Sep. 22—LARAMIE — After a rocky start to 2022, the University of Wyoming offense appears to be making progress each week as the season goes along.
The Cowboys mustered just 212 total yards, including only 30 yards through the air, while being held out of the end zone in a season-opening blowout loss to Illinois. Since then, however, this group has been a source of optimism amid a three-game winning streak.
UW is averaging 30 points and 344.7 yards per game over the past three games, which would rank third and fourth in the Mountain West, respectively, if not for its Week Zero stumble.
Most recently, the Cowboys out-gained the nation's top rushing attack 180-171 in a 17-14 win over previously undefeated Air Force, while junior quarterback Andrew Peasley threw for 162 yards with a touchdown and an interception on 78.3% passing. UW coach Craig Bohl says the Pokes' ability to get off to a strong start — they drove 73 yards on 15 plays and tacked on a field goal on the opening drive of the game, and led 10-0 at halftime — was key to their success.
"What I thought was really impressive was how we started the game out," Bohl said. "The first drive was almost an eight-minute drive. There was probably a lot of debate from people out in the peanut gallery whether we should've kicked the field goal or gone for a touchdown ... I knew every point was going to count, and where we were at on the field, we took the three (points) and took the profit. I think that was a wise decision as the game played out.
"The first half our defense played 26 plays. That's really impressive, and that came down to us getting off the field, then also, the offense holding the football. We flipped the script on them, and I think that had a big, big impact."
The progress of Peasley, who transferred in from Utah State this off-season, has been an integral part of the Cowboys' turnaround.
He was just 5 of 20 passing for 30 yards with an interception against Illinois. However, he's completed 68.7% of his passes since then, with three touchdowns, one interception and an average of 187.3 yards per game and 6.8 yards per attempt.
Even after an efficient showing against Air Force, Peasley still sees room for growth.
"Just film during the week, and seeing what exactly they are doing," Peasley said of what's driven his improvement. "Air Force was a pretty base defense, so the keys, for me, were pretty easy to see when they were bringing their special pressures and whatnot. I think that helped me a lot to just get easy completions.
"Obviously, I had an interception, which, if I could go back, I wouldn't throw it, because the safety played it pretty well. For me, there is a lot to learn on. I'd rather be 85% than 78%. That's just kind of how I look at it."
Peasley also notes that the growing chemistry of an offensive unit that lost seven starters from last year has played a significant role in the Cowboys' recent progress.
"A lot of dudes don't have a lot of experience, me included with this team, so it was just getting a feel for our offense," he said. "Now, we can get rolling."
Defensive end was a source of uncertainty for the Cowboys entering the season. Already ushering in two new starters, the position group lost starter Sabastian Harsh to a season-ending injury late in training camp.
There were concerns in the loss to Illinois, as the Pokes failed to record a sack, while getting gashed for 260 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. They've since taken notable steps forward, though.
In addition to holding Air Force to 337.5 rushing yards below its season average, the Cowboys' 10 sacks over the past three weeks are the most in the MW during this span.
"We really hold ourselves accountable, and we have a pretty good chemistry with me, Braden (Siders) and DeVonne (Harris)," redshirt freshman defensive end Oluwaseyi Omotosho said. "Even (Sabastian) still comes to our meetings, and we all just have a really good chemistry.
"(Defensive ends coach Marty English) tells us specifically what we need to work on, and he's a really cool coach. I feel like, with him, we've all been forced to pick it up — especially with our younger group. We've all been forced to pick up a lot of tips and things to help us be better. Another thing, too, is I think a feeling of uncertainty made us have to step it up a little more. We didn't know what to expect, so I think that helped a lot."
Quieting the crowd
While none of the Cowboys playing in Saturday's game at Brigham Young were on the team for their 2016 Poinsettia Bowl matchup with the Cougars, Peasley does have a taste of what to expect in Provo, Utah.
Peasley redshirted in 2018, when Utah State went on the road and rolled over BYU 45-20, but he did get a feel for how to neutralize what is typically a tough environment for opposing teams. The Aggies jumped out to a 21-point lead in that game and never looked back.
"It was a pretty packed crowd," Peasley said. "We got a jump on them pretty quick, and then it was pretty quiet. That would be kind of my message. Obviously, they're a good football team.
"I think they have the most returners in college football, so they're experienced, they know what they're doing, and they have home crowd advantage. But at the end of the day, if we execute and play to our capability, I think we'll be just fine."
Being a heavy underdog didn't deter the Cowboys against Air Force, which entered last week's game as 17-point favorites. They'll be looking for a similar result on Saturday.
UW ranges between a 21 1/2 and 22 1/2 -point underdog, depending on the sportsbook. The over-under for the game varies, being set at either 49 1/2 or 50 points.
Josh Criswell covers the University of Wyoming for WyoSports. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 307-755-3325. Follow him on Twitter at @criswell_sports.