The Wyoming football team let another one slip away Saturday. Air Force spoiled a snowy homecoming and left Wyoming coach Dave Christensen fighting mad. Here's a second look at everything you need to know:
1. Dave Christensen made a bad loss a lot worse.
You’ve likely heard by now what happened after Wyoming lost to Air Force. What was expected to be a handshake between Cowboy’s coach Dave Christensen and Air Force coach Troy Calhoun turned into a one-sided shouting match.
Christensen — after the fracas — said his verbal undressing of Calhoun was due to an incident that happened with about eight minutes left in the game. The coach believed Air Force quarterback Connor Dietz overdramatized (or made faked) an injury in order to give Air Force additional time to run a play on third-and-goal from Wyoming’s 5-yard line. After the game, Calhoun said Dietz “got dinged in the head.” Dietz returned for the Falcons’ next drive, but during the first and only play he was on the sideline, Air Force backup quarterback Kale Pearson scored a touchdown on a 5-yard naked bootleg. That score and the following PAT resulted in the game’s final score: 28-27
“I had an issue with a player not being injured, jogging all the way across the field and — five yards from the sideline — falling on the ground,” Christensen told the Star-Tribune after the game. “And they stand around for four minutes. I have an issue with the ethics. That’s not ethical. I let him [Calhoun] know what I felt about it.”
Christensen also questioned Calhouns “integrity” and even said Dietz’s injury was a way to “cheat.” What he said to Calhoun in the heat of the moment was perhaps even stronger. A Denver Post photographer on the field at the time said Christensen’s blasting of Calhoun featured plenty of profanity.
Good luck finding out if Air Force truly faked the injury to get extra time for a play (although it seems a bit questionable that the Falcons would ask their starting quarterback to take a ghost fall when they had timeouts and gobs of time to spare).
What we do know is this:
On Military appreciation day, a day his players wore camouflage uniforms with words like “Respect,” “Honor,” and “Integrity” printed across the shoulders to show appreciation for the armed forces, a day the UW marching band spelled out the names of the different military branches during its halftime performance, a day Christensen himself wore a camouflage cap atop his head, the coach dumped a pile of choice words on the leader of the Academy’s football team.
“It’s not a conversation I’d have with my mom,” Calhoun told reporters after the game. “Not that kind of dialogue.”
Calhoun shouldn’t get a free pass. He could have easily walked away at any point of the argument. Instead, he stuck around while Christensen continued to provide an earful.
But, undeniably, it was Christensen who came out looking worse after all was said and done. And it wasn’t done until his daughter and UW’s director of football operations, Brian Wilkinson, pulled the coach away from Calhoun. By then it was too late. Anyone still in the stadium — a good portion of the homecoming crowd left War Memorial when snow started falling at halftime — and anyone still tuned into the ROOT Sports regional broadcast of the game witnessed the kerfuffle. That's not the publicity UW needed in its first regional TV broadcast.
A spokesman for the Mountain West said Sunday morning that the league “is aware” of the event. If Christensen is to be reprimanded, the league will make the announcement early this week. This makes the second time in two games Wyoming has caught the attention of the the conference’s top dogs. Wyoming quarterback Brett Smith’s ejection after two personal fouls were reviewed last week.
Christensen’s blowup was worse. First, because it happened so long after the controversial play (Wyoming failed to score in final 6:43 of the game). And second because more people saw it as it was on TV in front of a homecoming crowd.
2. Don’t bet on Brett.
Christensen declined a chance to connect the dots when asked if the injury that kept Wyoming starting quarterback Brett Smith out of the game was tied to the concussion Smith sustained in the Toledo game earlier this year. But one of Smith’s teammates -- backup quarterback Jason Thompson -- made it clear the two are related.
“He [Smith] got another concussion,” Thompson said in Saturday’s post-game press conference.
Thompson is obviously not a medical expert and likely lacks full knowledge of the specifics of Smith’s condition. Maybe Smith did experience a second concussion (an injury that would have had to occur during Wyoming’s overtime loss to Nevada). He could also be dealing with the aftermath of the initial injury.
“I think he is going to be back this week, but I should know more Monday,” Christensen said after the game.
While that would be ideal for the Pokes, it might not happen. Head injuries are serious and unpredictable stuff. One can lead to another and they are scary enough to one's longterm mental health that they can end a career. Smith is a sophomore. Don’t expect Wyoming to put him back on the field if he’s not ready — he has too much of a future ahead of him.
3. UW’s freshmen have bright future.
Two conference losses likely put the Pokes out of the race for the Mountain West title, and Wyoming would have to do the unthinkable and win five of its next six games to be bowl eligible. But thinking about the future might give UW fans a brief reprieve from the current, sour season.
On Saturday, UW’s backfield often featured three true freshman: quarterback Thompson and running backs D.J. May and Shaun Wick.
Thompson completed 23-of-36 passes for 195 yards and one TD. While it wasn’t called upon often, the quarterback showed — through his velocity on short passes — that he’s got the arm for a job. Thompson also ran hard and well. He finished the day with 16 carries for 75 yards.
“I was extremely pleased, and I’m excited about his future,” Christensen said after the game.
Wyoming’s two freshmen running backs were also on point. May carried 12 times for 94 yards and a touchdown. Wick carried 14 times for 86 yards and a touchdown.
Thompson, Wick and May combined for all but four of Wyoming’s 252 rushing yards -- the best ground game Wyoming has had all season.
4. Pokes lack a pass rush.
Blame the secondary if you’d like. Wyoming’s cornerbacks and safeties certainly haven’t done much to protect themselves from the criticism (opponents are completing 66.5 percent of their passes against the Pokes). But the breakdowns in Wyoming’s pass defense -- collapses that led to two big touchdown passes (41 and 46 yards) -- are equally on the defensive line.
Wyoming is currently ninth in the 10-team Mountain West when it comes to quarterback sacks. In six games, Wyoming has just seven. The team leading the conference — Fresno State — has 20 in seven games.
5. Cowboys continue to fold in the second half.
Wyoming might be better if there were no halftimes. Subtracting overtime from the equation, UW has scored 33 more points the first half of football games (96) than the second (63). More specifically, the Cowboys can’t seem to score in the third quarter. Wyoming has scored 50 first-quarter points, 46 second-quarter points, 16-third quarter points and 47 fourth-quarter points this year.
“We always come out, like kind of slow in that third quarter,” D.J. May said after Saturday’s loss to Air Force. “We try to not do that. But it happened again. Maybe the rain? I’m not going to make excuses. We just have to come out more prepared in the second half. It was our fault.”
Only once has Wyoming scored more points in the second half than the first. That game, against Idaho, was UW’s only win this year.