In his first career start, Andrew Wingard made winning plays, albeit in a losing effort against Eastern Michigan.
They were the kind of plays that propel teams to victory in most circumstances.
But digging out of a 38-7 hole — like Wyoming attempted — is not most circumstances.
“There was a competitive look in his eye,” UW coach Craig Bohl said. “He’s a guy who has got great speed and he plays Mach 1. It’s not like when he sees something, he’s going to be tentative.”
That’s for sure.
Early in the fourth quarter, after UW had closed to within 45-29, Wingard, a freshman free safety, made a crucial stop on third-and-2, which forced Eastern Michigan to punt.
EMU quarterback Brogan Roback immediately passed to Blake Banham in the left flat. Wingard bee lined toward Banham and stuck him for a 1-yard loss with a clean open-field tackle.
“I saw the jet motion and playing the middle safety, that’s my job to run with the jet motion,” Wingard said. “We were only down, like, 16 at that point and the fourth quarter had just started. I knew a big play could swing momentum of the game. I just did what I did. Just like I did in high school; I would fly around and hit guys and that’s what I did.
“It didn’t change the outcome of the game, but it got a spark for our team.”
The Cowboys’ ensuing drive stalled at the EMU 12-yard line and the Eagles ran 4 minutes, 49 seconds off the clock on their next possession to ice the game.
Yet Wingard’s play-making ability was not lost on Bohl nor defensive coordinator Steve Stanard.
“You saw him run the alley over on the press box side and just upend the running back,” Bohl said. “It looked like he got shot out of a cannon.”
Added Stanard: “He’s a young man who just continues to improve. He’s an exciting freshman. He’s got good speed, very competitive.
“For a kid his age, he understands angles and he doesn’t put himself in bad positions. He’s able to keep his base and control his body so he can be a good tackler. He’s certainly improving quickly. You’re going to see him on the field the rest of the way.”
UW coaches expected Wingard, the 2014 Colorado Player of the Year, to see the field from Day 1 of fall camp.
During the summer, he added nearly 20 pounds to his 6-foot frame, reaching a playing weight of 194 pounds.
In the Cowboys’ first practice of the season, the Arvada, Colorado, native made two interceptions.
While many true freshmen have trouble digesting college playbooks in their first year, from the get-go, Wingard has shown both the physical and mental tools necessary to play immediately.
“Obviously, like (secondary coach Curt Mallory) has said, my knowledge of the playbook was pretty well-known for a freshman,” Wingard said. “I knew what I was doing.
“Just making plays is something that will always get a guy on the field. Even if you don’t know every specific thing you’re doing, if you go out there and make plays — like that play on third down when I tackled that guy — that’s just what you’ve got to do to get on the field: make plays.”
Redshirt freshman strong safety Adam Pilpail, who started alongside Wingard against Eastern Michigan, has been more impressed with his mature mindset.
“As a young guy, you’re going to make mistakes,” Pilapil said. “But if he makes a mistake, he’ll be like, ‘All right, that’s fine. We’ll correct it,’ and then the next play he just flies around. He is so fast. It’s fun to watch him play and it’s fun to play next to him.”
On Saturday, Wyoming travels to Washington State, which often passes more than 60 times per game.
Mallory knows that with an extremely inexperienced secondary — with Wingard being the youngest starter at age 18 — it’s pivotal that his starting free safety begins to look less and less like a freshman every game.
“I’m pleased with the way he’s progressed,” Mallory said. “The expectation that I have for him is that he’ll be even better the next game and he’ll make that much more improvement the second time. That’s what he’s got to do each and every week, just get better. He’s done it. He’s come out and he’s continued to improve."
The fans remaining in War Memorial Stadium — and watching on TV — saw that against Eastern Michigan.
His team-high 12 tackles illustrate that, as did his big stop on third down.
“I think the future really looks bright for him,” Bohl said.
Follow Wyoming athletics beat writer Ryan Holmgren on Twitter @ryanholmgren