Cowboys Defense Gets Attention, Offense is Ready to Make Statement

Tracy Ringolsby

To get a feel for just how much of an impression the Cowboys defense of the Craig Bohl Era have made consider that three members of the Wyoming defense from a year ago are currently in the NFL. A fourth, Allijah Halliburton, was bypassed for the opportunity to play at the next level despite ranking second in the MW and 11th in the nation in total tackles (119) and per game average (9.9).

Now, think about the fact that three of the projected starters on defense this season opted out because of the Covid-19 virus, prompting Bohl and Co., to look for ways to patch the holes in a defense that was already undergoing a major rebuild.

And then there is defensive end Garrett Crall, one of four Cowboys voted to serve as team captains by teammates. He will miss at least the season-opening game in Nevada on Saturday with a slow healing foot wound.

All of that, but yet in the build up for the game at Reno on Saturday, the focus of the Reno coaching staff is the challenge of dealing with the Cowboys' defense.

"One of the things Bohl's defenses have always been great at is the defensive line and the linebacking core has always been physical," said Nevada offensive coordinator Matt Mumme during a mid-week media session. "Our offensive line is going to have to stop them from getting to our quarterback. 

"With Wyoming you have to understand it's going to be a physical game. We're going to have to play well up front on both sides of the ball."

And the history does give Nevada reason for concern.

Bohl's background is on the defensive side of the ball, both as a position assistant and then as a defensive coordinator. It is a mentality that was the foundation for his success as the head coach at North Dakota State, and what has become the trademark of his teams at Wyoming.

Now, there were growing pains. Predecessor Dave Christensen was all offense, all the time. And the attrition of that program was underscored during Bohl's first two seasons -- 2014 and 2015 -- when they had seven seniors one year and six the other.

The last four years, however, have been more suited to the defensive domination that Bohl embraces, and success that Wyoming fans enjoy.

Consider:

-- 2016: The Cowboys ranked sixth nationally in rushing defense, allowing 99.4 yards per game, seven times allowing fewer than 100 yards on the ground, including just 48 yards to Colorado State.

-- 2017: The Cowboys led the nation with 38 forced turnovers, ranked ninth in scoring defense (17.5 points per game), No. 1 with 18 fumbles recovered, No. 21 in interceptions, No. 13 in pass defense and No. 23 in total defense.

-- 2018: The Cowboys ranked 19th nationally in total defense, 25th in rushing defense, 28th in scoring defense and 32nd in passing defense.

--2019: The Cowboys ranked 11th nationally in scoring defense (17.8 points per game allowed) and rushing defense, and second in the Mountain West, 35th nationally with 31 quarterback sacks.

The bottom line? The Cowboys have been bowl eligible the last four years, making bowl appearances three times.

This year, however, the focus could change.

Oh, Bohl's not going to give up on defense. It remains his foundation.

But the offense figures to become the focal point for the Cowboys, who are deep enough in the backfield that Bohl and offensive coordinator Brent Vigen, for the first time in their careers, will have a 1 and 1-A quarterback scenario with Sean Chambers and Levi Williams, a redshirt freshman whose lone start a year ago was taking every snap in the Cowboys' Arizona Bowl victory.

"Both Coach Vigen and myself feel very comfortable playing either one of them," said Bohl.

Chambers, who has seen the Cowboys go 7-2 in the two seasons he has been behind center, both of which ended prematurely because of injuries. The Cowboys were 3-0 in his starts in 2018, when because of a broken ankle suffered early in his third start (fourth appearance). They were 4-2 a year ago before a knee injury against Nevada.

That was an injury suffered 52 weeks ago Saturday when Chambers will be taking game snaps for the first time since and be doing it against the same team he last faced -- the Wolfpack.

"Right now Sean is a little bit ahead, but we are well pleased with Levi," said Bohl.

Whether the focus is the offense or the defense, one thing won't change -- the hard-nosed attitude.

"When Tom (Burman, Wyoming athletic director) hired me he said, `I want to play Cowboy tough football,'" said Bohl. "I said, `Just understand that's not a slogan on a t-shirt. It's going to take some years. Those first couple of years we had were pretty lean."

The last four years, however, have the Cowboys' looking good as the Bohl Era enters it's eighth season on Saturday in Reno.

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