By Gregg Xenakes, Associate College Football Editor
2009 SEASON IN REVIEW: With the Joe Glenn era at Wyoming drawing to a close with another disappointing season in 2008, it was time for the Cowboys to turn the page and their attention to a new leader in Dave Christensen. An assistant
head coach and offensive coordinator with Missouri, Christensen was expected
to bring his brand of exciting offense to Laramie.
The squad started off on the right foot with a 29-22 win over Weber State and
then followed up a pair of setbacks versus Texas and Colorado with victories
over UNLV, Florida Atlantic and New Mexico. It appeared as though the team had
perhaps found itself and was ready to compete with the rest of the Mountain
West Conference, but that was before the heavy hitters in the league came
calling. Unlike coach Glenn before him, it appeared as though Christensen had
managed to make a definitive decision when it came to his quarterback,
sticking with youngster Austyn Carta-Samuels who eventually was named the MWC
Freshman of the Year. The confidence that Christensen had in his signal-caller
helped Wyoming get beyond the fact that, against Air Force, Utah, BYU and TCU
during a five-game stretch, the Cowboys were outscored by a combined 129-20,
getting blanked by both the Falcons and the Cougars.
But as dismal as the second half of the regular season may have been, Wyoming
was still in contention for a rare bowl berth and made it to an even 6-6
thanks to a thrilling 17-16 victory against Colorado State on the road. Picked
to finish last in the MWC, Wyoming earned a date with Fresno State in the New
Mexico Bowl and proceeded to stun the Bulldogs with a 35-28 double-overtime
victory. The win was the second in a row for the Cowboys in the postseason and
just the second since the program ripped off four consecutive bowl triumphs
Christensen still has a lot of work ahead of him to get the offense on track,
as the squad ranked near the bottom nationally with just 18.3 ppg in 2009, but
at least the Pokes have something positive to build on heading into 2010.
OFFENSE: "I would expect him to continue to do a number of the things he was
able to do a year ago, which was make great decisions with the football and
protect the football," coach Christensen says of his starting quarterback
Austyn Carta-Samuels. "I know he had a much better Spring than he had last
Fall and he was a pretty good player back then. He's made a lot of strides,
his arm's stronger, he's stronger and he understands the concepts of what
Carta-Samuels has a lot to live up to in 2010, not just the expectations of
his coaches and teammates, but also the rest of the league seeing as how he
was named its top freshman last year. The signal-caller, who appeared in 13
games for a Wyoming team that had suffered for several years with uncertainty
at the position, threw for 1,953 yards and accounted for 2,319 yards of total
offense, ranking him third all-time in the MWC for freshman QBs.
Having three returning starters along the offensive line should give Carta-
Samuels some additional confidence to stick it out in the pocket and look for
developing plays down the field. Another strength for the offense will be the
return of three starters at receiver in David Leonard, Chris McNeill and Zach
Bolger. Leonard, an honorable mention All-MWC performer last year, is a senior
who stands at 6-4 and presents a large target for the offense. Of the
returning receivers throughout the MWC, Leonard led all in catches per game
with close to six, yet his 705 yards and mere three touchdowns were less than
Even though he is just a sophomore this year, Alvester Alexander will be
getting the majority of the running plays when the Cowboys choose to keep the
ball on the ground. Last season he led the team with his 678 yards and seven
touchdowns on 136 carries. Hopefully he and freshman Nehemie Kankolongo will
be enough to keep Carta-Samuels from risking himself in the open field too
much this year.
DEFENSE: "When I initially got there (Laramie) my plan was to run a 4-3
defense but the personnel that we had in place and the experience of playing
the 3-4...we decided to stay with it," coach Christensen says about changing
to a new defensive scheme this season. "I wanted to make a change, thought I
could get more speed on the field with a 4-3. I think we can become more sound
in gap control and those type of things. I just feel its easier for us to
recruit the personnel for our needs."
Shifting gears to the 4-3 will put Keith Lewis, Brian Hendricks and Ghaali
Muhammad in the middle of the field as they back up Josh Biezuns, Alex Stover,
Mike Purcell and Gabe Knapton along the defensive line. By bulking up at the
line of scrimmage, the Cowboys are hoping to put fourth a stronger fight
against the run, something that perplexed the group last year as it allowed
172.5 ypg to rank eighth in the conference and 93rd in the nation overall.
Free safety Chris Prosinski, an All-MWC Second Team selection a year ago,
ranked tenth in the nation in tackles per game after making a whopping 140
stops through 13 outings, but that's simply too many plays that have leaked
that far into the secondary and it is something that needs to be handled more
by the linebackers this season.
Knapton, who was listed as a linebacker last year and is being moved up front
in 2010, will bring more speed to the point of attack, even if he doesn't come
close to his tackle total from last year (128) which had him ranked 19th in
the nation based on per game averages.
SPECIAL TEAMS: The kicking tandem of Austin McCoy and Ian Watts should hold
down the positions of punter and place kicker, respectively, again this year.
With an average of 38.2 net punting yards per attempt, the Cowboys ranked
second in the conference and 15th nationally, so the pressure is on McCoy and
the coverage team to make it happen again in 2010. However, McCoy would
certainly be happy if he didn't see as much action as he did in 2009 when he
was responsible for 80 punts in 13 games. Watts was a perfect 10-of-10 on
kicks 39 yards and closer a year ago and managed to make two of his five
chances from 40 yards and beyond, but he also had to accept having two kicks
blocked. In addition to playing on defense, Marcell Gipson should get a few
return tries again this season after he was the main returner for the Pokes
last year. However, Alexander is being penciled in as the primary kickoff
returner and Leonard the punt returner right now.
OUTLOOK: Coach Christensen knows the expectations for his team are high this
year following the success the Pokes had versus Fresno State, but no one is
more demanding in that area than himself and his players. "We expect, and I
told them (the team) this last year from day one, to play in the postseason
each and every year and that's what our goal is always going to be."
Carta-Samuels is still a work in progress so expecting him to have the Cowboys
back at the same level again this season would be wishful thinking. The team
certainly has a leg up against Southern Utah in the opener, but after that the
squad has both Texas and Boise State waiting in the wings and that could
certainly damage the psyche and optimism that might be permeating through the
Pokes. Having to play the big three of the Mountain West Conference (TCU, Utah
and BYU) in successive games will be a huge measuring stick for the group as
well. However, should Wyoming still have enough confidence after that damaging
run, there's no reason to think it can't run off four straight wins to close
out the regular season and make a play for an extra game.