April 14, 2012

Pokes Come Out Physical In Scrimmage

For head coach Dave Christensen you couldn't have asked for much more in a scrimmage than what he saw on Wednesday in War Memorial Stadium. After the defense took an early lead, the offense fought back to tie the scrimmage at 63-63 and force a one-play, sudden death situation to conclude the scrimmage.

Sudden death began at the defense's own two-yard line. Before the final play could be run, the offense was called for a false start, moving the ball back to the seven-yard line.

The Cowboy defenders then tackled running back Kody Sutton on a screen pass at the one-yard line on the final play, and the defense was awarded the tie-breaking one point to win 64-63.

"It's great to see our kids compete," said Christensen. "The offense got behind by quite a ways early on, then came back and tied it up. We put it fourth down and two on the two-yard line to see who was going to win it all. We learned a tough lesson there -- don't get a penalty on fourth and two. The offense had seven yards to go -- they got six, and the defense came out on top."

Christensen saw a silver lining in where the scrimmage ended on Wednesday afternoon.

"From my standpoint, the best situation is for it to be tied at the end. That means we did good things on both sides," said Christensen. "I think offensively, we're making some progress, but the defense has certainly dominated through most of spring, which is exciting. You want your defense to be strong in the spring, and our offense will come along when we get some guys back."

The Cowboys appear headed the direction as a more physical team in Christensen's fourth year at Wyoming that bolds well for the upcoming season.

"I thought it probably was one of the most physical practices that we've had since I've been here," said Christensen. "That's exciting, and it (the physical play) is all over the field -- a lot of good things from the scrimmage today. Obviously, there's some things we need to get corrected. We feel good coming out of it, and I'm anxious to see the video and evaluate where we're at."

Having also praised his team for physical play in their first scrimmage a week ago, Christensen was asked what he attributes to the increased physical play.

"It's a physical sport, and you have to have guys who want to strike people," said Christensen. "If you don't have guys like that, it's difficult to have a physical football team. We've got a number of guys competing, who understand that and who want to play in games. They know that they've got to show that in the scrimmages, and they certainly did today."

Christensen was also pleased with the offense's performance as the scrimmage progressed.

"Absolutely, they were really struggling early on, but that has a lot to due with the maturity of our defense over our offense," said the head coach. "We've got a lot of experienced guys there (on the defense). But I thought we started blocking better at the end, and started throwing the ball better. It was encouraging to see the offense make some plays at the end."

The Cowboys do have areas to continue to work to improve entering the final ten days of spring drills.

"As you know in this business, if one thing is encouraging another is discouraging. We (the defense) left too many guys wide open. We can't do that," said Christensen. "We've got to play tighter coverage. When it breaks down, you've got to stay with receivers. I'm a little disappointed in that."

One of those receivers who got himself open in Wednesday's scrimmage was sophomore Trey Norman. Norman caught five passes for 47 yards, including touchdown receptions of eight and nine yards on passes thrown by junior quarterback Colby Kirkegaard.

"Trey (Norman) had a nice day," said Christensen. "Trey probably needed a redshirt year last year, but we just didn't have the luxury of doing that. I had to play him probably before he was ready to, but it's helped him now because he's been in the heat of the battle."

Kirkegaard once again started a little slow, throwing two interceptions in his first 14 pass attempts, but from that point forward he completed 22 of his final 34 attempts (64.7 percent) for 153 yards and four touchdowns.

The defense forced three turnovers, all on interceptions, including a 42-yard interception return for a touchdown by sophomore cornerback Blair Burns. Burns interception off Kirkegaard came two series after redshirt freshman linebacker Zack Berg also intercepted Kirkegaard and returned it 18 yards.

The third interception by the defense was made by junior safety Andrew Meredith, who picked off sophomore quarterback Josh Smith and returned it 14 yards.

The defense also recorded five sacks for 28 yards, and were credited with 13 tackles for loss of 44 yards. The 13 tackles for loss resulted in the Cowboy rushing attack accounting for only 91 yards on 44 carries.

For the second straight scrimmage, junior wide receiver Robert Herron led all receivers in receptions. He had six catches for 42 yards.

Senior wide receiver James Caraway led the Pokes in receiving yards with 54, including the longest play of the day on a 43-yard reception.

Christensen was asked to comment on the improvement of sophomore place-kicker Daniel Sullivan this spring.

"I told our team hopefully, knock on wood, that we have that kicking issue taken care of," said Christensen. "He (Daniel Sullivan) has been extremely solid, and we kicked into the wind and with the wind today and he was pretty accurate both ways. I'm really excited about the progress he's made."

True freshman punter Tim Gleeson averaged 41.8 yards on four punts. His long was a 57-yard punt.

"We probably won't do any more live tacking until the Spring Game," said Christensen. "We got quite a few plays in today. It was a pretty extensive scrimmage. Now we need to fine tune some fundamentals, continue to get some scheme work in. We'll practice a little bit on Friday in shoulder pads."

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