Cowboys Revival: It's All About a Team Effort
Nico Evans can’t hide the smile.
He became the 10th player in Cowboys history to rush for 1,000 yards in a season on Saturday afternoon against San Jose State, underscoring the transition he has made in his senior season from a blocking back to the man the Cowboys offense revolves around.
But more than that, the Cowboys won their second game in a row, and what a few weeks back seemed to be a dead issue — a third consecutive bowl trip for Wyoming — has suddenly become a focal point.
The Cowboys need wins in their final two games to get to 6-6 and be bowl eligible.
And they fully expect to get them.
“We got our swagger back,” Evans said of the Cowboys bounding from that 2-6 beginning in a season they thought they would be competing for a conference title. “We are a highly compettive team. Nobody likes to lose. And here we are.”
The offense has shown life since coach Craig Bohl and staff decided to forget about a redshirt for quartrerback Sean Chambers, inserted him into the second half of the loss to Utah State, and then started him in the back-to-back wins at Colorado State, and at home on Saturday against San Jose State.
And there is a renewed energy in the defense, which showed signs of a resurgence in the loss to Utah State, and has reinforced that in the wins against CSU and San Jose.
“It’s a good feeling,” said free safety Andrew Wingard. “We are back to grinding. We are imposing our will on the other team. We have two games to (win) to be bowl eligible.
“Like Nico said, the swagger is back. On the sidelines it feels just like a year ago, two years ago. We have that winning feeling. On defense we are jelling better. We aren’t caring anymore. We are just going out and playing.”
It’s a chicken or the egg scenario that is evolving.
It started in that 24-16 loss to Utah State, in which a team that has averaged 521 yards of offense in its eight games against teams other than the Cowboys, had only 11 first downs, 141 yards rushing and 53 yards passing. The Aggies never had a serious scoring drive. They scored touchdowns on a 99-yard kickoff return, a 59-yard touchdown run, and then on a three-yard drive, after an interception.
And it continued in the 34-21 win at Colorado State, in which the Cowboys went into the fourth quarter with a 27-7 lead. The Rams rushed only 20 yards in that game, and trailed 27-7 with 12 minutes to play.
Then came last Saturday’s win against San Jose State in which the Spartans, who are averaging 341 yards offense a game when they aren’t playing Wyoming, managed 241 yards total offense — 173 passing and 71 rushing.
Don’t, however, overlook the fact that Chambers assumed the quarterback role after Tyler Vander Waal threw an interception that set up a touchdown on the opening series of the second half against Utah State.
He’s provided a spark for the offense, keeping teams from becoming overly focused on Nico Evans, who has combined with Chambers to give the Rockies three consecutive games in which two offensive players have both surpassed 100 yards rushing.
All that adds up to the Cowboys regaining their swagger, even at a time when pre-season All-MWC defensive tackle Youhanna Ghaifan was indefinitely suspended prior to the Colorado State game after being charged with two misdemeanors involving hotel employees in Fort Collins, and two-time All-MWC defensive end Carl Granderson missed the game against San Jose State to attend the funeral of his aunt.
“It’s about the culture Coach (Craig) Bohl is building, it’s a Next Man Up,” said defensive back Andrew Wingard, who last week moved into the No. 2 spot all-time for tackles in the Mountain West. “Like Nico said, we have the swagger back. On the sidelines it’s the feeling of a year ago, that winning feeling.”
But then an offense that averaged 15.5 points in the first eight games of the season has scored 58 points in the back-to-back victories. A team that averaged 263 yards offense in its first eight games this season has combined for 882 yards the last two games.
“When the offense is moving the ball more (the defense) is not out there as much,” said Bohl. “The defensive line, the defensive backs, don’t play as many plays so they are fresh.”
And the defense is more focused on what needs to be done, instead of what the rest of the football world is thinking.
“We had to get back to what we do best,” said senior defensive end Kevin Prosser. “We were getting caught up in things like our rankings (in defensive starts) and what we were supposed to be this year after last year.
“We forgot what got us here. We just had to take a step back, and focus on getting the job done.”
And now the vision is clear. It has the Cowboys looking forward to the next two games, and a possible bowl berth.