LARAMIE — The Wyoming Cowboys raised more questions than they answered Saturday when it came to their running game, rushing for just 65 yards in a 27-0 defeat of Football Championship Subdivision team Gardner-Webb.
But the running game wasn’t the only part of Wyoming’s offense under the microscope. After quarterback Josh Allen passed for just 174 yards without a touchdown in Wyoming’s season-opening loss at Iowa, the airborne offense also needed to get in sync Saturday. And it did — at least in the first half.
Allen threw for 328 yards on 22-of-32 passing with two passing touchdowns. It was just the second 300-yard passing game of his career. Allen’s 68.8 completion percentage was his best as a Cowboy in a game in which he attempted more than 15 passes.
“I thought Josh really threw the ball well, and that was an encouraging thing,” head coach Craig Bohl said. “... I thought, particularly early in the game, he took the ball where we needed to take it and establish a lead. So that was good.”
Allen wasn’t just coming off a down game. He was also coming off an injury. A sprain to his non-throwing shoulder kept him out of two practices the week of the Gardner-Webb game, but he said he was unaffected Saturday.
“Oh, it’s fine,” Allen said after the win. “It really wasn’t a huge deal last week, but the trainers and coaches thought it would be smart and prudent to kind of sit out a day or two. But there’s nothing wrong with it now.”
All but 82 of Wyoming’s passing yards came before halftime. Allen’s success through the air began with Austin Conway. His first six completions went to the sophomore — all for first downs.
“We started getting a little mojo going,” Allen said, “and when someone’s catching the ball when you throw it to them, you want to keep throwing it to them.”
Conway finished with career highs in catches (11), yards (135) and receiving touchdowns (1).
Wyoming’s offense largely stuck to shorter routes at Iowa, no doubt in part because of the departures of downfield targets Tanner Gentry, Jacob Hollister and Jake Maulhardt. While the Cowboys did have more vertical success Saturday, they still found plenty of yards underneath, especially with Conway.
“I think some of it was how Gardner-Webb deployed their secondary,” Bohl said. “They gave us quite a bit of space out there, so we’ll see what Oregon does (Saturday in Laramie). I know they’re getting after my old school Nebraska right now pretty good. But we’ll have to take a look. I thought we made strides.”
Though the Cowboys will need to find more success on the ground this year, success through the air will be just as important.
“We wouldn’t look very bright if we just said, ‘OK, we’re going to go out there and run the ball 50 times a game and we’re going to throw 12 and maybe take a couple shots,’” Bohl said. “Josh can take the ball places on the field that most defenses do not cover, and as a result, when we have that ability, we’re going to take advantage of that.”
C.J. Johnson and Tim Zaleski are two Cowboys whose Week One struggles were especially prominent. Johnson dropped what would have been Wyoming’s first touchdown of the game, and Zaleski became an online sensation with a flubbed punt.
Both responded well Saturday. Johnson, after an early drop, had six catches for 130 yards, both career highs, as well as a touchdown.
“I went over and encouraged him, because he’s got exceptional ability,” Bohl said. “To gain some confidence, to get back in the fight (was big). And C.J.’s a competitive guy. It’s not like he was trying to drop a ball here or there. So, it’s good to see C.J. back in there.”
Zaleski averaged 38.8 yards per punt and had three inside GWU’s red zone. His first punt drew a cheer from the Wyoming fans.
“When you’re a freshman and you show up and you don’t shave and you’re trying to find the library,” Bohl said, “and you punt and your first punt was good and everybody cheered — that was great.”