LARAMIE – Following Friday’s emotional 17-7 win over Colorado State, University of Wyoming football coach Craig Bohl is well aware of the challenge his team has on its hands this weekend. And it isn’t just because the next opponent on the schedule is among the hottest teams in the country.
When the Cowboys (7-4 overall, 4-3 Mountain West) travel to Colorado Springs to take on Air Force (9-2, 6-1) Saturday in their regular-season finale, they will not only be facing a team that has won six games in a row; UW will also be trying to avoid the potential letdown factor that often comes after an exhausting game against an archrival.
Wyoming has won its last three matchups with Air Force, though the Falcons lead the overall series 28-26-3.
“That’s always a concern, especially when you’re dealing with college players. Our locker room was a huge celebration,” Bohl said. “You go, ‘OK, how are you going to respond the next week?’ … We’re anticipating they’ll be really engaged.”
Air Force has rebounded from consecutive 5-7 campaigns and is on the verge of double-digit wins for the first time since 2016 and a top-25 ranking. The Falcons, as always, run their triple-option offense to perfection, averaging nearly 36 points per game. This year’s wrinkle, however, is the addition of a legitimate passer under center.
Quarterback Donald Hammond III has completed just 47 passes this season, but 12 of them have gone for touchdowns. Against New Mexico last weekend, Hammond completed nine of 10 passes for 327 yards and four touchdowns.
“He throws it better than you’d like an option guy to do it,” UW defensive coordinator Jake Dickert said. “I wouldn’t doubt he has one of the strongest arms in the country.”
Add in an always prolific rushing attack and a defense surrendering just 21 points per game, and Bohl believes this might be the best Air Force team he’s seen in his six years in Laramie.
“(It’s the) most complete Air Force team that we’ve faced since I‘ve been the football coach. They score a lot of points, and they move the ball,” Bohl said. “Their win-loss record is not by chance.”
Wyoming, meanwhile, has its own situation to monitor under center. True freshman quarterback Levi Williams saw his first playing time of the season against Colorado State in a rotation with redshirt sophomore starter Tyler Vander Waal. Williams completed both of his pass attempts against the Rams while shouldering some of the rushing load from redshirt sophomore running back Xazavian Valladay, rushing for 49 yards on 13 carries. Williams also scored his first career touchdown on a sneak from the 1-yard line.
The plan was to always get both quarterbacks involved, Bohl said. Vander Waal suffered an ankle injury during the game, but returned to action; Bohl said Vander Waal was “given the green light to go” during the game and would practice in full pads Monday. Bohl said there were no significant injuries to report.
“Honestly, I didn’t really know (how much I would play),” Williams said. “I was just happy for the opportunity and taking advantage of what I got.”
To have his first collegiate action be against Wyoming’s biggest rival was a unique experience, Williams said. Coming from Texas, it was also one of the colder games he had ever played in, with temperatures reaching single digits. All things considered, things went pretty well, in his eyes.
“It was awesome. I thought I was going to be a little bit more nervous than I was. But I feel like I’ve been prepared all week and feel like they prepared me for the situation. I didn’t feel like I had any doubts in my mind,” Williams said. “So, I was excited to get out there, get to play on the big stage against the Colorado State Rams. So it’s really exciting.”
Wilson named Butkus Award finalist
Redshirt senior linebacker Logan Wilson was named one of the six finalists for the Butkus Award, which is given annually to the top linebacker in college football. Wilson, who has 88 total tackles, four interceptions and seven passes defended this season, is the only finalist from a non-Power 5 program. The other finalists are Zack Baun (Wisconsin), Jordyn Brooks (Texas Tech), Micah Parsons (Penn State), Isaiah Simmons (Clemson) and Evan Weaver (California).
A player from a non-Power 5 conference has never won the Butkus Award, which was first awarded in 1985 to Oklahoma’s Brian Bosworth. Last year’s winner was LSU’s Devin White, who was then selected with the fifth pick of the 2019 NFL Draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“It’s special on and off the field. It’s a lot of hard work that goes into that stuff. I always say individual achievements are through team accomplishments. If our defense was terrible, he wouldn’t be on there, either,” Dickert said. “I’m just happy that he’s finally gotten his recognition.”