Evans Has Waited Long Enough, Ready for Return to Cowboys Backfield
LARAMIE – For three years, Nico Evans was the good soldier.
He was “the other” running back in the Cowboys offense, the guy who got the call on third and long to go into the game and provided extra protection for the quarterback.
He never complained, even though he appeared in more games in those three seasons (37) than he had carries (36).
Finally, he was given his chance to be No. 1 on the depth chart this season, and he made a strong first impression. In the season-opening win at New Mexico State, Evans rushed for 190 yards. In the second game of the season, against Washington State, he was reaffirming his status. On the fifth play of the second half, with the Cowboys holding a 16-13 lead, with Evans having already rushed for a net of 89 yards, including a touchdown, Evans suffered a rib injury.
His season was put on hold.
Saturday, against Boise State, however, Evans will be back on the field, looking to resume where he left off before being sidelined not only for the bulk of the second half against Washington State, but the Cowboys games against Missouri and Wofford.
“I had been waiting on this moment for a long time,” said the 5-foot-9, 211-pound native of Los Angeles. “Just being able to play a game-and-a-half and having to take a step back was pretty tough, so I hope to go right back to where I was starting this game.”
So, do the Cowboys.
Evans gave them an anticipation of creating the balanced offense that coach Craig Bohl and his staff desire with those 279 yards he gained before his injury. It was missing a year ago, after Brian Hill opted to pass up his senior year and go to the NFL early.
In 2017, the Cowboys’ three running backs combined for 993 yards – 493 for Trey Woods (now a defensive end), 481 for Kellen Overstreet (who left the team because of injuries) and 19 yards for Evans.
That left the burden for the offense on the shoulders of Josh Allen, and underscores why, with Allen out, the Cowboys lost those final two regular season games, including a disappointing loss in the final regular-season game at San Jose State.
This year, the running game must be a bigger part of the plan because instead of Allen, who was the seventh player taken in the NFL draft and is now the starting quarterback for the Buffalo Bills, the Cowboys offense is in the hands of redshirt freshman Tyler Vander Waal.
And that added to Evans struggles watching from the sideline.
“It's been extremely tough being on the sidelines and knowing that there's not much you can do in order to help the team win beside being a vocal leader,” he said. “As a football player, you just want to get out there and play and I'm no different. I just wanted to get out there. So being able to get out there this week has been huge for me.”
The Cowboys are high on Vander Waal’s potential, but there is the experience factor, and the Cowboys don’t want to overload him.
The indoctrination of Vander Waal, however, could be sped up after the 14-10 win against Wofford on Sept. 15, the last game the Cowboys played. With Wofford scoring on the fifth play of the fourth quarter to take a 14-10 lead, Vander Waal became a focal point in rallying the Cowboys to a 17-14 victory, showing a calmness and focus belying his inexperience.
He appeared to be taking the Cowboys on a go-ahead drive when on second-and-two from the Wofford 16, he was blindside as he went to pass, and Wofford’s Western Rountree not only intercepted the ball, but returned it to the Wofford 31.
The Cowboys forced Wofford to punt, and with 1:57 left on the clock, and no timeouts, Vander Wall took the Cowboys on an 80-yard scoring drive, capped off by a nine-yard touchdown pass to Raghib Ismail, Jr., with 17 seconds to play.
“In football, sometimes there are certain drives, certain plays, where you can see a player grow up,” said Evans. “And that drive, right there, I saw Tyler mature incredibly. It was good to see. I feel like now, the rest of the season, our passing game is going to get better and better.”
With the emergence of Vander Waal and the return of Evans, the Cowboys can at least feel they will face 25th-ranked Boise State with offensive options that could be the framework for an upset.
It’s not like the Broncs will present many surprises.
“We've seen them every year and let's just say, they're a physical team,” said Hall. “They play hard and they do a lot of interesting things with their defensive line in terms of movement, so it's going to be a challenge, but I really think this team is up for it.”
The Cowboys did, after all, upset Boise State in Laramie two years ago, and wound up the No. 1 team in the MW Mountain Division. And the Cowboys led 14-10 going into the fourth quarter at Boise a year ago but lost 24-14.