Oct. 17—LARAMIE — With the University of Wyoming suffering its second consecutive loss to open Mountain West play, and first in shutout fashion in more than a decade, little was done to spur confidence Saturday at War Memorial Stadium.
The fans certainly were not inspired to believe, with a significant portion of the crowd streaming toward the exits with more than 10 minutes remaining in the Cowboys' 17-0 loss to Fresno State.
Despite all of this, though, defensive end Garrett Crall was plenty optimistic when it was his turn to speak during the postgame news conference.
The sixth-year senior says his faith in the Pokes' ability to turn the season around stems from the tight-knit bond they've developed. Now, the focus is simple: stay positive, keep working and go beat New Mexico next weekend.
"This is the tightest team, the most family-like team, the most loving team I've ever been around," Crall said. "I've been around a lot of guys and a lot of teams, but this is the closest team. When it hurts for fans and hurts for everyone, I can tell you how bad it hurts for all of us. We go out there and battle every week. We battle all summer and winter, so it's really frustrating for us.
"The great thing is we're going to come back and have great attitudes this week, we're going to go beat New Mexico and we're just going to keep going from there. At the end of the day, it's two losses that aren't fun. But we can still control what we can control, and that's to win out.
"We have every bit of a chance to do that, and we have the talent and the coaching and everything to go do that. We just have to control what we can control."
For a team that didn't shy away from stating its goal of bringing UW its first MW title all off-season, back-to-back losses to start league play might be deflating. As Crall is quick to note, the season is far from over.
Of the four teams ahead of the Pokes in the standings, three still remain on their schedule. The other, Air Force, has a conference loss of its own on its record.
"For me, it's just to keep approaching the week like we approach winter conditioning or fall camp," Crall said. "We set out these goals, and some guys are going to feel completely deflated. Well, the Mountain West is a good conference this year, and teams are going to fall. We can't hurt ourselves more, and that's what I have to preach. Just control what we can control and keep working every day ...
"We're going to face a tough stretch, and if we're playing our best football there, we're going to set ourselves up to still reach our goals. That's the most important thing. People on the outside are going to say, 'The season is over.' The season is not over.
"We just have to keep going at it, and I can tell you those guys are going to keep going at it. People are mad right now, but I know this team more than anyone, and guys are going to show up to play — I promise you."
The Cowboys certainly didn't have fortune on their side Saturday, something that was on full display in the opening minutes.
Junior safety Rome Weber appeared to make a third-down stop inside the 10-yard line early in the first quarter with a hard hit near the sideline. Upon replay review, though, Weber was called for targeting and tossed from the game — with Fresno State scoring its first touchdown on the next play.
UW's offense seemed to gain momentum when it got the ball back, driving 35 yards on six consecutive positive plays to reach the Fresno State 40-yard line. The Cowboys were then hit with a false start, however, which led to a third-and-11 from the Bulldogs' 35-yard line.
Even then, the Pokes were still on the fringe of sophomore kicker John Hoyland's range, before a controversial sack led to another scoreless possession for UW.
A pair of Fresno State pass rushers burst into the backfield and attempted to bring down junior quarterback Sean Chambers, but Chambers managed to spin away from the tacklers and break free. Unfortunately for UW, officials whistled the play dead in the backfield — preventing Chambers from potentially extending the drive, and at worst setting up a more makeable field goal attempt.
"It was definitely difficult," Chambers said. "I don't know why (they blew the whistle), maybe it was forward progress. I don't have an understanding on it, but it was definitely difficult to not even get it to a review. That was kind of head-scratching, but it is what it is. We can't let referees control the game and we can't leave it up to them."
Traditional run woes
While the Cowboys' rushing attack picked up its pace down the stretch, with UW averaging 4.4 yards per carry in the second half, the lack of production in the traditional tailback run game continues to be a concern for Cowboys coach Craig Bohl.
The Pokes' running backs had just 18 yards on their first 10 carries on Saturday, as the offensive line failed to win the battle at the point of attack for the third consecutive game. This follows up a worrisome performance in last week's loss to Air Force, during which — aside from a 74-yard run by Xazavian Valladay — UW averaged 1.5 yards per carry.
"I was really concerned about that," Bohl said. "Our traditional tailback runs, we need to do much better. Whether it was missing some cuts or not getting movement at the point of attack, perimeter blocking, all those things come into play.
"We aren't running the ball near as well as we should be. We put a lot of time and effort into our running game, and it's certainly not proving very beneficial."
Salute to service
The Cowboys' celebrated America's servicemen and women throughout the game as part of the team's Military Appreciation Day.
This included a halftime tribute to Lance Cpl. Rylee McCollum, a 20-year-old Jackson native who was killed by a suicide bomber August 26 at the Kabul airport in Afghanistan. McCollum's family was recognized on the field to a roar of applause and appreciation from the War Memorial Stadium crowd.
Members of the Wyoming Air National Guard were also honored during a break in the third quarter.
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.