Northern Wyoming Daily News - Serving the Big Horn Basin for over 100 years

By Alex Kuhn
Sports Editor 

Cowboys look to build consistency heading into 2017


December 28, 2016

COURTESY/ Blaine McCartney/Wyoming Tribune Eagle

University of Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen evades Boise State's Cameron Hartsfield on a run in the first half during the Oct. 29 contest against the Broncs at War Memorial Stadium in Laramie.

LARAMIE – There were a lot of firsts and unexpected happenings for the University of Wyoming football program in 2016, most of which were good.

But as the Cowboys look ahead to 2017, the biggest task for coach Craig Bohl and his staff is to keep it going, which has been difficult for the better part of 20 years.

UW has not has back-to-back seasons with better than .500 records since 1998-99. It also hasn't played in bowl games in consecutive years since 1987-88.

After an 8-6 record in 2016, a Mountain West Mountain Division title and the program's first bowl appearance since 2011, there are plenty of reasons for optimism for next season.

UW returns six starters on offense and as many as 13 guys who started games on defense. Quarterback Josh Allen will be a junior, and four starting offensive linemen return, as do three of the Cowboys' four leading tacklers.


Allen was impressive in his first season as a starter. He threw for 3,203 yards with 28 touchdowns, and added 523 rushing yards and seven rushing touchdowns.

But there's plenty of room for improvement.

Allen completed 56 percent of his passes. Not bad, but in UW's pro-style offense, that needs to be in the low to mid-60 percent range.

Allen wowed many with his ability to run, extend plays and throw on the run. Many of his miscues came from those abilities, too. However, Allen's physical and mental make-up is what makes him good and what he is. Can it be channeled better? Yes. Does Allen need a complete makeover? Absolutely not. But more consistency across the board is needed.

There is a huge void to be filled after junior running back Brian Hill declared for the NFL Draft Monday. Hill is UW's career record-holder with 4,287 yards and 35 touchdowns. He also owns the top two single-season rushing records in school history with 1,860 in 2016 and 1,631 in 2015.

Only 23 percent of UW's rushing game returns, and a mere 33 yards of that came from a running back, junior-to-be Nico Evans.

Redshirt sophomore Kellen Overstreet is expected to return healthy after redshirting last season to recover from a knee injury suffered at the end of the 2015 season. Sophomore Milo Hall also returns, but he didn't carry the ball last season. Mike Green will be a redshirt freshman next season, and UW has secured verbal commitments from two high school running backs.

UW will be hard-pressed to simply plug one or even two guys in there and expect the type of production Hill provided the last two years.

UW also returns just under 22 percent of its catches and receiving yards from last season. For the last two seasons, it has been the "Big Three" – wide receivers Tanner Gentry and Jake Maulhardt and tight end Jacob Hollister. A handful of others will get more chances now, and who emerges as the primary targets for Allen will be interesting.

On the surface, it appears UW's offensive line should be a strength next season. However, replacing All-MW center Chase Roullier won't be easy. Who that will be is unknown, but don't be surprised if sophomore-to-be Gavin Rush moves over there. Sophomore Brinkley Jolly replaced junior Ryan Cummings (foot) over the final seven games of 2016. Jolly held his own, and it's likely the earliest Cummings will return is fall camp. Whether Cummings or Jolly is the starter, UW needs to find more depth at tackle – and at all of its offensive line spots.


It will be harder than most realize to replace the production, leadership and intangibles from three seniors – nose tackle Chase Appleby, middle linebacker Lucas Wacha and outside linebacker D.J. May.

When all three were healthy and on the field together, UW's defense was better. Wacha played all 14 games, but Appleby missed the final three games. May missed the final two.

UW's defensive numbers weren't impressive in terms of points per game (34.1) and yards (453.1 per game). But it forced 27 turnovers – 17 more than last season. It also produced 30 quarterback sacks (20 more than 2015) and 79 tackles for loss (27 more than 2015).

This group is getting better, but it is likely another year or two away from being where Bohl and defensive coordinator Steve Stanard would like to see it.

Continuing to force turnovers, and producing sacks and tackles for loss will be keys next season. So will be getting off the field on third down. Foes converted 43 percent of their third-down attempts. In 2015, it was 54 percent.

Another year of developing the players in the program, plus an influx of new talent in terms of redshirts and recruits should help.

Special teams also will have a different look. UW must replace four-year starter Ethan Wood at punter. And although he went largely unheralded, four-year long snapper Brendan Turelli also is gone.

Players to watch

Some guys to look for who could – and in some cases must – play big roles for the Cowboys to be successful in 2017:

Wide receiver C.J. Johnson: The sophomore-to-be is UW's leading returning receiver with 21 catches for 304 yards and three touchdowns. Johnson could emerge as Allen's go-to target, but more must be found. Still, a lot of this starts with Johnson. A couple of other wide receivers to watch include junior James Price and redshirt freshman Parker Dumas. Price has caught 18 passes over the last two seasons. Dumas brings the size that Maulhardt had in terms of height at 6-foot-5.

Tight end Tyree Mayfield: Has all the physical tools to be one of the best tight ends in the MW. Both he and Josh Harshman played a decent amount last season, but will be counted on to do more next season. Mayfield will be a junior, and how he approaches the offseason will go a long way toward determining his impact in 2017.

Linebacker Logan Wilson: Earned freshman All-America honors and was the MW Freshman of the Year in 2016. The Casper product is the most experienced of the linebacking corps that returns. Will he stay outside or possibly move to the middle? Wherever he plays, Wilson must continue to progress and improve, and also provide leadership.

As for other linebackers to watch, true freshman Cassh Maluia did well in the two games in which he replaced May at the end of the season. A full offseason with UW's strength staff should benefit him a great deal. Also, the coaches liked what true freshman Jahmari Moore did on the scout team. Look for him to compete for playing time – and perhaps a starting job – next season.

Defensive end Carl Granderson: UW's most disruptive defensive lineman – aside from Appleby at nose tackle – was having a good season before a season-ending knee injury Oct. 8 against Air Force. All signs point to Granderson making a full recovery, and the Cowboys need him back to the form where the 6-5, 243-pound Granderson made plays prior to his injury. In six games in 2016, Granderson had four sacks, six tackles for loss and 19 total tackles.

Cornerbacks C.J. Coldon and Keyon Blankenbaker: Both are verbal commitments for UW's 2017 recruiting class. Assuming they sign in early February, both could compete for playing time, and possibly starting spots, right away. The Cowboys need to continue to develop guys like senior-to-be Rico Gafford, junior-to-be Antonio Hull and sophomore-to-be Tyler Hall. But if Coldon and Blankenbaker come in and show they have the mental and physical capacity to play right away, they will.


UW plays seven home games in 2017, including three home nonconference games – Oregon, Gardner-Webb and Texas State. It opens the season at Iowa.

Five of the six teams in the Mountain Division of the MW went to bowl games, and that side of the league should be loaded again. The Cowboys' opponents from the West Division are Fresno State and Hawaii at home, and San Jose State on the road. Fresno State and San Jose State have new coaches.

UW was 6-1 at home last season and appears to have re-established a home field advantage. Road wins at Colorado State and Nevada were good, but the team struggled away from home, for the most part. That needs to improve.

It's safe to assume with what UW returns next season and what it did this past season that it won't be picked to finish last in the Mountain Division. However, every season is different, with different challenges and adversity to overcome. UW should be confident and proud of what it accomplished in 2016, but it also must realize what it took to get there as it prepares for 2017.

UW has more of a target on its back in 2017, and it can't assume that it can have a repeat of 2016 by simply showing up. Instead, it must continue to work hard – and perhaps even harder – to take the next step, which is winning on a consistent basis.


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