Vigen Works to Keep Vander Waal Looking Forward, Getting Better

As the offensive coordinator of the Wyoming Cowboys, Brent Vigen’s challenge is the evolution of redshirt freshman Tyler Vander Waal into an impact quarterback.

It’s not smooth sailing, by any means.

It is, however, a challenge that Vigen embraces.

Vander Waal is ranked 100th among Division I quarterbacks, and a Cowboys’ team that the last two years, with first-round draft pick Josh Allen at quarterback, made back-to-back bowl appearances for the third time in school history and first time since the Holiday Bowl (1987-88), is on shaky ground of even being bowl eligible this year.

The Cowboys go into Saturday’s homecoming game against Utah State with a 2-5 record.

Now, it’s not all because of Vander Waal. There have been missed blocks and dropped catches, and the defense has had enough problems that after having four players selected to the MW pre-season All-Defensive team, only defensive end Carl Granderson was selected this week for the mid-season squad.

But it is Vander Waal, by nature of being a quarterback, who is the focus of a disappointed fan base, and who has to battle his own doubts given the struggles so far this season.

That is where Vigen faces a challenge, keeping Vander Waal looking ahead and being positive.

“You are trying to grow a young quarterback,” said Vigen. “Growth comes because of positive experiences. By and large the positive and negative aspect of our game is if you win or lose.

“It’s about finding the positive, trying to bounce back, trying to grow thicker skin, trying to grow resiliency are the things you are trying to do. … It’s not the first time I have been in this situation.”

Vigen thinks back to the fall of 2010, when Cowboys head coach Craig Bohl was the head man at North Dakota State, and Vigen was the offensive coordinator. Coming off a 3-8 season in North Dakota State’s first year of eligibility for the Division I-A playoffs, the decision was made to give a chance to a redshirt freshman named Brock Jensen.

“We had a back and forth from a second-year guy to Brock,” said Vigen. “It wasn’t all roses. He broke his collarbone that season. We won a few. We lost a few. He came back off the collarbone. We lost a game. We won a game.”

In the end, though, North Dakota State somehow found itself in the FCS playoffs, and won the first two games, getting eliminated in the quarterfinals on a controversial play in which it was ruled that Jensen fumbled inside the five, although witnesses swear he crossed the goal line with the ball.

The next year, North Dakota State, with the sophomore Jensen calling signals, won the first of five consecutive FCS Championships.

“Brock really grew from that,” said Vigen. “I do think when you are playing, whether it’s in college or the NFL, its part of the deal. There will be ups and downs. The strong survive. It’s been tested over time. If you make it out of it those experiences galvanize what you become down the road.”

The key with Vander Waal is keeping him looking ahead, working to get better, and avoid being dragged down by the struggles.

“That’s where I say, you have to grow thick skin,” said Vigen. “But we have to see positives, too. It can’t just be things you make up. We have to see growth. You have to appreciate the opponents you are going against, but at the same time we need to see steps being taken. Blocking out the outside noise as a young player can be difficult, but at some point you say, `The heck with it.’ We are doing everything we can to keep Tyler moving forward.”

The schedule has been a challenge. In between a season-opener against New Mexico State and a visit to Laramie by FCS Wofford, which account for the two wins, came games against Power 5 Washington State and Missouri. And the start of the conference season has been challenging. On Saturday, the Cowboys host Utah State in which will be the fourth MW game, and will be the fourth time the Cowboys have played a team that is either first or second in its MW division.

There were glimpses of growth in last Saturday’s 27-3 loss at San Jose State, although the result was the same.

“He didn’t take a sack after five in Hawaii (the week before),” said Vigen. “He had a couple positive runs, particularly on third down. You try and grab those things, and sink his teeth into it, but you also make him aware of things that need to change.

“In particularly, I think we had five makeable first downs (on third down plays) in the first half. Two (failures) were on receivers. Two were on Tyler. One was on the offensive line. From his point of view, `Let’s fix those two.’ We have to find a way to get that done. That (third down situation) is the biggest stat that continues to haunt us.”

It’s all a part of the challenge of developing a young quarterback.

Vigen’s been there before, at North Dakota State, with Jensen and a walk-on name of Carson Wentz, and even at Wyoming, where he was a part of the development of Josh Allen, who had only one coach, Bohl, respond out of the 100 he sent emails and film clips, and actually had his first year of competition cut short with a broken collarbone.

Jensen didn’t give up on himself, and neither did Wentz and Allen.

Vigen wants to see Vander Waal take that step forward, too.

Top 10 Passing Quarterbacks Division I

# Player Cl G Pass Att Pass Com Int Pass TD Pass Yds Avg
1 Gardner Minshew II, Washington St. (Pac-12) Sr. 6 313 215 4 19 2,422 403.7
2 Alan Bowman, Texas Tech (Big 12) Fr. 5 199 138 3 11 1,680 336
3 Cole McDonald, Hawaii (MWC) So. 7 278 178 3 26 2,348 335.4
4 Dwayne Haskins, Ohio St. (Big Ten) Jr. 7 242 175 4 28 2,331 333
5 Jordan Ta'amu, Ole Miss (SEC) Sr. 7 222 146 5 15 2,298 328.3
6 Ryan Finley, NC State (ACC) Sr. 5 187 130 3 10 1,621 324.2
7 Will Grier, West Virginia (Big 12) Sr. 6 192 137 7 22 1,919 319.8
8 Jack Abraham, Southern Miss. (C-USA) Jr. 5 193 136 6 12 1,581 316.2
9 Mason Fine, North Texas (C-USA) Jr. 7 269 174 1 16 2,210 315.7
10 Brett Rypien, Boise St. (MWC) Sr. 6 233 157 5 14 1,858 309.7
100 Tyler Vander Waal, Wyoming (MWC) So. 7 184 95 3 3 1,006 143.7

The Cowboys have the third lowest offensive total per game in Division I, and the lowest in the MW. San Jose State, which plays the Cowboys in Laramie on Nov. 3, is the seventh lowest, averaging 312 yards, whichis 29.7 yards per game more than the Cowboys. Surprisingly, BYU, long known for it’s offense, ranked as the 10th least productive offense at 330 yards a game.

10 Lowest Rated Division I Offenses

Rank Team G W-L Plays YDS Yds/Play Off TDs YPG
129 UTSA (C-USA) 7 3-4 467 1,789 3.83 11 255.6
128 Rutgers (Big Ten) 7 1-6 473 1,971 4.17 11 281.6
127 Wyoming (MWC) 7 2-5 429 1,976 4.61 10 282.3
126 Central Mich. (MAC) 7 1-6 460 2,007 4.36 13 286.7
125 Northern Ill. (MAC) 7 3-Apr 515 2,097 4.07 16 299.6
124 Akron (MAC) 5 2-3 317 1,542 4.86 9 308.4
123 San Jose St. (MWC) 6 0-6 421 1,872 4.45 16 312
122 UTEP (C-USA) 6 0-6 388 1,894 4.88 12 315.7
121 Louisville (ACC) 7 2-5 458 2,305 5.03 17 329.3
120 BYU (FBS Independent) 7 4-3 450 2,310 5.13 22 330
Tracy RingolsbyComment