(Editor’s Note: This is a release from Wyoming)
LARAMIE, Wyo. – A strong performance by all three of Wyoming’s top running back contenders and outstanding play from several young defenders highlighted Saturday’s closed scrimmage by the Wyoming Cowboys. It was an extensive scrimmage, with 95 plays being run from scrimmage and several more plays focused on kickoff and kickoff returns, resulting in a 100+ play scrimmage on Saturday morning.
It was a day that Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl and his coaching staff had been preparing their team for all spring. Bohl had stated earlier in the week that Saturday’s scrimmage would be an extremely important day in terms of evaluating the progress of many players.
“The effort of our players today was excellent. Our execution can improve, but the effort I thought was really good,” said Bohl immediately after completion of the scrimmage. “The only injury we sustained was a (shoulder) stinger to Marcus Epps, but we believe he will be fine — matter of fact he came back later on. It (injuries) is one of the things you always hold your breath a little bit as a head coach when you’re scrimmaging 100 plays. You’re hopeful you get through without any significant injuries, which we did.
“The reason why we went a lot longer than we normally would was to make sure we could get an evaluation on a lot of our younger players and our running back position specifically. I really thought collectively the running backs did some great things today. I was really pleased with Milo Hall. He broke off a couple nice runs. Nico Evans had some nice runs, as well. Kellen Overstreet I thought also did a nice job. That is a tribute to those guys, and the offensive line did a good job blocking.”
Each of the three backs averaged over 5.0 yards per carry. Evans netted 74 yards on 11 carries, averaged 6.7 yards each time he carried the ball and had a long run of 28 yards. Hall also had 11 rushing attempts for 72 yards, averaged 6.5 yards per carry and had a 50-yard touchdown run. Overstreet carried 10 times for 57 yards, averaged 5.7 yards per carry, scored a TD from one-yard out and had a long run of 20 yards.
Asked if he thought any of the running backs had separated themselves from the others, Bohl said, “We’ll look at the tape, but I thought Milo Hall probably looked a little bit more electric than the other guys. But nonetheless, we’re really pleased. All three of those guys had some nice cuts. We got some good movement up front, and those guys all broke some tackles. But I thought Milo — you know he was a player of the year in the state of Colorado and has kind of been a backup guy here — stepped to the forefront today. All of those guys recognize there’s open competition, and they have competed each day. Mike Bath (running backs coach) has done a nice job with them.”
For the defense, a number of younger players had outstanding performances in Saturday’s scrimmage. Sophomore safety Alijah Halliburton led the Pokes with seven tackles, including six solo tackles and 1.0 tackle for a loss. He also had a team high two pass breakups. Redshirt freshman defensive end Garrett Crall was credited with six tackles, five of which were solo stops. Crall had 2.5 tackles for loss and a half sack. Another redshirt freshman, linebacker Jahmari Moore was credited with five tackles, 1.0 tackle for loss and one pass breakup. And sophomore linebacker Cassh Maluia made five tackles. Junior nose tackle Sidney Malauulu led the Cowboys with 3.0 tackles for loss and 1.0 sack.
“Defensively, a couple guys who really stood out were Alijah Halliburton really was all over the field today between pass breakups and tackles,” said Bohl. “I think the more repetitions he gets the more opportunity he’s going to see significant playing time. Also Garrett Crall is a defensive end who did some really good things, as well. And then we are seeing great progress by Youhanna Ghaifan (four tackles, 1.0 tackle for loss on Saturday). He made some really nice plays out there.
“We went into today’s scrimmage saying we needed to get a great evaluation of our running backs and find out which of those young safeties could step up and play, and I thought Alijah Halliburton answered the bell. We’ll look at the tape, and we certainly appreciate that Josh Boyd (three tackles, one pass breakup Saturday) is doing some good things, but I saw Alijah Halliburton’s jersey number show up time and time again today.”
In addition to his comments on the running back competition, Bohl was questioned if there were any other positions where he saw players separating themselves.
“I think we’re starting to get some separation at some other positions, like receiver,” said Bohl. “Austin Conway did some good things today. C.J. Johnson did some good things. The next guy, James Price, those three guys are kind of separating.
“We’ve got a little bit of a clump at tight end. I think that needs to sort itself out — how Austin Fort plays into the competition with Tyree Mayfield and Josh Harshman.
“We’re awfully thin at offensive line right now in the spring. I think those are the positions we’re really taking a hard look at.”
Johnson led the receiving corps on Saturday, with four receptions for 61 yards, including an eight-yard TD catch. Conway also had four catches for 42 yards. Tight end Harshman caught three passes for 20 yards. Mayfield had two receptions for 11 yards, including a three-yard touchdown grab. Price’s one reception Saturday was a 29-yard TD catch.
In spite of the lack of depth on the offensive line this spring, Bohl was asked how pleased he was to see the Cowboy offense run the ball as effectively as they did on Saturday.
“They (the offensive line) have made progress,” Bohl said. “Gavin Rush has taken a lot of meaningful reps at center, along with Cole Turner. I don’t think we’re where we need to be there, but we’re making progress. Zach Wallace is doing some good things (at left tackle). Kaden Jackson is doing some good things (at right guard). And we appreciate Pahl Schwab. He’s been playing with the number ones at the right tackle spot right now. He’s a Wyoming player from Star Valley. He’s come back from his (LDS church) mission, and done a good job. He’s an emerging guy who’s shown that he can go out on the field and play meaningful reps for the Cowboys.”
The linebacker position is another one where several young players have been in competition for a spot on the depth chart this spring.
“I thought Cassh (Maluia) made a couple good plays, but I thought the running backs kind of had their way with those backers today,” said Bohl. “There were some missed tackles, some arm tackles, stuff we have to clean up. Now that is just me standing 20 yards back of the quarterback and watching. We do need to evaluate the tape, but we have a week of practice left and the backers need to work on cleaning those things up.”
As a whole, the defense did make several big plays, including 12.0 tackles for loss for 39 yards, 2.0 sacks for 12 yards and eight pass breakups.
In addition to the combined 208 rushing yards, the Cowboy offense also passed for 271 yards for 479 yards of total offense. Junior quarterback Josh Allen completed 11 of 19 passes (57.9 percent) for 135 yards and threw three TD passes. Junior Nick Smith was also very effective, completing 8 of 14 passes (57.1 percent) for 103 yards and one TD.
“The quarterback situation — I thought Josh (Allen) did some good things,” said Bohl. “He had one throw that I was disappointed in today down in the red zone, but outside of that I thought he really did some things well. He was not live (no tackling of the quarterback). C.J. Johnson came up with some nice catches.”
There were no turnovers on Saturday, but there were a number of penalties. The defense had three penalties for seven yards, while the offense had six penalties for 35 yards.
The Cowboys also incorporated nine kickoff and kickoff return plays into Saturday’s scrimmage.
“We worked the kickoff game and kickoff return extensively,” said Bohl. “It was kind of a mixed bag, but we got a lot of live repetitions. It was a pretty long scrimmage — longer than we normally have — and I thought we made some real progress.”
As the Cowboys prepare for their final week of spring practice, the head coach detailed what is planned for the final three practices this spring.
“The last week we’re going to continue to evaluate, but we’ll integrate some schemes that we’re probably going to need to see that we have not encountered — some things our opposition does,” said Bohl.
“This was a big, big evaluation day today. The Spring Game (Saturday, April 22) will include some evaluation, but it is more to give our players a sense of what it feels like to play a game.
“We’ll start to make some pretty firm adjustments on the depth chart. We’ll have one practice this week where we will just be in helmets. We only have one padded practice remaining and then a game, so the lion’s share of our evaluation is about done.”
Wyoming’s final week of 2017 spring practice will include practices on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons and will conclude with the Spring Game on Saturday, April 22 at 2 p.m. in War Memorial Stadium. The Spring Game will be preceded by an Alumni Flag Football Game at 11:30 a.m. on April 22 also in War Memorial Stadium. Both events are free and open to the public.
2017 University of Wyoming Football Spring Practice Schedule
Tuesday, April 18 4 or 4:30 p.m. (Practice #13)
Thursday, April 20 4 or 4:30 p.m. (Practice #14)
Saturday, April 22 2 p.m. (Spring Game, Practice #15)