LARAMIE – For the second week in a row, Wyoming defensive coordinator Jake Dickert finds himself guessing which opposing quarterback will take the field.
Last Saturday, the Cowboys (5-2 overall, 2-1 Mountain West) weren’t entirely sure how Nevada would split its quarterback reps between Sheriron Jones and Tevaka Tuioti. The Lobos wound up starting Jones, but benched him partway through the second half. While Tuioti led the offense down the field more efficiently, it still only led to 10 total points.
This week against Nevada (4-3 overall, 1-2 Mountain West), Dickert will prepare for three quarterbacks.
“(Malik Henry) started the last two weeks, so that’s who you have to set your plan around,” Dickert said. “But they took the other guy out for poor performance. I don’t know.”
An inconsistent Nevada offense (21.4 points per game) has led to a revolving door under center.
Carson Strong started the first five games of 2019 for the Wolfpack, including an upset victory over Purdue in the season opener. He was then benched for Cristian Solano in a 54-3 home loss to Hawaii. Henry, a former four-star recruit from Southern California who originally signed with Florida State, has started the past two games, including last weekend’s 36-10 loss at Utah State.
Combined, the three quarterbacks have thrown six touchdowns compared to 11 interceptions.
“I’m probably going to make my decision (Tuesday), to be honest with you,” Nevada head coach Jay Norvell said at his weekly news conference. “We’ll probably make our final decision tomorrow before we practice.”
Dickert sees Henry and Strong as being fairly similar in what they bring to the table as passers. He sees Solano, on the other hand, as more of the running threat.
In other words, don’t necessarily expect three different defensive game plans, depending on which quarterback takes snaps.
“I don’t know if they’ve announced who is going to start this week,” UW head coach Craig Bohl said Monday. “They change a little bit with their quarterbacks … there’s a tinge of change.”
Regardless of who takes the snaps under center, Dickert believes there is talent at the skill positions. Receivers Elijah Cooks and Romeo Doubs are a dangerous duo, along with running back Toa Taua, Dickert said. Cooks and Doubs have a combined 702 receiving yards, while Taua has 513 rushing yards.
UW’s pass defense has given up big plays in the passing game. New Mexico receivers averaged 14.5 yards per reception Saturday, and the Lobos had five passing plays of 20 yards or more against the Pokes.
UW’s pass defense ranks No. 123 in the nation in passing yards per game allowed (293.7).
“I think they have explosive people. I think the two guys on the edges (Doubs and Cooks) are as good a tandem on the edges as we will see,” Dickert said. “(Taua) is a powerful dude. I mean, he’s a jump cutter, and he can move and get downhill.”
In another vein similar to New Mexico, Nevada also struggles defensively, particularly in the passing game. The Wolfpack surrender 38.6 points per game and 279.4 yards per game passing, which ranks No. 116 in the nation.
Despite that and the improvement redshirt freshman quarterback Sean Chambers showed against New Mexico, Bohl doesn’t see his offense changing its identity: the Pokes are run-first until further notice.
UW ran for 259 yards last weekend against New Mexico, despite the Lobos’ last-ranked pass defense, with both Chambers and sophomore running back Xazavian Valladay rushing for 100 yards.
The Pokes take pride in their physicality.
“We’re not going to drastically change who we are,” Bohl said. “Running the football is hard work … you hear everybody say, ‘We want to run the football’ … many times, those are slogans that are put on T-shirts, and when it comes time to put it on tape, you don’t see it.”
BURROUGHS MAKES HISTORY
He’s only carried the ball once this season, but junior running back Jeff Burroughs made history without even knowing it Saturday afternoon.
Burroughs, a Yoder native, started for the Cowboys against New Mexico. In doing so, he became the first Wyoming native to start a game at running back since the Pokes joined the Mountain West in 1999.
Burroughs, who began the season as a fullback, practiced at running back in the spring due to injuries. He again finds himself in the running back room due to injuries to Titus Swen and Trey Smith.
“I was surprised a bit,” Burroughs said with a smile. “Pregame meal, every day before games, we kind of go over the script, the first 10 plays and whatnot. And (running backs coach Gordie Haug) just told me I was going to be out on the first play. I didn’t really think much of it. … (It’s) kind of a cool stat to be able to say.”
Burroughs was one of five Wyoming natives to start for the Pokes on Saturday. In addition to Burroughs, linebacker Logan Wilson, tight end Josh Harshman and offensive linemen Frank Crum and Logan Harris all started for Wyoming.
“I think it’s really cool. I think it’s attributed to Coach Bohl since he’s been here, making it a point of emphasis to bring in more Wyoming guys, give the guys a chance that maybe otherwise wouldn’t have.”
VELAZQUEZ TO UNDERGO SURGERY
UW tackle Alonzo Velazquez (leg) will undergo surgery, Bohl said Monday. A timetable for his return is uncertain. Crum started for Velazquez against New Mexico.
Bohl also said it was “looking a little bit doubtful” that senior punter Ryan Galovich would play against UW. Galovich left the game against New Mexico after taking a hard hit that resulted in a penalty. Junior Tim Zaleski punted in Galovich’s place.
Redshirt freshman defensive tackle Mario Mora is expected to play this week, Bohl said.
Michael Katz covers the University of Wyoming for WyoSports. He can be reached at email@example.com or 307-755-3325. Follow him on Twitter at @michaellkatz.