3 Quick takes: How was that for balance?
LARAMIE -- The last time the Cowboys played on this field they rushed the ball 38 times.
They threw it 21 times.
They completed just four of those in a 17-9 loss.
Yes, that was in a driving snow storm against Boise State, but if you've followed this program at all since 2018, you know that's been the norm around here whether it's 75 degrees or minus-4.
Over the first 24 minutes of live football inside War Memorial Stadium, the Wyoming offense -- led by Sean Chambers (Brown team) on one side, Levi Williams (Gold) on the other -- threw the ball 22 times. They ran it 24 times. The Cowboys racked up 423 yards of total offense in the first half, 344 of that came through the air.
Chambers, who completed 7-of-11 throws, tossed two touchdown passes on the day. The first, a 40-yarder to a wide open Xazavian Valladay down the seem. The other, an eight-yard strike to Joshua Cobbs out of an empty set.
Williams, who finished the day 8-of-10 for 120 yards, put some touch on a 34-yard beauty to Big Horn native Will Pelissier in the end zone.
I probably don't need to remind you that the Cowboys threw just one touchdown pass in six games last fall.
You also probably don't need to be reminded that the last time Wyoming had three touchdown tosses in a half came all the way back on Dec. 31, 2019. That was in the Arizona Bowl. Before that it was in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. That was in 2017.
This game, of course, means little to nothing.
Most simply wondered what this new "re-engineered" offense would look like under new coordinator Tim Polasek. If today's performance is any indication, that one-dimensional stuff is a distant memory.
Whether it was Chambers or Williams, throws were made on first down. They were made on third down. Williams' touchdown strike to Pelissier came on a 4th-and-5. There were throws to tight ends and running backs.
There was even a screen pass.
That came off the right arm of Chambers into the hands of Titus Swen. The running back from Texas shook a tackler and bolted down the east sideline for 71 yards before being forced out of bounds.
Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl isn't one to overhype anyone or anything. Was he happy with today's performance from his quarterbacks? Not overly.
"There was a little bit of a mixed bag," he said. "I thought some of the throws that should've been fairly easy completed balls were not. Then there was some throws that were challenging throws that either the receivers made a play or they made a couple nice throws as well. We're improving."
You know what we've heard over the last three seasons?
We need to be better in the passing game.
We need to be more explosive in the passing game.
We need to be more consistent in the passing game.
Check. Check. Check. At least on this day.
Williams completed just 15 passes over the final three games last year. In relief, Gavin Beerup connected on just two. There were also three interceptions mixed in there.
Today served as a step in the right direction any which way you cut it.
If there's one complaint, Chambers and Williams were both brought back into the game midway through the fourth quarter. Both tossed a pick. Both were bad throws. Both quarterbacks weren't thrilled about making them.
Hey, it's spring. That's what these 15 practices are for. At least they are putting the ball in the air.
If Bohl has one complaint, it's on a call made by his new offensive coordinator late in the game.
"Polasek did a good job other than the 'Midnight Rider' play where we throw it back to the offensive tackle," Bohl joked about a trick play that went to 6-foot-6, 313-pound Alonzo Velazquez. "What a dumb B.S. call that is. I need to fire that guy."
All kidding aside, it appears to be a new day for the Cowboys' offense. That's a good thing.
Brown 30, Gold 17
Williams didn't sugarcoat it postgame, he thinks he's done enough to earn the starting job under center this fall. Chambers said either way, the guy who doesn't get the call will push the other well past opening day.
At the outside linebacker spot, Charles Hicks has gotten all he can handle competition-wise from redshirt freshman, Easton Gibbs. Both finished with six tackles.
Let's be real here. The media has watched just as much of this team as you have. Today was the first time. COVID-19 or not, Bohl doesn't let anyone watch practice. I won't be naming any starters today. Bohl won't either.
What we did see though is the battles are very real.
"I mean, I'm just going to keep working like someone is chasing me," said Chambers, who finished the day 8-of-13 for 172 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. "That fire underneath you is what drives me and I love that. I embrace it. I embrace competition and it makes me a better football player. So as long as there's a battle, I'm going to keep working and keep trying my best."
Williams completed 10 of his 17 attempts Saturday for 132 yards. He also tossed a touchdown pass and a pick. The redshirt freshman said his shoulder injury from last fall is fully healed and velocity was up today. It showed.
His confidence is back in the mix, too.
"I mean, you want the best for the guy, but, at the end of the day, I'm a competitor and I want to play," Williams said when asked about the quarterback battle. "I want to do what I know I can do. There's times when I'm not in and I think, man, I could've made that throw, or something like that. But, you know, that's just selfish. I know coach Polasek is going to put in the best guy and that's all that matters, you know?"
Hicks, who started five of the Cowboys' six games in 2020, said having Gibbs on his tail only pushes him to be better.
"I feel like people that maybe don't have a certain competition behind them kind of get lackadaisical," he said. "I feel like that's the worst way to go. I've brought it all to the table just because of that."
Another battle has been brewing at the free safety spot between Braden Smith and Rome Weber. Smith started all six games last fall. Weber opted out. Last week, Bohl said Smith was starting to distance himself in that race to the top of the depth chart.
Weber was credited with one tackle Saturday. Smith did not get on the stat sheet.
"I think what our football team needs to realize is we're going to need all the guys, however we sort the depth chart out," Bohl said. "A lot of guys are going to be playing this next year but you'll get something released this next week."
Who's that kid?
Early in the third quarter, wide receiver Ryan Marquez took a handoff on what appeared to be a jet sweep. Instead, the sophomore stopped and threw it back to his left in the direction of the guy who gave him the ball in the first place, quarterback Jayden Clemons.
It wasn't an ideal throw, especially for a former signal caller himself.
The ball floated through the air and right into the awaiting arms of true freshman Zaire Jackson. It was right there for the taking. Instead, it clanked off his hands and fell harmlessly to the turf. He missed another sure pick late in the first half, too.
Jackson, a cornerback from Parker, Colo., is the only member of the 2021 recruiting class who is already on campus. Talk about a chance to impress early.
With just 18 seconds remaining in the third, Jackson totally redeemed himself.
UW punter Ralph Fawaz mishandled a high snap. After bolting back to the goal line to retrieve it, Jackson was right in his face. Before he could crumple to the ground, the new kid ripped it from his hands and waltzed into the end zone for the score.
"I wrapped up," Jackson said with a smile. "We had a good play and I just tried to make the best of it."
He wasn't done there.
In the fourth, Jackson stepped in front of a Williams' pass. This time, he didn't miss.
"I just timed the ball bad. I should've had the pick," he said on the first near interception, adding the second hit him in the facemask. "... I don't know, I guess I was just too excited. Then, on the third one, I guess the third time's a charm."
Jackson finished the afternoon with three tackles and all that good stuff mentioned above. It's not clear if he will battle for a role in the Cowboys' secondary this fall. CJ Coldon and Azizi Hearn are the entrenched starters at the corner. Cameron Stone and Xavier Carter are impressing in the two-deep.
Even Jackson himself admitted that.
"I wouldn't say that I'm there yet, but I would love to have that opportunity if I can," he said.
Bohl took notice of the Valor Christian grad, too.
"It was really encouraging," he said of Jackson's day. "... He did some good things during the course of the spring. He's still young. I mean, most of those guys are getting ready to go to prom in their senior year. He's out playing in a college football game. So, it's good to see him out there."