LARAMIE — The forecast for placekicking didn’t look optimal in the days leading up to Wyoming’s game Saturday at Missouri. A downpour was expected, one that wound up subsiding in time for the Cowboys and Tigers to play a relatively dry game.
“We just worked with wet balls a lot, just pregame, too, just heavier balls,” Wyoming kicker Cooper Rothe said. “We didn’t have to end up using them, but I think it’s just a good thing to be ready for as a specialist.”
Even though the rain held off, Rothe said he “overthought” the change from Laramie’s thin, dry air to Missouri’s humidity, which had him “a little bit off” before the game.
“I was a little bit concerned watching him in pregame warm-ups,” said Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl, who works with the Cowboys’ specialists. “He was off. I mean, he was left, right, left, right.”
Rothe centered himself by the time he stepped into the game, though. In the third quarter, the junior got Wyoming on the board with a 51-yard field goal, the longest of his collegiate career.
“Definitely just a little bit (more) stressful than usual,” he said. “It was kind of windy, kind of similar to Wyoming weather. I guess just practicing, doing several pre-practices (in Laramie), you just get kind of used to knowing your swing. Especially just kicking into the net when you can’t practice out on the real field. So I think that was a big thing and just to relax, just trust my swing.”
Rothe has faced higher stakes before — Missouri led 23-0 by the time he kicked — but Saturday’s attempt was still significant. He is now one-of-one on kicks of 50-plus yards.
“The score definitely was unfortunate,” Rothe said. “But still, every time I go out there I try to prove something, and I think it was cool to do that.”
His previous career long also came in a Power Five stadium: a 49-yarder last year at Iowa that also tied for the longest attempt of his career (San Jose State, 2017).
“It felt good,” Rothe said of Saturday’s kick. “I didn’t see it go in but once the O-line turned around and celebrated, it was pretty cool.”
Rothe was perfect (12-of-12) on kicks inside 40 yards last season and is now five-of-five total this year, having also made all six extra-point attempts.
Though his leg strength has improved during his time at Wyoming, Bohl credited Rothe’s head for Saturday’s success.
“I think it’s a compliment to him, his mental intensity,” Bohl said. “We felt confident giving him a shot there. There was a little bit of wind but not much. I was checking the flags, and for him to drill it I think is a good thing and sends a message. I thought he kicked the ball off well, and each year he’s gotten a little bit stronger physically. But more so, you’ve got to have ice running through your veins. I’ve been really impressed. He’s a competitive player.”
Rothe also hit a 36-yarder in the fourth quarter, making him one of the few Wyoming players Saturday with a superior statline to that of his Missouri counterpart. Tigers kicker Tucker McCann hit from 50 and 43 yards, but missed two of his first three kicks, from distances of 47 and 49 yards.
“He’s a good kicker,” Rothe said. “I don’t know if I want to hate against other kickers or root for them, but if they’re against me, yeah, it’s good to see them not do that well.”
While Rothe has brought stability to the kicker position during his time in Wyoming, the Cowboys wouldn’t mind getting more production out of the punter position. Sophomore Tim Zaleski’s 37.6 yards per punt ranks 63rd of 78 qualified punters in the Football Bowl Subdivision — worst in the Mountain West.
“Well, I’m concerned about that,” Bohl said. “He’s got to punt the ball better, and we’re going to continue to work on that. Quite frankly, I was a little bit more concerned about (Missouri’s) returns. Sometimes, if you don’t punt the ball well, you may not get the exact punt that you’re looking for, but they’re not returning it. So we did some things to try to curb opportunities for returns, but Tim’s got to hit the ball better. He can show what he can do, and he needs to be more consistent there.”
“I think he’s working on that, too, just getting in the strength room as much as he can and flexibility wise, too, he’s trying to fix that,” Rothe said of Zaleski. “I think it’ll come. He’s done amazing in practice. It just needs to translate to the game.”