rbz UT Wyoming 11

Wyoming’s Robert Herron gets no yardage on a play during the second quarter against Texas on Sept. 1 in Austin, Texas. Herron will return from a shin injury that has shelved him for three weeks next Saturday.

Ralph Barrera | Austin American-Statesman/

Robert Herron watched Wyoming’s overtime win at Idaho from a laptop computer in Laramie.

He had been left behind thanks to a shin injury that’s kept him out the last three games. Stuck on his couch at home, all the junior wide receiver could do was cheer for his teammates. And he had plenty of cheering to do — especially for his fellow receivers.

That day, Chris McNeill scored a touchdown and had a historic pass-catching day. Justin Berger, Dominc Rufran and running back Brandon Miller all caught their own touchdown passes before Jalen Claiborne pulled in the game-winner.

The five touchdowns from five different receivers proved again that the group responsible for Wyoming’s passing game is too deep and too talented to let the absence of one player — even someone as talented as Herron — derail its success.

“Everybody’s getting the piece of the pie,” Herron said.

Before Herron got hurt in Wyoming’s first game against Texas, he caught five passes for 173 yards and two touchdowns; it was one of the best first-week receiving performances in the nation. When it became known Herron would be out the following game (then the next, and the next), there was good reason to wonder if a Wyoming offense that hinges on the pass would take a hit.

Those concerns have since been answered.

“We’ve really developed in that,” Wyoming coach Dave Christensen said. “I said from the onset, this is going to be the best skill to run this offense that we’ve had since I’ve been here.”

Wyoming, which averages 275.6 passing yards per game, has shown its versatility since Herron got hurt.

McNeill leads the team with 19 catches for 322 yards. He said this year’s group of receivers is the smallest he’s been a part of in terms of physical stature.

But size and skill are different things.

“We have a lot of different weapons, a lot of playmakers on the perimeter,” McNeill said. “And it’s still the beginning of the season. We still have the potential to do a lot more.”

So far Rufran (210), Claiborne (153) and Miller (109) have also passed the 100-yard mark in total receiving yards. Trey Norman — who has 61 despite two dropped balls — could join the club soon. Two players (McNeill and Herron) have caught passes of 80-or-more yards, and Rufran has one catch of 49.

UW sophomore quarterback Brett Smith said this season he is seeing more open receivers — more so than ever before.

“It makes my job easier,” Smith — who has thrown for 980 yards and nine touchdowns in three games — said.

It’s about to get easier.

Herron has been cleared to play and will be back against Nevada next Saturday. Since the injured shin has kept him out, he’s watched the receivers around him thrive. He said their success makes him more dangerous now.

“Defenses can do what they do to cover up one guy,” Herron said. “When it’s multiple guys, defenses don’t know what’s coming. They can’t sleep on anybody, because any of our receivers can go for touchdowns.”

Reach reporter Ben Frederickson at ben.frederickson@trib.com. Follow him on Twitter @Ben_Fred.

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