LARAMIE, Wyoming — The goal is still clear. But the process remains cloudy for the University of Wyoming football team's offense.
First-year coach Craig Bohl said when he was hired last December that he wanted a physical, run-first team that wore opponents down late in games.
He wanted a ball-control offense that ate up time on the clock, and when opposing defenses got tired, his offense would strike.
Unfortunately, the opposite has happened through seven games.
UW's opponents have run more plays in six games, and in the one contest that the Cowboys ran more plays they lost — 48-14 at then No. 2-ranked Oregon.
For the season, the Cowboys have run 79 fewer plays than their foes. That means their opponents average 11.3 more plays per game.
In terms of time of possession, UW averages 29 minutes, 57 seconds. Its foes average 30:06.
While possessing the ball is critical in Bohl's offensive philosophy, so is scoring.
But the Cowboys are 117th out of 125 Football Bowl Championship Series teams in points per game (18.6), and they have yet to score more than 21 points in a contest.
The offensive struggles start on third down. UW converts only 36 percent of the time.
"Too many long-yardage situations," said Bohl about UW converting only 5 of 16 third downs in last Saturday's 27-20 overtime loss to San Jose State.
In that game, the Cowboys had a season-low 11 first downs.
"We need to do better on first down — whether we run the ball or throw the ball — to have manageable third downs," Bohl said.
Offensive coordinator Brent Vigen agrees. He said he and his staff need better balance and effectiveness calling plays.
"We have to run the ball better," he said. "That's a tall task (when defenses put) extra guys in the box. But we have to figure out a way to do that."
He added that in the passing game, the Cowboys need to more balance among the things they want to do.
"In (the San Jose State) game, we just weren't able to take enough shots down the field, and (San Jose) was able to sit on some things in our play-action game.
"It's about being as diverse as possible with all the things we do to keep defenses off balance."
There have been times when UW has been able to do that. Some of those have come at critical junctures in games.
UW has had three scoring drives of 90-plus yards. It also has three drives during which it ran 11 or more plays. Those include a 17-play drive against San Jose State that resulted in a field goal.
But the Cowboys' last two losses — Hawaii and San Jose State — revealed some of the offensive inconsistencies.
In home victories over Air Force and Florida Atlantic, when UW had game-winning scoring drives late in the fourth quarter, nearly one-third of its yardage came in that period.
Even in the San Jose State loss, 104 of the Cowboys' season-low 277 yards of offense came in the fourth quarter and overtime.
By comparison, in a 38-28 loss at Hawaii on Oct. 11, UW had only 36 yards of offense in the fourth quarter and 93 yards in the second half, and was outscored 28-7 in the second half. Hawaii ran 12 more plays than UW in the second half and 13 more for the game.
Even when the Cowboys have gotten off to good starts, they have met with mixed results. They have scored points on their first offensive possession three times (two touchdowns and a field goal), but they are 2-1 in those games.
Twenty-three times UW has gone three-and-out, and twice it went four-and-out. That's about 3.5 times per game.
"Maybe it's a sense of urgency," said Vigen on the difference between the offense's better play in the fourth quarter — at times — compared to other times in the game.
"But there's a sense of urgency now with the season. Our backs are against the wall where our record is at (3-4 overall, 1-2 Mountain West) and having lost three in a row.
"We have to press upon the kids that we have to have that feel from the start. There are a lot of factors (for the inconsistencies). What it comes down to is having our guys know what they're doing and being able to do it as fast as they can."
UW's switch from a spread to a pro-style offense, a new starting quarterback and an offensive line that has dealt with injuries and illnesses have all been factors for those inconsistencies.
But with a defense that is wearing down and dealing with injuries of its own, it is critical that UW's offense gets its own issues in line.
"It has been a roller coaster ride," said junior running back Shaun Wick, who leads UW with 707 yards and five rushing touchdowns. "We have to do our job, which is to stay on the field, go on long drives, eat up time on the clock and score.
"It has been difficult. But we have to get going and get everyone on the same level."
Information from: Wyoming Tribune Eagle, http://www.wyomingnews.com
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