With the late afternoon approaching and gameday just hours away, it's probably too late to take any more in-depth looks at Wyoming in terms of specific drives or specific plays, but there are a number of notes to keep in mind as the Longhorns take the field against the Cowboys. These notes are based off of the Temple-Wyoming game that closed the season for both teams in the New Mexico Bowl.
Let's get rolling:
- The first play of the game for Wyoming offensively gives an insight into the type of system that Texas will be dealing with -- from a pro-style formation with two running backs flanking the quarterback, Brett Smith fakes the handoff to one crossing to his left, then executed the option pitch to the other back coming to the right. Head coach Dave Christensen likes to stress the assignments of defenders, who will have to play contain and remain disciplined with their eyes or find themselves out of position.
- Brett Smith isn't the fastest or most nimble guy, but he has a good combination of quickness, feet, and strength, even showing off a stiffarm on one play early.
- Like Missouri, Wyoming will often align and then look to the sideline for the play. Last season for Texas, Keenan Robinson and Emmanuel Acho were both capable of making last-second adjustments to the defense. Junior linebacker Jordan Hicks will have that responsibility this season, but how much will defensive coordinator Manny Diaz trust him to do that in his first game as the leader of the defense in that regard?
- The speed option is a major component of the Wyoming arsenal and they severely outflanked Temple on one play. The force defender came up hard on Smith, but since Temple only had two linebackers on the field, there wasn't any support for him and Brandon Miller creased the Owls for a big gain. The solution? Play with three down linemen instead of four to get that extra linebacker on the field, as the play will essentially eliminate all but one lineman, depending on which player Wyoming is running the option off of. It was an adjustment that I scrawled in my notes, so I wasn't surprised to see the Owls go to it on the second drive, reaping the rewards pretty quickly, as the extra linebacker shot a gap to force a pitch from Smith that nearly resulted in a fumble. Expect Texas to adopt a similar strategy.
- Wyoming will also stress the discipline of the defense with some trick plays, trying a throwback to the quarterback that was blown up by a Temple defender playing his assignment on the backside.
- Smith had some issues with his decision-making in the game, throwing three interceptions, a remarkable number given that he went into the game with only nine on the season. There were several contributors to that, the first being that he didn't do a strong job of coming off his first read, forcing a pass on one drive that was nearly intercepted when he had his running back out of the backfield uncovered in the seam for what would have been an easy throw-and-catch for a touchdown. Later, he scrambled and tried to force a throw into coverage that was intercepted. How much trouble Smith gives the Longhorns will be dependent to a significant extent on whether or not he can make the right choices in those situations and avoid costly turnovers.
- On the first play of the second drive offensively, Temple ran a really impressive play -- it looked like a shovel triple option, with the quarterback heading to the right in a pitch relationship with both the trailing H-back and running back, then handing the ball off to a wide receiver coming on the end around. Again, Wyoming was not disciplined defensively, with the linebackers flowing hard in the direction they thought the play was going, as well as the backside defensive end. As a result, the Temple wide receiver turned the corner and was able to pick up 35 yards.
- Bernard Pierce was a really good college running back. And the Temple line was good as well. So even though the Owls program probably doesn't get a lot of respect from the common fan, this was a pretty solid team that was giving the Wyoming defense trouble. Just a little context.
- Smith was already known as the toughest player on the Cowboy football team by the end of his freshman season. And while his mechanics in terms of protecting the football when moving in the pocket were good, he didn't always keep his feet alive to use his entire body on some throws, and he also seemed to have some issues pushing or kind of shotputting the ball when trying to get vertical in the passing game, which appeared to be part of the reason why the yards per completion and yards per attempt numbers were so low overall for the team last year.
- Some of the efforts tackling by Wyoming on defense were just pitiful. Just really, really bad. Hence the prediction about the Longhorns really bludgeoning them in the running game early. The Cowboys dug themselves a hole in this game, going down 21-0 after three drives by the Owls.
- The leading tackler for Wyoming last year, linebacker Brian Hendricks, was not impressive in the early going in this game, missing a number of tackles and failing to defeat blockers. In fact, the entire defensive line did a pretty poor job of the latter throughout the first half.
- From my notes -- WYO no tackle?
- Besides the speed option, Brett Smith is really dangerous on quarterback counters, the zone read, and quarterback draws. The number one priority for Manny Diaz will likely be to take away the legs of Smith, then worry about everything else. Also of note -- Smith likes to use a spin move that can sometimes result in him with his back towards the defense, a good recipe for taking some big hits.
- Since Wyoming likes to use a lot of quick-passing game, including wide receiver screens, expect the physicality of the Texas secondary both taking on blockers and tackling to play a big role. In the running game, the speed option could cause some problems on the edge, as it did last year against Rice in the opener, but out on the perimeter, guys like Carrington Byndom, Quandre Diggs, Adrian Phillips, and Kenny Vaccaro should dominate.
- After scoring late in the first half, Wyoming game up a 61-yard touchdown pass with about 30 seconds left. Granted, the defensive back in coverage fell down, but the lack of safety help was pretty inexcusable. Worth noting that the Cowboys weren't really much better in pass defense than they were in run defense. Just not a good defense all around.