LARAMIE, Wyoming — Shaun Wick can see it on film.
Watch the junior running back's 57-yard touchdown scamper against Michigan State and it's all too clear. One second, he's taking a hand off, facing a wall of green jerseys and massive linemen with nasty intent.
The next, he's bursting through a crack in the dam, shrugging off a desperate tackle attempt by an ill-positioned Spartan safety.
Then, nothing. Just 57 yards of grass.
It shows up again in his 42-yard run against Oregon, as well as his two scampers of 40-plus yards in the victory over Florida Atlantic.
It's a concept one might not typically associate with a bruising pinball of a running back. But there it is, again and again.
Like many a scout has tweeted, tape don't lie. And in this case, the tape reveals something new:
"I definitely feel like I can get away from a lot more defenders now," Wick said with a grin. "When I'm watching film, I'm noticing that I'm getting separation from defenders now. I've improved in that area."
If Wyoming's running backs were given job titles heading into the season, they would read something like this:
Shaun Wick, Power Back.
D.J. May, Speed Back.
And yet, five games later, Wick's versatility demands reconsideration.
"I have been surprised," head coach Craig Bohl said. "That's not making a knock on Shaun. I thought initially that Shaun was kind of going to be a guy that's going to turn the chains over, and D.J. would be the big play guy.
"What you're seeing is that both of them have the ability to make big plays, but you're seeing time and time again Shaun breaking off big runs."
Nearly halfway through his junior season, Wick owns 489 rushing yards and three touchdowns, as well as a whopping 6.9 yards per carry average. The 5-foot-10, 212-pound back is on pace for 1,174 rushing yards this season, a year after racking up 979 rushing yards and 11 total touchdowns as a sophomore.
Why, suddenly, can he gain all of that valuable separation, leading to four runs of at least 40 yards in his last three games?
"My lower body, increasing that strength, I'm able to break more tackles and keep my balance when people are swiping at my feet," Wick said. "I definitely feel the power in my legs now."
Of course, he's also the ideal fit in Brent Vigen's pro-style system. A year ago, Wick was operating in a spread attack that instructed its running backs to move more horizontally, stretching the defense to find an eventual seam.
Now, the directive couldn't be more different. Bohl's running backs are told to move vertically, hit the hole with authority and fall forward for extra yards.
For a back like Wick, who has the vision to find his hole and the power to bust punishingly through it, the marriage has been immediately prosperous.
"That was a real concern of ours as we came here," Bohl said of finding the ideal running back to fit their system. "We are a tailback-oriented offense, when it comes to the running game. The downhill runs are significantly different than what a runner does in a spread offense.
"I'm sure Shaun was excited about the style of offense we're playing also, because deep down he sees himself as a tailback. He certainly excels as a tailback."
Heading out of a bye week, Wick's legs should be stronger than ever as he and the Cowboys fly to Hawaii to meet the Rainbow Warriors on the road.
And when he hits the hole, don't be surprised if the running back breaks a tackle, then steadily breaks away.
Suddenly, Wick is no stranger to separation.
Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, http://www.trib.com
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