Three weeks ago, the University of Wyoming football team had six tight ends, including three seniors who combined to play in 98 games with 30 starts.
This week, that number is two, with only one who has played in a college game.
Fifth-year UW coach Craig Bohl said Monday senior tight end Josh Harshman will likely miss a significant amount of time after suffering a knee injury during last Saturday’s 40-13 loss at Missouri.
Senior tight end Austin Fort (knee) was injured during the opener at New Mexico State and is doubtful for Saturday’s home game with Wofford. A pair of redshirt freshmen — Nate Weinman and walk-on Mason Keeler — missed the Missouri game with injuries. UW tight ends and fullbacks coach Mike Bath said Monday there is a chance Weinman could return this week, but Keeler is out.
Senior Tyree Mayfield is the only healthy tight end with playing experience, which includes 42 career games. UW will get true freshman Jackson Marcotte ready to play. However, Marcotte missed his senior season in Mt. Carmel, Illinois, with an injury.
“We’re in a little pinch right now,” Bohl said.
Bath said there will be a fine line this week in practice between getting Mayfield the reps he needs and keeping him healthy. Bath also said UW’s fullbacks could be used more.
Mayfield, Harshman and Fort have combined for 12 of UW’s 34 receptions through the first three games.
“It is a challenge, but we have to evolve, and I think we can fight our way through it,” UW associate head coach and offensive coordinator Brent Vigen said. “We should get (Fort and Weinman) back relatively soon. We will be back to a manageable level soon enough.”
Healthier at defensive end
Bohl was optimistic Monday the Cowboys may get senior Kevin Prosser and sophomore Trey Woods back at defensive end from undisclosed injuries.
Junior Josiah Hall (knee) is expected to miss his third consecutive game.
UW played redshirt freshman Victor Jones and true freshman Solomon Byrd as backups behind senior Carl Granderson and sophomore Garrett Crall at Missouri. Jones was recruited to UW as a defensive end, but was moved to defensive tackle during the offseason. Jones had four tackles against Missouri in about 25 snaps. Byrd had two tackles.
“(Jones) played pretty good, and (Byrd) got some good, eye-opening experiences,” defensive ends coach AJ Cooper said. “I’m very excited to see how those guys respond to that, what lessons they learned, and how will they continue to build and grow.”
Jones is listed as the backup behind Granderson this week.
Bohl said senior running back Nico Evans (ribs) is doubtful.
Evans didn’t play at Missouri after being injured early in the third quarter of the Sept. 1 home game with Washington State.
“Him resting last weekend will help, but those ribs were bruised pretty significantly, and sometimes that takes time,” Bohl said.
In less than two full games, Evans had 42 carries for 279 yards and three touchdowns.
True freshman Jevon Bigelow and redshirt freshman Xazavian Valladay will continue to get the bulk of the carries with Evans out. Bigelow had 18 carries for 56 yards and a touchdown at Missouri. Valladay had five carries for 35 yards, with a long of 23 yards.
UW’s first three opponents featured pass-oriented offenses, but Wofford runs the option. Defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Scottie Hazelton said the Terriers’ schemes have shown similarities to what the Cowboys have seen from Mountain West foes Air Force and New Mexico.
UW’s experience in preparing for those option offenses should help. Along with Air Force and New Mexico, UW played a third option-oriented team last season in Gardner-Webb. The Cowboys won all three of those games.
“I don’t think anybody really likes (playing against the option) because one missed assignment could result in a 60-yard touchdown,” UW senior free safety Marcus Epps said. “This is going to be a good week to hone in on our focus on every snap.
“We kind of struggled with that the last two games.”
UW lost those two games by a combined score of 81-32.
Senior free safety Marcus Epps started his 40th consecutive game for UW at Missouri, and has started in all 41 games he has played in for the Cowboys.
Wingard started his 41st straight game, and has started in 41 of the 42 games in his career.
Junior middle linebacker has started in all 30 games he’s played in.
Junior kicker Cooper Rothe has made all five of his field-goal attempts this season. He made a career-long 51-yarder midway through the third quarter at Missouri. He added another from 36 yards in the fourth quarter.
Rothe has made 20 of his past 23 field goals going back to last season, including his last 16 over that same time from less than 40 yards.