LARAMIE — It’s virtually impossible to find a college football team with a clean bill of health a month into the season, but Wyoming may be as close as it’s going to get after a week off.
Craig Bohl will take the timing considering who’s next on the schedule.
Wyoming’s coach said the Cowboys are “healthier than we have been in quite some time” entering Saturday’s highly anticipated Mountain West Conference opener at War Memorial Stadium against Boise State, which received all 22 first-place votes to win the MW’s Mountain Division in the media’s preseason poll. The most significant healing has come for an offense that needed a 13-play, 80-yard drive on its final possession to help Wyoming (2-2) snatch a 17-14 win from the jaws of defeat against Football Championship Subdivision member Wofford nine days ago following back-to-back losses to Power Five foes Washington State and Missouri.
“During the course of that gauntlet with some of the teams that we played, the dynamics of our football team changed somewhat,” Bohl said. “Our attitude going into the Wofford game was we’ve got to do whatever we’ve got to do just to win the game. We were really depleted in a lot of those places, and a lot of these players are back.”
Senior running back Nico Evans is in line to return to the starting lineup for the first time in three weeks after bruising his ribs. The 5-foot-9, 211-pounder began his first season as a starter with a 190-yard, two-touchdown night against New Mexico State and racked up 89 yards and a score in a little more than a half against Washington State on Sept. 1 before going down with the injury.
The Cowboys were down two running backs against Wofford with true freshman Jevon Bigelow out with a concussion, but Bigelow is good to go for Saturday barring any setbacks and should provide another boost to a running game that averaged just 3.3 yards a carry against Wofford without its top two options.
“That was extremely frustrating,” Evans said of his injury. “I’ve been kind of waiting for this opportunity my whole time here and then I take advantage of it, but it’s a little short-lived. It was a minor setback, but I’m definitely ready to come back and take off right where I started from.”
Wyoming also has its full stable of tight ends back in the fold to give freshman quarterback Tyler Vander Waal more options in the passing game. At least the ones that are expected to be back soon.
Josh Harshman’s knee injury will likely cost him most of his senior season, but fellow senior and captain Austin Fort is set to return after missing the last three games with a sprained knee. Fort, who will wear a brace as a precaution, caught two passes in the opener against New Mexico State, including a 41-yarder that exhibited the 6-4, 244-pounder’s big-play ability that’s been missing in the middle of the field for a passing offense that ranks 118th out of 129 Football Bowl Subdivision teams.
“I want to be helping the team,” said Fort, who also missed a handful of games with an injury at the beginning of last season. “Everything I put into it and so much time. It’s hard not to be out there after all of that, but at the same time, it’s football and I still feel lucky I get to play this season. I get to play against Boise State this week, so that’s pretty cool.”
Said Bohl: “We had gotten pigeon-holed quite a bit on really being handcuffed, so the fact you’ve got a guy that can stretch the field, has got good ability, can block, can move and has a good understanding of our offense, that combination with Tyree (Mayfield), we’re back to our normal self offensively.”
Defensive end Josiah Hall continues to get back to speed after a blood clot scare in the summer. Limited to non-contact drills before receiving word during preseason camp that the clot in his leg was gone, Hall made his season debut against Wofford and gives the Cowboys additional depth behind Carl Granderson on the edge.
Having everyone available against Boise State, though, is asking a lot. Cornerback C.J. Coldon (arm) is doubtful for Saturday while nickel back Tyler Hall (unspecified) and center Patrick Arnold (sprained ankle) are also nursing injuries, though Bohl was more optimistic about their chances of playing this week. Keyon Blakenbaker and Logan Harris were listed ahead of Coldon and Arnold at their respective positions on this week’s depth chart.
Bohl said he doesn’t necessarily see the extra time off as an advantage for his team seeing how Wyoming shared a bye week with the Broncos (2-1), whom the Cowboys have knocked off just once in the teams’ 12 all-time meetings. That win came two years ago when Wyoming last hosted Boise, while the Cowboys took a 14-10 lead into the fourth quarter of last year’s meeting before a pair of late touchdowns gave the Broncos the comeback win.
But being relatively fresh can’t hurt as Wyoming prepares to give it another shot against one of the more talented teams they face every season.
“This off week couldn’t have come at a better time for this team,” Evans said. “We’ve had injuries stack up on offense and defense, so being able to rest a little and lick our wounds, this bye week has been good.”