IOWA CITY, Iowa — Wyoming did all it could to set up the long ball Saturday. The Cowboys, a team that thrived on vertical passes with one of the country’s strongest arms last year, stuck to a largely horizontal approach against Iowa at Kinnick Stadium. Passes to the perimeter and inside runs were the attacks of choice, as the Cowboys attempted to beat a Power Five team for the first time in 11 tries.
When things opened up for the Cowboys, they dropped the ball.
Josh Allen threw a picture perfect deep ball in the third quarter to a wide-open C.J. Johnson, but Johnson bobbled the pass in the end zone, and the catch was overturned by review. Wyoming’s only touchdown of the day was a touchdown that wasn’t, and the Cowboys fell 24-3 to Iowa.
“There’s some good things that we did out there,” head coach Craig Bohl said, “but right now it doesn’t feel real good to recognize a lot of those things.”
Johnson’s wasn’t the only missed opportunity of the day. It wasn’t even the only drop that burned Wyoming, which has won just one game against a Big Ten opponent in its history.
In the final minute of the second quarter, true freshman punter Tim Zaleski essentially whiffed on a punt, dropping the ball so far from his foot that he had to lunge to even get a toe on it. It resulted in a 5-yard loss, and Iowa was able to score on a 27-yard pass from Nate Stanley to Noah Fant and go into halftime up 14-3.
Wyoming also failed to capitalize on a solid performance from its defense. The Cowboys forced four turnovers in their first game under defensive coordinator Scottie Hazelton. But all the offense could make of them was three points. Those points, coming on a career-long 49-yard Cooper Rothe field goal, gave Wyoming the lead after a scoreless first quarter. But Iowa scored the game’s next 24 points to give Wyoming its fifth loss in six games.
It was the team’s first game without a touchdown since losing to San Diego State in 2015. That game was also Wyoming’s last game with fewer than 300 total yards of offense.
To the dismay of the 12 scouts from seven NFL teams in attendance, Allen’s 36-yard gem to Johnson was a rarity.
“The receivers were talking that we’d like to take some more shots downfield, just to give them a different look,” Johnson said. “It seemed like ... eventually, they were sitting on those short routes. That’s why I don’t think some of them worked towards the end.”
When the Cowboys did go deep, however, Johnson wasn’t able to capitalize. Iowa’s safety came up on Johnson’s dropped touchdown pass, allowing him to streak for the end zone.
“I saw the ball in the air, and I was worried if I was going to run too far,” Johnson said. “I just took my concentration off of it. ... It kind of hurt me the rest of the game. Those things like that are hard to shake off, and I try my best.”
Allen completed 23 of 40 passes for 174 yards with two interceptions, both in the fourth quarter. In Allen’s two fourth quarters against Power Five teams, he has had a combined six turnovers. It was his first game without a touchdown, either passing or rushing, since Wyoming’s loss at Eastern Michigan last year.
“That’s a good defense,” Allen said. “They’ll be probably the best defense we see all year.”
Zaleski’s muff came at a critical juncture. Iowa had been driving near midfield when Carl Granderson forced a fumble that Sidney Malauulu recovered. Wyoming took over with 50 seconds left in the half, but its drive was killed by a blatant intentional grounding on Allen’s part. Then, following Zaleski’s mistake, Fant caught his second touchdown pass of the day.
“I think if anything had a chance to really turn the game, that sequence of plays turned the game,” Bohl said.
While the most critical parts of the game might have been the missed opportunities — Wyoming also failed to convert on numerous short-yardage situations — the most revelatory part may have been Wyoming’s flip-flop in identity. The Cowboys were a high-scoring machine last year that struggled enough on defense a change was made at coordinator. Saturday, Wyoming’s defense kept the Cowboys in the game while the offense kept them grounded.
In Wyoming’s first game since the departure of all-time leading rusher Brian Hill, the Cowboys’ three running backs mustered 59 yards on 19 carries Saturday. They were running behind an offensive line that started two true freshmen: Torrington’s Logan Harris at center, as expected, and Alonzo Velazquez at right tackle in somewhat of a surprise move. Senior right tackle Ryan Cummings played at left guard with the shift.
The Wyoming defense held Iowa to 263 total yards. The Hawkeyes were handling injuries on their offensive line and have had significant turnover in the passing game. Nonetheless, the Wyoming unit appeared much improved. In addition to Granderson’s forced fumble, Iowa native Rico Gafford intercepted a pass, Marcus Epps forced a fumble that Cassh Maluia recovered, and Kevin Prosser forced and recovered a fumble.
“That was definitely one encouraging thing,” Epps said. “But we came here to win. So there’s no moral victories here. We thought this was a game we could win and we didn’t, so we’re disappointed with that.”