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Wyoming asks more of freshman QB in Wofford win

September 19, 2018

LARAMIE, Wyo. (AP) — For most of Wyoming football’s opening three games of the 2018 season, the Cowboys’ offense had limited the amount of weight on quarterback Tyler Vander Waal’s shoulders. The redshirt freshman averaged 23 passes per game in Wyoming’s win at New Mexico State and losses against Washington State and Missouri.

It was apparent headed into Saturday’s game against Wofford, however, that things would change. The Cowboys were without the top two running backs on their depth chart and were calling on a wide receiver to be their third-string back. In other words, they were going to need to throw the ball.

“I knew that was kind of the game plan,” Vander Waal said Saturday. “We were going to have to air it out. These guys, they played a lot of three deep, so we knew that they were going to give us underneath routes, and I think we kind of took advantage of those.”

Vander Waal tossed 42 passes in the game, a number that would have accounted for more than 60 percent of his career passes before kickoff. He completed a career-high 25 of them and threw the first two touchdown passes of his college career — the second of which won Wyoming the game 17-14 with 17 seconds left.

“I think for myself and as a whole offense we took a huge step forward today,” Vander Waal said. “We work that two-minute drill every Monday at practice, and we’d never really think we’d run it until today. And it really showed up. I think I myself made a big maturity step in the way I’m playing. I think the whole offense, we found that groove, and we know we have the confidence to do it. We’ve just got to ride that wave now.”

Vander Waal wasn’t perfect in the game. His completion percentage was below 60 percent, and he had one interception, though it was caused by a hit from behind that jarred the ball loose. But he showed some positive signs even when his passes weren’t connecting. On one critical drive — the Cowboys’ lone touchdown drive other than the game winner — Vander Waal took what the defense gave him on the ground. Excluding sacks, he rushed for 44 yards on six carries Saturday, including a 16-yarder, the Casper Star-Tribune reported .

“I think a lot of teams don’t expect me to do that, but I knew the game plan,” Vander Waal said. “I was going to have some plays with my feet, and I think we did that.”

He paid a price, though, taking a number of big hits. Overall, he was sacked three times and was on the painful end of a roughing the passer penalty.

“He’s showing the ability to hang in the pocket, not have happy feet and chuck it and duck,” head coach Craig Bohl said Monday. “Earlier in the year, there were a couple of times when I didn’t think he was particularly patient, and he didn’t want to hang in there and take a hit. Well, he’s taken a hit. Now he’s taken a couple hits. But it wasn’t like he just got beat up. He’s got a bounce in his step.”

That might have been less true immediately after the game.

“This game was insane,” Vander Waal said then. “I’m still at a point right know where I’m kind of at a loss for words. I’m still kind of sinking in. The game’s still not fully processed yet. But it’s crazy. Even before halftime, I was out of breath and had to get oxygen at halftime. I was pretty banged up and got my ankles taped. So this bye week is coming at a real good time.”

His toughness, and his success at the end of the game, left an impression on his teammates.

“People, they don’t give credit to quarterbacks and how composed they are to drive 80 yards down the field and go score a game-winning touchdown,” Austin Conway said. “That’s difficult. And for Tyler to be able to hang in there, take some hits, make some throws . that was huge.”

Said fellow receiver Rocket Ismail Jr.: “It was important for people to know that Tyler, regardless of what the critics say, regardless of what the newspapers say, Tyler can make that play, and he’s going to make the plays like he’s supposed to. He really manned up today.”

Vander Waal will still need to make improvements against tougher opponents. But his teammates seem confident in that happening.

“I don’t think that showed anything different than what we’d seen, honestly, in the internal part of the program,” safety Andrew Wingard said of Saturday’s win. “We know Tyler can do that.”

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Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, http://www.trib.com

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