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Gagliardi column: Still a loss, but a different feel

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Posted: Sunday, September 1, 2013 8:00 am

The result was the same, but the feeling was much different.

The University of Wyoming football team lost its season-opener 37-34 at No. 18 Nebraska on Saturday night in front of 91,185 fans at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Neb.

It was the 12th consecutive loss to a nationally-ranked team under coach Dave Christensen. It was expected the Cowboys would lose, but most odds makers and experts thought it would be by four touchdowns — or more.

There were similar defensive shortcomings for UW than in past games against such big-name and nationally-ranked squads. It allowed 375 rushing yards, 530 total yards and 9 of 17 third-down conversions.

Whether it was by three or 30 points, the end result is the same for UW: a loss.

“There’s not one happy person that locker room because they know they could have won the football game,” Christensen said. “Nebraska made the plays and we didn’t.”

Junior quarterback Brett Smith threw for 383 yards and four touchdowns, and ran for 92 yards. But he didn’t want to show his disappointment to the UW band and fans who cheered the team as they left the field; he kept his face down and around his shoulder pads and jersey.

But there was a positive vibe coming from Christensen and many of the players afterwards. That’s because, despite its shortcomings, UW had a chance to tie or win the game at the end. That’s never been the case in the past against an opponent of this caliber.

UW has followed a similar pattern in some of its games against nationally-ranked nonconference foes: play well early, but eventually wear down and succumb to the physicality and talent of the opponent.

That happened in 2010 in a 34-7 home loss to Texas, in 2011 in a 38-14 loss to No. 9 Nebraska and last season in a 37-17 loss at No. 15 Texas.

It looked like it would be that way in this game.

The Cowboys grabbed a 14-10 lead early in the second quarter after a 6-yard run by sophomore running back Shaun Wick.

But Nebraska started to impose its will, and scored four touchdowns on four of its next five offensive possessions, including three straight to start the third quarter. The Cornhuskers led 31-14 with just over four minutes left in the third, and 37-21 with 9:40 to play.

Most here assumed the route was on and UW had no fight left.


An interception by junior cornerback Blair Burns, following the offense’s second turnover of the game gave the team new life. Two pass plays from Smith to junior receiver Jalen Claiborne later and the Nebraska’s lead was cut to 37-27.

Senior safety Marqueston Huff, who led UW with 18 tackles but also struggled at times in the game, stripped and recovered the ball from Nebraska senior quarterback Taylor Martinez on a fourth-and-1 play from the UW 39-yard line.

Smith’s fourth touchdown pass of the night — a 47-yarder to senior receiver Robert Herron — cut the lead to 37-34 with 1:31 to play.

UW’s couldn’t recover an onside kick, but the tired and worn out defense came up with one more stop as it forced Nebraska to a three-and-out and a punt.

Unfortunately, time ran out for UW’s rally (two holding penalties on that final drive also didn’t help). However, one sports writer who covers Nebraska commented at press row after the game that “if Wyoming had more time on the clock, they’d probably tie the game.”

Maybe, maybe not. But this was not the typical UW team people have seen in games like this.

“It showed us that we are willing to fight and not give up on a game,” Huff said. “We got down, they made a couple of big plays, but we somehow scratched our way back in the game.”

Will this be how UW has to win games this season: outscore teams and hope its defense makes enough plays? It could be, but to judge this defense against one of the nation’s best offenses in Nebraska — that is bigger, deeper and more physical than UW’s defense — is not the best gauge.

The fact the defense forced a couple of turnovers late to give it a chance to win is encouraging. But make no mistake, it still has to be better against the run and on third down.

How about the offense that rolled up 602 yards of total offense. Nebraska may not have the nation’s best defense, but those numbers are impressive no matter what.

Heck, if a couple of plays are different or change for UW maybe it wins this game. Smith’s lone interception in the first half resulted in a Nebraska touchdown. And on that play, he had a receiver wide open not far from the receiver he tried to throw it to.

UW didn’t try to score late in the first half near mid-field. Christensen said he wanted to get into the locker room at that point and give his team a chance to be close in the fourth quarter. He didn’t want to roll the dice with a chance of a turnover.

In the third quarter, Christensen opted for a 50-yard field-goal attempt on fourth-and-5 instead of going for it. He had confidence in junior kicker Stuart Williams, who had made them throughout fall camp. Stuart missed wide-right.

A trick play, called by Christensen, where Smith threw a lateral to junior receiver Trey Norman and he threw in an interception, ended a drive deep in Nebraska territory in the fourth quarter. Christensen, who made his UW debut calling the offensive plays, put the blame on himself.

Any of those plays change, does UW pull the big upset?

You’ve got to love the “what if” game.

Moral victories don’t count, but one gets the perception UW left Lincoln feeling as good as a team can that lost a game.

How that translates into the rest of the season will be interesting to see. Can UW make improvements, but also come out with the same drive and determination it did here against Nebraska as with the home-opener this coming Saturday against Idaho?

If UW shows a lot of what it did in this game, there is a good chance that many of its future games will have a similar feeling and result — meaning victories.

“Shoot, it is a lot of fun being around this team,” Christensen said. “It is going to be a fun year for them.”

Robert Gagliardi is the senior editor of WyoSports. Call him at 633-3130 or email him at For more on Wyoming and Mountain West sports go to and, and follow him on Twitter: @rpgagliardi, @wyosports.

UW Report Card

Offense B: There was 602 yards of total offense, and an average of 8.1 yards per play. Junior quarterback Brett Smith threw for 383 yards and four touchdowns, and the run game nearly had two 100-yard rushers. Two interceptions prevented the grade from being higher.

Defense C+: Yes, the Cowboys allowed 530 yards of total offense, 375 rushing yards and 9 of 17 third-down conversions — similar issues that plagued them last season. But an interception and a fumble recovery late gave UW a chance to win or tie the game. That has to count for something against a very good Nebraska offense.

Special teams C-: A missed 50-yard field goal in the third quarter could have been the difference, although there were several other plays that could have made a difference for UW. Nebraska averaged 27.3 yards per kickoff return, and UW averaged only 17.7. True freshman Ethan Wood averaged 52.2 yards per punt, and 42.2 net yards. Pretty good for his debut.

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1 comment:

  • hixinstix posted at 3:00 pm on Sun, Sep 1, 2013.

    hixinstix Posts: 120

    Loved the trick play call! It certainly didn't work out well, but I like the guts and moxie behind the decision. Great to see the Pokes finally go outside the box and do something different. I hope they don't let this particular plays result from being even more gutsy in the future. Pull one or two of these each game and have a little fun!


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