University of Wyoming wide receiver Raghib Ismail Jr. (right) runs with the ball as running back Titus Swen blocks during the game against the University of Idaho on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019, at War Memorial Stadium in Laramie. Wyoming defeated Idaho 21-16 to move to 3-0. Michael Cummo/Wyoming Tribune Eagle

They “Ride for the Brand,” but what brand are they?

Head-scratching and sluggish at times, yet exhilarating and dominant over stretches.

Three games into what’s become a wildly unpredictable and drama-filled season, the University of Wyoming has yet to brand an identity.

We’ve seen glimpses – good and bad – of what this team can be through the first three weeks of the season. UW starts slow, trails after the first quarter and somehow grabs the lead at halftime or in the second half. It then leans on a big play to pull away and hang on.

The Cowboys did so in the season opener against Missouri when they fended off a last-minute rally by dual-threat quarterback Kelly Bryant and Co.

They did so a week later in the sweltering heat at Texas State when defensive back Tyler Hall returned an interception for a touchdown in the third quarter to give the Cowboys their first lead of the game.

They did so Saturday afternoon in front of 28,814 – the largest crowd at War Memorial Stadium since they hosted Oregon in 2017 – when Louisville graduate transfer running back Trey Smith broke off an 80-yard touchdown run, and then the Cowboys made a defensive stand to secure the win.

“You can always work with the quality like that when you’ve got guys who care about each other and they’re always going to fight and scrap until the last minute,” senior linebacker and Casper product Logan Wilson said. “Obviously, we need to start better still. But when you’ve got guys that work like that and care about each other and want to be better, I think that’s easy as a player, as a lead captain and as coaches to work with.”

True, better starts likely would do everyone good.

But can they escape it and put it all together? They have shown flashes of it. The running game was, again, solid Saturday with 237 total yards and three scores.

The passing game is a work in progress. 

The defense came up big again with multiple stops against an aggressive and mobile quarterback in Idaho’s Mason Petrino, who did his part with 184 passing yards and though, to be fair, the Cowboys sacked him four times and broke up seven other pass attempts.

After the game, sixth year UW coach Craig Bohl sounded like a coach who had just gotten thumped. Judging by the way the Cowboys played – seven penalties for 97 yards and no takeaways – he had reason.

“It’s a mixed bag. Here, you know what our identity is?” Bohl said before holding three fingers up followed by a closed fist. “Three and O. OK? That’s what I’m going to say right now. I think we’ve got a mixed bag right now that we’ve got to sort out, and we’ve got to sort it out here in a pretty quick hurry.”

Saturday’s performance – wasn’t pretty. And Bohl and his players know that. The offense should get better, and the defense hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down. Yes, Idaho is in the Football Championship Subdivision – but, they can ball, no?

“The biggest thing was we got a ‘W’,” UW redshirt freshman quarterback Sean Chambers said. “Idaho, they’re not what their record shows. They played really hard. They came out here and fought.”

Re-read that first sentence. The win was the biggest thing. Sure, it was against an FCS opponent. But, at this point, who cares? UW is 3-0 for the first time since 2011. For those that don’t remember, UW went on to go to the New Mexico Bowl that season. More importantly, the Cowboys play for each other – the biggest positive any team can take away from any game.

Sure, there are things to correct. Lots, according to Bohl and his players.

The Cowboys may not have carved out a specific identity just yet, but they sure have got some strong pieces to build a solid foundation.

“The one thing we do have is heart,” Smith said. “If we get down, we’re going to come back at you stronger and it’s only going to get harder from there. These guys are the guys I want to go to war with.”

Tyler Poslosky is a writer for WyoSports. He can be reached at 307-633-3123 or by email at tposlosky@wyosports.net. Follow him on Twitter at @TylerPoslosky.

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