LARAMIE – The offensive line was a giant question mark for the University of Wyoming entering this season.
Veteran guard Gavin Rush missed all but one game in 2018, and suffered another injury during spring practice that will sideline him for the entirety of this season. Zach Watts – who started three games as a true freshman – also was lost for the 2019 campaign because of injury.
Adding to the Cowboys’ offensive line concerns were new players in new positions and a new position coach.
UW (3-0) is starting to put those concerns to rest after its first three games.
The Cowboys are averaging 241.3 rushing yards per game entering Saturday’s 1:30 p.m. kickoff at Tulsa (1-2). That ranks 27th out of 130 Football Bowl Subdivision teams. They have allowed just two sacks, which is tied for 12th nationally.
UW’s 81.7 passing yards per game is 128th, and its 323 yards per game ranks 113th in total offense.
“We have been better, but we still need to work on a lot in pass protection,” junior right tackle Alonzo Velazquez said. “We’re getting used to new techniques in pass protection. The fact we’ve given up two sacks shows we still need to work on some things.
“It’s a huge improvement, but we still have a long way to go.”
Cowboys coach Craig Bohl is happy his offensive line has kept redshirt freshman quarterback Sean Chambers mostly upright. However, he pointed to pass protection as an area that needs to improve to spark UW’s anemic passing game.
“(Chambers) has some mobility, so sacks isn’t the only indicator (of good offensive line play),” Bohl said. “The thing I see is we’re getting a surge. Before, we were getting stoned at the line. Most of the time, there’s some room for the back to at least gain some yardage.
“Sometimes there are some pretty gaping holes. We’re a much more cohesive group.”
Sophomore center Keegan Cryder said the offensive line understands that its pass protection is still a work in progress.
“The passing game starts up front, so we have to improve and give (Chambers) more time to throw,” he said. “He shouldn’t have to worry about being pressured. He should just have to worry about reading his keys and making the throw.”
Velazquez and Cryder both credit new offensive line coach Bart Miller with the unit’s improved play.
Miller was UW’s third offensive line coach since the end of the 2018 season. Bohl parted ways with Scott Fuchs and hired Klayton Adams to replace him. However, Adams took a job with the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts roughly two weeks after his hire was announced by UW.
Miller was in place for spring practice, and immediately set about changing the Cowboys approach to offensive line play.
“People say they want to be dominant all the time, but very few people live that way,” Miller said. “Everywhere I’ve been – and even when I played – that’s been the fundamental principle. That’s what we’re doing here, and we’ve had success with it through the first three games.”
Living as a dominant offensive line means being physical, even on days when UW isn’t practicing in full pads.
“There’s never a drill or play where we’re not trying to move a man vertically, change the line of scrimmage of be physical,” Miller said. “We don’t expect to go out and play physically on Saturdays and not live in that world throughout the week.”
Miller’s approach took some getting used to, but the Cowboys embraced it, Cryder said.
“We’re trying to be more physically dominant up front, and that’s all because of (Miller) and the mindset he brought here,” Cryder said.
Even though Miller is demanding, he isn’t a task master.
“What probably hit all of us the most when he came here was that he showed us the utmost love and respect,” Velazquez said. “We didn’t know what to expect, but he showed us he really respected us as more than football players.
“He emphasizes that he doesn’t just want us to compete, he wants us to win. He gives us the motivation to not just go out there and do whatever, but to do our best, compete and be dominant.”