he’s growing more so in … being able to be the guy,” Vigen said. “That’s a mentality that maybe he didn’t have, and I think now he has.”
KICKOFF TIME FOR BSU ANNOUNCED
Wyoming’s game at Boise State will kick off at 8:15 p.m. Nov. 9 on ESPN. It is Wyoming’s first game on ESPN since the 2017 Potato Bowl.
Wyoming last defeated Boise State in a memorable 2016 game in Laramie.
“This is a game you’re going to remember for the rest of your life,” Valladay said. “It’s a big game, a big conference game. … It’s going to be a big week for both teams, and it’s going to be one to watch.”