UWvsGardnerWebb

Cowboys’ defensive back Andrew Wingard (28) tackles Gardner-Webb running back Kerry Bernard during their game Saturday at War Memorial Stadium in Laramie.

Josh Galemore, Star-Tribune

LARAMIE — In baseball, when a pitcher is in the middle of throwing a no-hitter, it is customary for none of his teammates to mention it.

In football, when a defense is throwing a shutout, is the philosophy the same?

“A shutout, you’ve got to, yeah, pretty much avoid the scoreboard,” Wyoming defensive end Kevin Prosser said. “You’ve got to pretend it’s 0-0, you know what I mean, and continue to compete. Because I’ve been in games where it was a shutout in the beginning, and that team happened to come back and beat us.

“So that’s when maturity comes in. Stay humble and continue to do what you’re supposed to do and do your job.”

It’s not a question Wyoming has been faced with much in recent seasons. When the Cowboys beat Gardner-Webb 27-0 on Saturday, it was the first time they had held an opponent scoreless since 2010, when Wyoming beat Colorado State 44-0.

Whether the Pokes will repeat the feat this year remains to be seen, but early signs from the defense are encouraging. The Cowboys are currently third in the nation in passing yards allowed per game (73.5), 12th in total defense and tied for 19th in scoring defense.

“You always like to see the guys have a little success,” defensive coordinator Scottie Hazelton said. “That’s the biggest thing, is they work really hard. They study what they’re trying to do, and as they study things and continue to get better, you hope that we continue to get better on defense.”

Of course, two games is still a small sample size. Gardner-Webb is a team from the Football Championship Subdivision that has yet to score a touchdown in 2017 and Wyoming has faced just 22 passing attempts this year, fewest in the country among teams that have played two games.

And there might be no bigger test for Hazelton’s defense than Oregon, which Wyoming hosts at 5 p.m. Saturday. The Ducks rank second in the nation in total offense (634.5 yards per game) and third in scoring offense (59.5 points per game).

Still, it’s hard not to be encouraged about Wyoming’s early performances on defense.

“I kept preaching that to the defense,” quarterback Josh Allen said. “We needed a donut on the scoreboard, and they’ve answered every question, I think, about them. They’re an extremely impressive defense, and we’ve got some really good players on that … side of the ball.

“I’m very excited to continue to watch how they progress and how they grow as a defense, but it instills a lot of faith and confidence in the offense when you don’t have to go out there and score every drive.”

The Cowboys did allow some explosive plays in a 24-3 loss in Week One at Iowa, but they still held the Hawkeyes to just 263 total yards of offense and forced four turnovers.

Against GWU, the Cowboys had just one takeaway, an Andrew Wingard interception, but they put the ball on the ground a number of times and had seven tackles for loss and three sacks. Oh, and no points allowed.

“A lot of times you’re just focused on number of possessions to secure the win, but there’s no doubt any competitive coach, you start looking at that goose egg up there, and those players take a great deal of pride in it,” head coach Craig Bohl said. “It’s kind of unchartered waters for us, quite frankly, but that’s the direction we want to head. When we really arrive, I think you’ll see us being a really, really great, dominant defense. And we’re a ways away from that, but this is the direction we want to go.”

Maybe that will mean more shutouts.

“It’s a great thing,” Hazelton said of shutting out GWU. “And some of it is, to get a win is a win. It doesn’t really matter if it’s 50-49 or if it’s 2-0. It’s just fun to get a win. But I think the guys take a lot of pride in getting a shutout.”

Some of them, anyway. Youhanna Ghaifan still feels the defense has a lot to prove.

“I don’t think we’re very happy at all, because we haven’t made a statement yet,” he said. “Going against Gardner-Webb, we obviously shut them down, but I feel like we were supposed to do that, if we don’t do anything stupid.

“But I don’t think we’ve shown out anything yet, but this next game will be a very good test for us.”

Follow University of Wyoming athletics reporter Brandon Foster on Twitter @BFoster91

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Star-Tribune reporter Brandon Foster covers University of Wyoming athletics.

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