LARAMIE, Wyo. — Given the talent of the departing 2016 class, it shouldn’t come as a shock that the 2017 Wyoming offense has lagged compared to the 2016 unit. Still, the degree of the drop-off is noteworthy.
The 2017 offense is fifth-worst in the Football Bowl Subdivision in yards per game (282.2) and 100th in points per game (23.2) — whereas last year’s squad was top-50 in both categories, averaging 35.9 points and 434.5 yards per contest.
The Cowboys’ two highest-scoring performances have come in each of their last two games, a 28-21 overtime defeat of Hawaii and a 45-10 win over Texas State. Those were also the first consecutive games this season in which Wyoming averaged more than 5 yards per play.
But the Cowboys have not yet recorded both 100 yards rushing and receiving in the same game this season. Quarterback Josh Allen has averaged fewer than 11 completions in his last three games, though he has been asked to throw the ball an average of just 22.3 times in those games. And Wyoming’s streak of increasing its running total every game this year ended against Texas State, when the Pokes took 35 carries for just 84 yards (2.4 avg.).
“I think we’ve made some progress,” offensive coordinator Brent Vigen said. “Not enough for my liking. I hope with the bye week, with some additions, getting some guys back, I think this is a great opportunity for that progress to maybe get to my liking. I thought over the last three weeks, we’ve made progress. We’ve played some different guys. Those guys have gotten better each time. But overall, our consistency still isn’t where we need it to be.”
Simply having the ball more could help. Wyoming has run 296 plays this year, eighth-fewest in the country. Wyoming ranks ninth in the Mountain West in third-down conversion percentage and 10th in time of possession.
Any evaluation of Wyoming’s offense hinges largely on the play of Allen, the Mountain West’s preseason offensive player of the year and, despite his slow start, a potential first-rounder in the upcoming NFL Draft.
Allen’s performance against Football Championship Subdivision team Gardner-Webb looked pretty on paper: 22-of-32 passing (68.8 percent) with 328 yards and two touchdowns. Against FBS teams, though, his line is 55-of-107 (51.4 percent) for 137.3 yards per game with four touchdowns and three interceptions.
Allen is on pace to record more than 600 fewer passing yards, nine fewer passing touchdowns and five fewer rushing touchdowns than he did last regular season, with four fewer interceptions and a completion percentage two points worse.
“I think he’s played well,” Vigen told the Casper Star-Tribune . “I know the expectations for him that he has, that we have, that the outside world has for him are higher. I think he’s weathered the storm, so to speak, with a couple tough opponents mixed in there, and really the things that he’s doing much better than last year maybe aren’t reflected in numbers. Decision making, both in the run and pass game, protecting the football certainly is part of that, and I think he’s done a much greater job there.
“Now, figuring out what our guys can and can’t do is something that is a process. He’s got different guys he’s throwing to, and figuring out their strengths and weaknesses takes some time, and that’s been apparent, and as we hit the stretch run here, we hope those numbers become what we hoped they would in the first place.”
Head coach Craig Bohl said Wyoming’s offense through five games has been “inconsistent,” ”a mixed bag” and “subpar.” He highlighted running the football an area in which Wyoming’s offense has to improve.
At 100.4 yards per game, the Wyoming rushing attack has been the worst in the Mountain West. True freshman Trey Woods has provided a spark, earning the starting job after spending fall camp at linebacker, but he averaged just 2.5 yards on a career-high 21 carries against Texas State.
“I think each week, as this season’s gone along, we’ve added more to (Woods’) plate, to the point where now we feel comfortable on any regular down of doing what we need to do out there, run or pass,” Vigen said. “I think in the last game, I think he missed a few runs, and you hope that those type of situations don’t come up again, runs that he maybe had for the first time in a real, live situation. So every time out there, he’s going to get better and we need to keep feeding him the ball, for sure.”
Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, http://www.trib.com