LARAMIE – Wyoming is good enough to win the Mid-American Conference this season.
The Cowboys (3-0) showed that the last two weeks with their 50-43 road victory at Northern Illinois and Saturday’s 45-12 statement victory over Ball State in front of 23,467 satisfied customers at War Memorial Stadium.
Now Craig Bohl’s team will take what should be an easy practice exam – UW plays 0-4 UConn this coming Saturday in East Hartford, Conn. (1:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network) – before shifting the focus to competing for a Mountain West championship.
Here are five takeaways from UW’s rout of the reigning MAC champions:
1. Bohl pushing
the right buttonsFollowing the 19-16 victory over Montana State in the opener, Bohl challenged the offensive line to play up to its preseason billing. The unit paved the way for 43 offensive points, including 75 yards on the game-winning drive, at Huskie Stadium.
Bohl made the team keep the pads on during practices last week after the defense allowed 477 yards and 33 second-half points at NIU.
The Pokes responded with two interception returns for touchdowns and 6.0 sacks against Ball State.
“More than anything else, you’ve got guys with high character that have set a high bar for themselves,” Bohl said of the veteran UW defense. “So internally, they were disappointed with how they went and finished the game off last week. They knew that they could play well, but they took the foot off the gas. That was a point of emphasis. I thought our guys responded well.”
2. Muma is the best player on the field … every weekChad Muma was one of the elite players in the Mountain West during the abbreviated 2020 season when he averaged 11.8 tackles during UW’s 2-4 finish.
The senior linebacker led the Cowboys with 12 tackles and returned an interception for a 45-yard touchdown against Ball State. Muma also had a pick-six at NIU to give the visitors a 42-16 before the late collapse.
Through three games, Muma ranks sixth in the FBS in tackles per game (11.0). Iowa defensive back Riley Moss is the only other player to return two interceptions for touchdowns this season.
“Chad has really improved from last year to this year,” Bohl said. “He’s gotten bigger, he’s making plays in space and he’s an excellent tackler. … If you look at those productivity points, he’s off the chart. He’s having one heck of a year.”
3. Pokes unleashed their Four Horsemen
UW has an all-MWC first-team running back in starter Xazavian Valladay, a reliable backup in seventh-year senior Trey Smith and an emerging standout in Titus Swen.
The Cowboys also unleashed Dawaiian McNeely on Ball State. The 6-foot-2, 190-pound sophomore finished with six carries for 48 yards and a touchdown against the Cardinals.
Valladay (61 yards, 1 TD) and Swen (43 yards) provided the body blows before McNeely helped throw the knockout punch.
“Dawaiian really got in the mix,” Bohl said. “It’s hard to have that many backs and get them in the game, but when we’re able to spread those carries out it allows us to have fresh guys in there. He’s a great asset to that running back group.”
4. Comeback kids
Sean Chambers, who has suffered three season-ending injuries during his UW career, is enjoying this 3-0 start.
But the starting quarterback isn’t a lock for comeback player of the year on the 2021 Cowboys.
Ravontae Holt finished with five tackles and 2.5 sacks against Ball State. The Cowboys’ line-clogging defensive tackle has overcome three torn ACLs during his career.
“Honestly, I feel amazing because there was a point where I thought I wasn’t going to play anymore,” Holt said. “Now I’m playing my best football. It’s only going to get better the more confident I get. I’m just excited for this season.”
5. High-altitude hang time
Bohl expressed some concern about the punting position during fall camp, but so far Ralph Fawaz has performed at a high level, especially at 7,220 feet.
Fawaz averaged 48 yards on five punts with a long of 53 yards and two placed inside the 20-yard line. In the opener against Montana State, the redshirt freshman place five of his six punts inside the 20.
Placekicker John Hoyland, a freshman all-American in 2020, has also been solid. The sophomore made a 24-yard field goal to open the scoring against the Cardinals and was 6-for-6 on PATs.
Hoyland is 3-for-3 on field goals this season while UW’s opponents are 2-for-4. He is 15-for-16 (.938) on field goals for his career.
The Cowboys, who opened as a 29 ½-point favorites over UConn, may not need to punt or settle for any field goals this week, but the kicking game will be critical when Mountain West play begins Oct. 9 at Air Force.
Follow UW beat writer Ryan Thorburn on Twitter @By_RyanThorburn