LARAMIE — Carl Granderson was a relative unknown in college football this time last season.
That’s no longer the case.
Wyoming’s rangy defensive end is still trying to get used to all the attention that’s coming his way after bursting onto the scene last season as the Mountain West’s most disruptive force off the edge. Granderson had 77 tackles as a junior and led the league with 16 tackles for loss. He also racked up a team-high 9.5 sacks, nearly doubling his career total on his way to first-team All-MW honors.
“The thing with that is teams are expecting me now,” Granderson said. “Last year, they didn’t really know who I was. They were just sort of letting me go out there and play. This year, the difference is they know who I am, so they game plan for me.”
That’s meant more double teams and more running backs staying in to help chip in passing situations as teams try to slow down the 6-foot-5, 261-pounder. It’s worked to this point. Midway through the season, Granderson has just 16 tackles, four tackles for loss and two sacks — pedestrian numbers for a player viewed by CBS Sports as one of the nation’s top 100 prospects for this year’s NFL Draft.
The extra attention has benefited other parts of the Cowboys’ defensive front. Sending an extra blocker Granderson’s way has left all-conference tackle Youhanna Ghaifan and fellow end Garrett Crall isolated at times. Ghaifan has 24 tackles, including a team-high 6.5 for loss, while Crall leads the Cowboys with three sacks.
But Granderson knows he still needs to do his part regardless of the circumstances if the defense is going to return to its old pressurized form. Wyoming led the MW in sacks on a per-game basis a season ago but has gotten to opposing quarterbacks just 11 times through six games.
“I guess they don’t want to take any chances on any one-on-ones, and I know that,” Granderson said. “That’s how the rest of the season is going to be. It’s my job to fight through it and find a way to get to the quarterback.”
Granderson believes he’s been close to more tangible results, although many of the quarterbacks Wyoming has faced have been getting rid of the ball just before he arrived in the backfield. But he has broken through the last two weeks. After notching his first sack of the season against Boise State two weeks ago, Granderson tallied another one against Hawaii as part of a four-sack night for a front seven that was as active as it’s been all season.
“We cut him loose a little bit,” Wyoming coach Craig Bohl said. “Carl has always gone out and played hard. I think we handcuffed him a little bit early in the season, but this was a disruptive game not only for Carl but Youhanna. We got good pressure on the quarterback.”
Granderson also leaned on his experience to produce Wyoming’s lone touchdown of the game. Instead of getting after freshman quarterback Chevin Cordeiro on third-and-7 with Hawaii driving toward a go-ahead score at the Cowboys’ 41-yard line, Granderson sagged off at the snap and waited.
Cordeiro threw it in a window that was supposed to be vacant, but Granderson was there for the interception. His athleticism took over from there as he raced 61 yards the other way.
“I was paying attention to the O-line, and they had some keys in terms of what they were saying when they were about to cut (block),” Granderson said. “I was aware of that and I knew that play was coming, so I just kind of backed up and waited for the quarterback to throw the ball. It was my job to catch the ball and take it to the house.”
The pick-six gave Wyoming a 10-3 lead at the time, but all the Cowboys’ offense mustered was two field goals in a 17-13 loss. Wyoming, which has lost three of its last four, will try to avoid a third straight setback Saturday when it travels to Fresno State.
At this point, that’s the only stat that matters to Granderson in a season where the rest have been hard to come by.
“We still lost the game at the end of the day,” he said. “Now it’s time to move forward and try to make more plays that have an impact on the game. That’s the main thing. I started off slow, and we’re not getting enough turnovers, but I’m not too worried. I’m just going to continue to go out there and play hard.”