3 keys to beating the Huskies
EAST HARTFORD, Conn., -- Xazavian Valladay said the Cowboys have a different mindset this season.
The fact UConn is 0-4 is irrelevant, according to Wyoming's junior running back.
Valladay talked about the start to the 2019 season. The Cowboys were 3-0. That included a thumping of Missouri in the season opener. Week 4 in Tulsa, Wyoming came up three yards short and fell to the Golden Hurricane, 24-21.
The team motto this year is a simple one: Go 1-0 this week.
Coach speak? Yes.
The truth? Yes.
Two weeks ago, the Cowboys watched a 42-16 third-quarter lead evaporate and turn into a 43-42 deficit in seemingly a blink of an eye. They took out some frustrations last Saturday against the defending MAC champions, Ball State, hammering the visiting Cardinals, 45-12.
Wyoming is already a 29.5-point favorite in this one, per the oddsmakers. You can probably guess what that means to head coach Craig Bohl.
Zip. Zero. Nada.
"I think they've got good physical ability," he said. "I'm perplexed at their record."
If Wyoming hopes to move to 4-0 for the first time since 1996, here's a few keys to getting that done in New England:
No. 1 contain the QB
UConn has already used three signal callers under center in its first four games.
Last Saturday, that job belonged solely to Tyler Phommachanh.
The freshman didn't do much through the air, completing just 11-of-26 throws for 109 yards and an interception, but on the ground, the 5-foot-10, 187-pound Connecticut native carried the ball a team-high 11 times for 60 yards and two scores.
That element of his game grabbed the attention of Wyoming's head coach.
"Well, he's a little bit of a different type of player than what the other quarterbacks are," Bohl said. "He's got great mobility and he can make plays with his legs. They have some pre-determined quarterback run game within their arsenal.
"... He has the ability to to escape on bootlegs and is a dual-threat guy."
After being outscored 42-0 in the first half of a 52-21 road loss to Army last week at West Point, Phommachanh settled in. On the Huskies' fourth play from scrimmage in the third quarter, he scrambled for a 38-yard touchdown to get the visitors on the board. UConn scored touchdowns on three straight possessions.
Wyoming has yet to face a true dual-threat quarterback this season. The Cowboys' defense has held opposing signal callers -- Matthew McKay, Rocky Lombardi, Drew Plitt and John Paddock -- to minus-7 yards on 27 official carries.
Those guys aren't necessarily known for their wheels.
Wyoming defense registered six sacks and seven tackles for loss in a 45-12 win last Saturday over Ball State. UConn has already allowed nine sacks this season.
If they can make UConn beat them through the air, you have to like the visitors' chances. It doesn't hurt that the Cowboys have six interceptions in the last two weeks, either.
No. 2 Don't kick it to that guy
If there's one mistake the Cowboys made against the Cardinals last Saturday, it was squib kicking the ball to Justin Hall with just under 10 seconds remaining in the first half.
Hall, one of the top returners in the nation, scooped up the ball and flew through the Cowboys' kick coverage for 72 yards. Cameron Stone, luckily, was able to drag him down around the 26-yard line.
Two plays later, Ball State's placekicker Jake Chanove pushed a 40-yard field-goal attempt wide right.
Wyoming escaped that bullet, but they should probably just avoid that scenario all the way around this Saturday in East Hartford.
UConn return man, Brian Brewton, took a kick back 96 yards to the house late in the third quarter against Army. That was the Huskies' first kickoff return for a score in 10 years.
The freshman showed unbelievable speed and vision on the return. He was aided by some solid blocking, too.
Why even take the chance?
Devontae Houston is another return man who is more than capable of flipping the field. He averaged 27 yards on a pair of returns against Fresno State in the opener and had a 28-yard run against Purdue.
Brewton, a 5-foot-7 freshman from Miami, brought back five kicks for the Huskies at Wes Point and averaged more than 28 yards per return.
Just don't do it.
No. 3 This isn't a bye week
Bohl has been pounding this in his players' heads all week long: UConn will not roll over and play dead on Saturday.
Yes, the Huskies are bad. They've been outscored 184-49. They've been blanked twice. They lost at home to a Patriot league team. Their head coach, Randy Esdall, abruptly resigned/ was fired after the second game of the season.
It gets worse. Here are a few telling stats:
* Third-down conversions: 113th in the nation (15-of-51)
* Completion percentage: 124th (45-of-96)
* Passing offense: 123rd (115 ypg)
* Rushing offense: 120th (82.3 ypg)
* Scoring: 128th (9.3 ppg)
* Scoring defense: 126th (44ppg)
* Rushing defense: 100th (189.7 ypg)
* Passing yards allowed: 119th (303.7 ypg)
The list goes on.
Remember, this was also the first FBS program in the country last fall to call it quits because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Things are not going to plan in Connecticut.
What does that mean for the Cowboys?
Nothing. Absolutely nothing.
"I think the biggest thing we strive to do is take care of what we can control," Bohl said. "The tape does bear it out -- They have good players. We're going to really focus on our preparation and what we need to do to attack the Huskies."
Wyoming cornerback Azizi Hearn has never been to Connecticut before. He's looking forward to seeing another part of the country from the plane and the team bus. But a vacation this is not.
"We have to trust and believe in our coaching," he said. "We have to finish what we start, it's as simple as that. It's really a life value, you finish what you start. It applies in that situation."
Wyoming played maybe its most complete game in a five-year span Saturday against Ball State. The Cowboys ran 62 plays -- 23 passing, 39 rushing -- and racked up 378 total yards. They scored through the air, on the ground and on defense with two interceptions returned for touchdowns.
Still, this team can't afford to overlook anyone. Wyoming's bye week doesn't come until after the final whistle blows in East Hartford.