Wyoming secondary looks to force more turnovers
By BRANDON FOSTER
Sep. 21, 2017
LARAMIE, Wyo. (AP) — The first position listed on Wyoming football's depth chart every week is the cornerback spot.
Tyler Hall has held down the second starting cornerback spot all season; the two cornerback spots used to be labeled "boundary" and "field" on the depth chart but aren't anymore. The first cornerback spot, however, listed Antonio Hull and Robert Priester as co-starters for two weeks, before Priester and Rico Gafford earned co-starting roles for the next two games.
If you're lost, don't worry about it.
"Man, right now, they all play, and they all play quite a bit," cornerbacks coach Josh Richardson said. "From series to series, anybody can be out there. The thing is, I trust all of them being out there, which is fantastic. They put themselves in great positions to be able to put me in that position to play all of them.
"But it helps out. ... They're a little bit fresher. Those guys are competing, and the best part is they all love each other, so we don't have turmoil in the room, which is always good."
Between the four of them, with safeties Andrew Wingard and Marcus Epps backing them, Wyoming has been the 15th-best team in the country at defending passes this season. But the Cowboys had been third before losing 49-13 to Oregon on Saturday. The Cowboys saw just 22 passes from opposing teams in their first two games. Saturday, they saw 30, and they went for 251 yards and a touchdown.
"I just think they did a good job of finding some soft parts in our zone," Epps said of Oregon. "So that's just a good part on them. But I feel like we can do a really good job for the rest of the season in the pass game, and that's what I expect us to do."
Those numbers aren't terrible when you put Oregon in context. For one, the Ducks scored seven touchdowns Saturday. Just one was through the air. Oregon passed for 355 yards in its first game and 365 in its second, and the Ducks threw for three touchdowns against Nebraska. Oregon quarterbacks entered Saturday's game completing 80 percent of their passes. Saturday, they completed 60 percent.
"I mean, we prevented the explosive pass play," Richardson told the Casper Star-Tribune (http://bit.ly/2xydtrc). "We've got to do more as far as getting turnovers. A lot of dropped interceptions out there, which is unacceptable ... not only in a big-time game against Oregon but in any game.
"Whenever you drop turnovers, typically the team goes down and scores, so those are the things that we've got to improve on."
Oregon starter Justin Herbert was intercepted once Saturday. A Gafford pick in the third quarter led to Wyoming's last points of the game. But Epps and Priester each had shots at interceptions that they couldn't come up with. That could lead to more ball-handling drills for the cornerbacks this week, Epps said.
"Especially since we dropped a few this past game," he said. "Probably that will be an emphasis this week."
Still, the Cowboys have an interception in every game this year.
"Through the first three games we can see that our scheme works," Epps said. "We're going to be able to have those opportunities to make plays on the ball, so we just have to come up with the ball."
Gafford has had two of Wyoming's picks.
"Rico's a playmaker," Epps said. "So you know he's going to be in the right spot at the right time, and he's going to be able to make those plays."
Oregon had three plays go for more than 20 yards Saturday. Only one was a pass. It did, however, go for 50 yards.
It wasn't perfect, but few teams are against Oregon.
"Anytime you can face a dynamic offense like that, it's always great for your defense," Richardson said, "because you see the speed, you see the different intangibles that it takes for you to be mentally prepared as well."
Said Epps: "It was definitely a big test for us. We didn't think we executed as well as we could have or should have. We thought we could've played with them better or held them to less points, but it's definitely something we can build off of. I don't know if we'll face another offense that's as high-powered as that, so it can definitely be a good thing."
Wyoming's cornerback group will be down one Saturday, most likely. Head coach Craig Bohl said Wednesday he didn't expect Hull to play against Hawaii. Hull missed the Oregon game with a thigh contusion.
Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, http://www.trib.com