Tuck’s Takes: Make no mistake, that was a must win
ALBUQUERQUE -- A raspy Craig Bohl chuckled, shook his head and straightened his hat. The postgame question: Did this feel like a must win to you like it did to the rest of us?
"Did you guys feel that way?" Wyoming's ninth-year head coach quipped.
Yes, coach, we did. It was justified.
Coming off back-to-back losses made this one important enough. The fact that the lowly Lobos embarrassed the Cowboys in consecutive seasons made it imperative.
While Bohl wasn't going to admit the importance, instead rolling with his usual "one-game-at-a-time" mantra, his players were more open and honest after knocking off New Mexico 27-14 Saturday night inside University Stadium.
"Yes, sir," said UW tight end Treyton Welch, who led the visitors in receiving yards with 87 and also hauled in two touchdown passes. "Every game is a must win."
Yeah, but ...
"We had a chip on our shoulder, for sure," the junior continued. "The past two years we have had a nasty taste in our mouth. We came out and proved it."
Those previous losses to New Mexico were the unforgivable kind.
In 2020, the Lobos snapped an FBS-worst 14-game losing skid -- and losses in 20 straight Mountain West Conference tilts -- in a 17-16 victory over the Pokes inside a vacant Sam Boyd Stadium on the outskirts of Las Vegas. That was New Mexico's home away from home as the pandemic roared around the globe. Danny Gonzales' team stayed in hotels and did team walkthroughs in casino parking lots.
In other words, Wyoming had no business losing that one.
Then came the 2021 debacle.
Sean Chambers tossed an interception and Levi Williams fumbled a jet-sweep exchange and the Cowboys converted just 3-of-13 third-down attempts in a 14-3 setback inside War Memorial Stadium.
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Current UW quarterback Andrew Peasley wasn't even a part of those teams that fell victim to the Lobos. In fact, he was busy helping lead his former Utah State team to easy victories in that series. Still, the junior admitted he could feel the urgency.
"Absolutely," said Peasley, who finished his day with 174 yards passing and a pair of touchdown throws. "No one ever doubted losing this game. I felt like we had a good week of preparation and people were on this game. The defense stepped up after obviously a slow start for both sides of the ball.
"At the end of the day, you know, we made plays and got done what needed to be done."
Slow start? That's a gross understatement.
Miles Kendrick and Lobos gutted a Cowboy defense that was without two starters -- defensive tackle Cole Godbout and nickelback Keonte Glinton -- on the opening possession of the night, driving 75 yards on 16 plays. Kendrick eventually dove into the end zone from two yards out to give the home team an early 7-0 lead.
UW safety Wyett Ekeler was also lost for the night after taking a hit to the head on the first snap of the game.
After a quick three-and-out for Peasley and Co., UNM's unconventional offense scored once again. This time a 6-play, 67-yard drive culminated with an eight-yard dash to the red paint, courtesy of back-up signal caller Justin Holaday.
Here we go again, right?
"We better get this thing turned around here pretty soon because the wheels can come off," Bohl said when asked what was going through his mind at the time. "... Our guys are kind of out there like deer in the headlights. It was boom, boom, boom, then we finally calmed down. I hadn't reached the panic point, but I was getting a little bit nervous."
We've seen this script play out before. Remember the 2016 trip to Albuquerque? The night three rushers -- Teriyon Gipson, Lamar Jordan and Richard McQuarley -- all rushed for more than 120 yards and the Lobos racked up a conference record 568 yards on the ground in a 56-35 victory?
"No," Bohl said bluntly, not loving that walk down memory lane. "Those are not like six-yard gains, those are like 50-yard gains."
While that team failed to corral, well, anyone, this young crop of Cowboys settled in a forced seven punts, picked off two passes -- including a 38-yard Cam Stone game-sealing interception for a touchdown late in the fourth -- forced a fumble and blocked a kick while shutting out the Lobos over the final three quarters.
Wrook Brown, starting in place of Glinton, tallied a career-high 10 tackles, including half a tackle for loss. The redshirt freshman also broke up a third-down pass. Gavin Meyer, who was filling in for Godbout, registered six tackles and two quarterback sacks. He also batted down a 23-yard field-goal attempt late in this third quarter. Miles Williams, who slid in for an injured Ekeler, finished with a pair of stops and a pass breakup in the win.
Clutch. There's no other word for it.
"It was about the worst start you could have," said Meyer, a sophomore nose tackle from Franklin, Wisc. "We really popped back after those first two drives, settled down and really came together as a defense. We knew what they were going to come at us with and we took it to them."
The Lobos managed just 69 yards of total offense in the second half and three drives ended with negative yardage.
It was a season-saving effort.
Stone gives you another reason this was a must win.
"The Mountain West is really shaky this year, so it's all in our hands," the sophomore cornerback said. "We just got to take it."
Wyoming is now 2-1 in league play, both of those victories coming against teams in the Mountain Division. Air Force, the preseason favorites, suffered a 34-27 upset loss Saturday evening at Utah State. On the other side of the bracket, Fresno State has plummeted to a 1-4 record. San Diego State escaped a bad Hawaii team Saturday to move to 3-3.
The Cowboys next three opponents -- Utah State, Hawaii and Colorado State -- have a combined record of 4-13.
It's fun to dream, isn't it?
A Wyoming win in Albuquerque makes that possible.
* Speaking of Mountain West football ... San Jose State hammered visiting UNLV 40-7 Friday night in the Bay Area, bumping the Rebels from the top of the standings and sliding right into their place. Brent Brennan's Spartans are now 4-1 overall and 2-0 in league play. SJSU, which beat UW 33-16 last week in Laramie, is now in the driver's seat in the West and has a more than manageable schedule ahead.
* Wyoming's three losses have come to Illinois, BYU and SJSU. Those three teams are a combined 13-4 on the season. Those four losses have come against Indiana, Auburn, Notre Dame and Oregon.
* Godbout and Glinton could miss an extended amount of time, according to Bohl. If there was ever a time to be without those two, this might be it. Wyoming will have a bye next Saturday before hosting the Aggies Oct. 22. After a trip to Hawaii the following Saturday, the Pokes will have yet another bye week. There's no immediate timetable for their return, but two off weeks certainly helps.
* Titus Swen went down on the turf in Albuquerque twice Saturday night. Bohl said the junior running back "is fine" and was in concussion protocol. He also said Ekeler is fine after what looked like a scary helmet-to-helmet shot in the first quarter.
* UW had just two interceptions to its credit coming into this one. Both came against visiting Northern Colorado in the third game of the season Stone got one that afternoon and Shae Suiaunoa snagged the other. Saturday, Stone added one more and scored and Ole Miss transfer Jakorey Hawkins grabbed his first in a Cowboys uniform. More of that will go a long way.
* How did the Pokes haul in two picks in Albuquerque. Well, for one, Jaren Hall and Chevan Cordiero don't play for the Lobos. Throwing isn't exactly a strong suit in the desert. Secondly, UW's pass rush was a menace all night long, racking up six sacks. Meyer got two of those. So did Braden Siders. Oluwaseyi Omotosho and DeVonne Harris also dropped the passer, too.
* The opening drive of the second half hasn't been kind to the Cowboys since a 7-play, 47-yard drive ended with a 46-yard John Hoyland field goal in the season opener at Illinois. Since, four punts and a pick. That changed in New Mexico. Peasley led the visitors on an 8-play, 75-yard drive, capped by a 29-yard scoring strike to Welch.
* Wyoming never throws it to the tight ends. That used to be the case, but not anymore. Welch's second-quarter score on Saturday night now makes it four straight games that a tight end has gotten into the end zone. Welch has four of those and Parker Christensen added one against SJSU.
* We all know New Mexico is a proud basketball school on both the men's and women's side. Football support, however, is really sad. Losing will do that. And the Lobos have mastered that art since going 9-4 in 2016. Since, UNM is just 15-46. Only nine of those victories have come in front of the home crowd.
* Gonzales is a good coach and an even better man. I already knew that, but after reading a story last week, now I'm a huge fan of the Lobos head man. The 1962 and 1982 UNM football teams didn't receive bowl invites. The former went 7-2-1. The latter, 10-1. Earlier this season, Gonzales -- with his own money -- purchased bowl rings for these squads. Good stuff, huh? Read that story from the Albuquerque Journal right HERE. Oh, and if you're interested, the '62 UNM team beat Wyoming in Laramie, 25-21. The '82 squad topped the Cowboys 41-20 inside War Memorial Stadium in the season opener. I hope New Mexico gives Gonzales all the time he needs to turn that thing around. He's the right guy for the job.