SAN MARCOS, Texas — Tyler Hall spent most of Saturday night studying.
It ultimately helped Wyoming earn a passing grade.
The Cowboys’ senior cornerback noticed throughout the game against Texas State that the Bobcats weren’t stretching the field with their outside receivers. Any time the receivers sped off the line in a straight line, Hall said it usually meant they were going to eventually break their routes off.
Midway through the third quarter, with Wyoming desperately needing a spark against a Texas State team that hasn’t won many games since becoming a Football Bowl Subdivision program in 2013, Hall remembered that.
With the Bobcats threatening to increase their 14-13 lead with the ball inside Wyoming’s 40-yard line, a receiver cut his route off in front of the Cowboys’ sideline. By the time Gresch Jensen’s pass made it across the field from the far hash, Hall was waiting on it.
“I would say that play came in the first quarter,” Hall said. “I got the same play in the first quarter, and it’s all about picking up tendencies throughout the game. One of the tendencies was the quarterback didn’t throw too many shots on us on the outside. They pretty much sat it down when they were going vertical, so I just trusted it. The quarterback threw it, and I just made a play.”
Hall returned the interception 72 yards for a touchdown that put Wyoming ahead for good in its 23-14 win at Bobcat Stadium. It was the second defensive score in as many games for the Cowboys, who got a scoop and score from another cornerback, C.J. Coldon, last week against Missouri.
It came at an ideal time considering the Cowboys’ struggles on the other side of the ball. Wyoming’s offense found the end zone just once while Sean Chambers completed less than half of his passes for the second straight game (8 of 18, 103 yards) as the Cowboys were outgained 444-293 in total yards.
“Any time you pick-six and at that particular time of the game, that was the thing that switched the momentum, switched the strategy and switched everything,” Wyoming coach Craig Bohl said.
Jensen completed 33 of his 54 attempts for 394 yards, but most of that came on underneath routes and crossing patterns. Jah’Marae Sheread did most of the work on Jensen’s lone touchdown pass when he caught a short toss and outraced Wyoming’s defense 50 yards for a touchdown early in the second quarter.
Some of that was by design, Bohl said. Hall took it one clutch step further.
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“Our game plan was to keep the ball in front of us and then hopefully pick one off,” Bohl said. “And we did.”
Wyoming’s secondary got help from a pass rush that was much more active Saturday than it was in the opening win over Missouri.
It was a concern for Bohl after the Cowboys rarely got pressure on Mizzou quarterback Kelly Bryant, who threw for 423 yards in last week’s game. The Cowboys didn’t muster much in the first half with Jensen going 15 of 22 for 203 yards in the first two quarters, but Wyoming got to him for four sacks in the second half and finished with six quarterback hurries.
“I thought (defensive ends) coach (A.J.) Cooper, (defensive tackles) coach (Pete) Kaligis and (defensive coordinator Jake) Dickert did a nice job changing up the rushes and you saw more push on the pocket,” Bohl said.
Wyoming also added depth in sophomore defensive end Solomon Byrd, who made his season debut after missing the Missouri game with a sprained ankle. Garrett Crall and freshman defensive tackle Mario Mora each had 1.5 sacks, but Byrd’s inclusion made for an eight-man rotation that the Cowboys shuffled frequently to stay fresh up front.
“To add four fresh guys in there, I thought it was important,” Bohl said.
First for Smith
Safety Braden Smith recorded his first career interception when he picked off Jensen late in the second quarter and returned it 27 yards to set up Wyoming’s lone offensive touchdown. It was one of three takeaways for the Cowboys, who are plus-5 in turnover margin this season.
Smith was beaten out by redshirt freshman Rome Weber for the starting free safety job in fall camp but played most of the game after Weber went down with a leg injury in the first half and didn’t return. Smith, a fourth-year junior, added 3.5 tackles and a pass breakup.
As for Weber, Bohl said after the game he didn’t know the extent of his injury. Weber finished with one tackle.