TUCSON, Ariz. – It’ll be 249 days until the Wyoming football team takes the field against Weber State in its 2020 season opener. But if Tuesday’s 38-17 Arizona Bowl victory over Georgia State was any indication of things to come, next season could be a fun one for the Cowboys.
A year ago, the Cowboys spent bowl season at home, left out of the party following a 6-6 season where they were eligible for the postseason but did not get an invite. That didn’t sit well, UW head coach Craig Bohl has said on several occasions. A bowl win on New Year’s Eve, on the other hand, is a momentum-builder going forward.
“Nothing spells success like some success. And I think it sends a message to the younger players, if you work hard, stay focused and believe in the system, believe in what the coaches are telling you, that makes a difference,” Bohl said. “Last year at this time, we were bowl eligible and didn’t get selected. And so that was a real point of emphasis. And it was important for us to finish the year off strong. I think we had some great wins this year, but … you always remember your last win. And so this was a great, great capstone to that season.”
The Cowboys will lose crucial seniors like All-American linebacker Logan Wilson, Arizona Bowl defensive MVP Alijah Halliburton and receivers Austin Conway and Rocket Ismail Jr. But the 2020 Pokes will be stacked along both the offensive and defensive lines and, perhaps most importantly, in the backfield, where freshman quarterback Levi Williams and redshirt freshman Sean Chambers will both return along with redshirt sophomore running back Xazavian Valladay.
That being said, Bohl isn’t taking anything for granted heading into the offseason.
“We need to stay hungry. There’s times that you feel, ‘Well, we have all these pieces in place,’ but sometimes those are the things that come back and bite you in the butt,” Bohl said. “And that’s going to be a big chore for me, as their head football coach, make sure our culture stays hungry and focused, that we continue to take another step forward. We’ve got some unfinished business to do in our league and we’re excited about next year already.”
UW shows respect for Georgia State’s QB
Georgia State senior Dan Ellington entered Tuesday’s game having already torn his ACL in November. Despite that, the signal caller hadn’t missed a game and started the Arizona Bowl. It appeared that Ellington’s knee gave out in the first half, when he limped off the field toward the sideline and his backup entered in his place.
But Ellington missed just two snaps before reentering the game in a performance that Halliburton was at a loss for words for.
“He’s a tough son of a gun,” Halliburton said. “But he was making a lot of great plays, especially at the beginning of the game, and had a lot of big runs … And just credit to him, his toughness.”
Immediately after Halliburton sang Ellington’s praises, Bohl shared similar sentiments.
“Sometimes you hear that some bowl games are somewhat meaningless,” Bohl said. “Tell that to that guy that this was meaningless.”
Georgia State head coach Shawn Elliott got emotional when discussing the senior quarterback’s effort and legacy. The Panthers were 2-10 a season ago but, due in large part to the play of Ellington, made it to the third bowl game in the program’s 10 seasons.
“You can talk about courage. You talk about leadership. You talk about heart and effort and enthusiasm. You talk about putting a program on your back,” Elliott said. “I can write a book on each and every (senior) and what they meant to the program – great leaders … I’m very proud of those guys. I’ll never forget what they’ve done for us.”
Wilson finishes historic career
Wilson’s storied UW career came to an end Tuesday night, as the All-American capped off his career with 421 tackles, including three-straight 100-tackle seasons.
Wilson, a Casper native, is one of 21 Wyoming-born players on the 2019 roster. Every one of Bohl’s seven recruiting classes has included a Wyoming native. That isn’t by accident.
“When I first got the job, some people and some coaches said that you couldn’t win with Wyoming players. I say we can’t win without them,” Bohl said. “Logan has worked really hard to develop his skill set. And I think he’s going to continue to play football at the next level. I guess it’s a refreshing example for a lot of our youngsters that are in the state of Wyoming that you, too, can have an opportunity. Maybe you’re not going to come in and do the things that Logan’s done, but we’re always going to look for players within the state.”