Three takeaways from Wyoming’s spring football game
LARAMIE -- There's always a spring game hero, right?
Last year there were three -- wide receiver Will Pelissier, quarterback Jayden Clemons and true freshman cornerback Zaire Jackson.
Saturday inside War Memorial Stadium, there were three at the very least.
Newcomer Jakorey Hawkins got the party started, stepping in front of Wyatt Wieland on a post route and snagging a one-handed interception off the right arm of Andrew Peasley on the Gold team's first drive of the afternoon. He also got to show off his world-class speed, returning the pick 17 yards.
The junior corner who transferred to UW from Ole Miss this offseason wasn't done there, either.
Late in the second quarter, Hawkins made the mid-air adjustment on a lob to the corner of the end zone intended for Alex Brown. He got both hands on the ball but it popped loose when he landed on the turf.
Standing behind a wooden podium during the postgame press conference, Hawkins cracked a smile and looked to the heavens. Not only should he have picked off two passes in his Wyoming debut, there was a third opportunity.
Once again, the 5-foot-11, 189-pound speedster slid in front of the receiver on a post route. This time, the ball went through both hands and tipped harmlessly into the arms of tight end Jackson Marcotte who cruised in for a 67-yard touchdown.
"That hurts me right there," he said with a grin. "I cut under it. I thought I had it and I'm falling to the ground. I just looked up and everyone (was cheering). I knew he caught it. That one kind of hurt me. I'm going to work more on catching so that doesn't happen."
What about the other two? Teammates are already dishing out the grief for those misses.
"I got one today," Hawkins continued. "I tried to pull the hat trick today and get three. I was looking to be better, so that's something else to work at."
During the Cowboys' NFL Pro Day in early April, former defensive end Garrett Crall praised the elusiveness of running back DQ James. Fellow back, Jordon Vaughn, is 6-foot-2 and weighs in at 230. Crall said he is a load to meet in the hole.
There's one more to keep an eye on though, according to Crall -- Joseph Braasch.
He wasn't kidding.
The redshirt freshman from Columbus, Neb., finished the day with 80 yards rushing on 14 carries. Fifty-one of those came on a handoff midway through the fourth quarter when split the Brown defense and took it the distance.
Braasch, who also hauled in a pair of passes for 34 yards, added a 5-yard touchdown run in the second quarter to open the scoring.
"It's definitely good to get a little bit of steam rolling behind you and stuff like that, especially as a position group," Braasch said. "It just feels good to get a little bit of momentum going into fall camp and stuff like that. So, I felt like today was a little bit of a step forward."
Fellow running back Dawaiian McNeely led all rushers with 102 yards on just 13 carries Saturday. Late in the fourth, sprung by a block from Marcotte, the sophomore raced down the west sideline for a 64-yard touchdown. James also added 87 yards on 10 carries.
The golden team needed an additional defensive tackle in the rotation.
Naturally, that honor went to Nic Talich, a 6-foot, 217-pound linebacker.
"Talich is a jack of all trades," Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl said postgame, adding a bit of chuckle. "I would hate to say master of none because I probably won't get back into Cody if I say that."
The former Bronc responded by leading his squad with four solo tackles, including two for loss. The slender redshirt freshman knifed his way through the Brown team's front five and met Braasch behind the line of scrimmage on consecutive drives in the second quarter.
Talich resembled a former Cowboy who used to wreak havoc in the offensive backfield in the late 90's -- his father, Jim Talich. His uncle Cory Talich wasn't too shabby at taking down ball carriers, either.
Those two combined for 607 total tackles in their UW careers. Jim Talich racked up 440 on his own, which is still good enough for third in program history.
"It's great to have a talent like that on our football team," Bohl said. "You know, there's a long legacy there. He'll do whatever it takes for our football team."
Jordan Bertagnole, easily one of the best players on the field Saturday, stands 6-foot-4 and weighs in at 283 pounds. He's the prototypical interior defensive lineman.
To say he was impressed with Talich's performance would be a massive understatement.
"I love that kid to death," the Casper native said with a smile. "He's such a vital part for this team. I mean, all the Wyoming kids are, to be honest ... We saw No. 41 Nic Talich was in there at nose guard, three technique, I mean, he was throwing some moves on them and he was making plays. So, I mean, I just love seeing Wyoming kids out there making plays."
What were Bohl's thoughts on the quarterbacks Saturday?
"We've got to get better there," he said. "I thought we were still inconsistent in the passing game ... We've got to throw the ball with better accuracy."
Here's what he is referring to.
In the first half, any thrower not named Peasley completed just 5-of-17 passes for 35 yards and an interception in the first half. Hank Gibbs was 0-4. Evan Svoboda forced a throw that ended up hitting linebacker Brent VanderVeen right between the 4-and-7 on his Gold jersey. He finished 1-of-5 for four yards. Clemons connected on 4-of-8 throws for 31 yards.
For the most part, It wasn't pretty.
Peasley capped his first 30 minutes completing 8-of-15 attempts for 146 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Sixty-seven of those yards came on the throw to Marcotte mentioned above. That could've easily been another pick, courtesy of Hawkins.
There were some here-we-go-again moments Saturday. The misses piled up. The interceptions, costly. You remember those drive-killing types. The ones that have become so prevalent in Laramie since 2018.
The second half mainly featured Bohl's trademark ground attack. Both teams combined to rush for 233 of its 350 total yards.
Peasley was again the most accurate of the signal callers, hitting on 4-of-6 for 55 yards, including a 35-yard scoring strike to Jaylen Sargent in the fourth quarter. Gibbs and Clemons each completed 50% of their passes in the second half. That was a sample size, as the two combined to attempt just eight throws. Svoboda was 2-of-9 for 20 yards over the final 30 minutes of regulation.
Let's put a few things in perspective before we go naming an opening-day starter. Jay Sawvel's defenses were aggressive all day. Safety blitzes were the norm and the defensive fronts, particularly on the Brown team, were disruptive -- to say the least.
That ever-present Wyoming wind was a factor, too. Gusts over 50 miles per hour emblazoned on signs above Interstate-80.
Inexperience was very real. Only Peasley has taken a snap at the FBS level. He appeared in 16 career games during his four-year stint at Utah State. Saturday, it showed.
To me, the answer is clear, this is Peasley's job to lose.
Does he think he's the starter heading into the offseason?
"For me -- just leading the guys -- I just want to be the best we can be as an offense," Peasley said. "That's how I look at it and that's how I will continue to look at it until I'm named (the starter) -- or not a starter -- whatever it is."
Bohl, who watched a majority of the game from the press box, said Peasley is still a work in progress as he continues to learn the Cowboys' west coast offense and its terminology. He also wanted the 6-foot-2, 210-pound quarterback to put on some pounds.
"I do think he has the maturity of a quarterback in college," Bohl said. "He's able to be, I think, resourceful with the football. It's going to be important that, you know, he has a good summer. I was pleased with his body of work during the course of the spring."
Wyoming has just two returning starters on its defense this season: defensive tackle Cole Godbout and linebacker Easton Gibbs.
Still, the Cowboys' have plenty of players with experience on that side of the ball. It showed in this game, especially up front.
Godbout, along with Bertagnole, were menaces all afternoon. Those two combined for five tackles, two tackles for loss and a pair of pass breakups. The Gold team, which featured what is believed to be the projected starting offensive line, had limited push up front and struggled to contain that duo throughout.
Bohl has talked up the defensive ends all spring.
They were solid, led by Oluwaseyi Omotosho's three tackles, including one for loss. Micah Young finished with four tackles (0.5 tackles for loss) and Tyce Westland also added a trio of stops.
"It's been good all spring, but I thought today was exceptional," he said of the line, more specifically the interior. "They got penetration in the backfield. Some of the things, to the naked eye, they maintained gap control. Those things allow our linebackers to make plays. They got a good push. We've experienced really good edge pressure with our hands, but I thought the inside pressure was particularly good today."
Wyoming's defensive front got a boost after the final whistle Saturday when former Alabama edge rusher Keelan Cox committed to the Cowboys.
This program suffered a ton of loss on the defensive front this offseason. Graduation and the NCAA Transfer Portal did a number on this unit. If Saturday was any indication, though, that group is going to be just fine -- if not a major strength this fall.
"There's great players over there," Marcotte said. "You know, Easton (Gibbs) flies around to the ball. There are some studs on the D-line over there -- Jordan Bertagnole and Cole Godbout -- I hate having to go down and get in the mix with them."
SPRING GAME STATS
QB: Andrew Peasley: 12-21-201 yds, 2 TD, INT; Jayden Clemons: 5-10-63 yds; Evan Svoboda: 4-14-24 yds, INT; Hank Gibbs: 3-10-10 yds; Ryan Marquez: 0-2-0 yds, INT
RB: Dawaiian McNeely: 13 rush, 102 yds, TD; Joseph Braasch: 14 rush, 86 yds, 2 TD; DQ James: 10 rush, 87 yds; Jayden Clemons: 7 rush, 46 yds; Andrew Peasley: 3 rush, 14 yds; Caleb Cooley: 3 rush, 11 yds, TD; Evan Svoboda: 3 rush, 11 yds; Matthew Posas: 1 rush, 9 yds; Will Pelissier: 1 rush, 4 yds; Kimball Madsen: 1 rush, 1 yd
WR/ TE/ RB: Joshua Cobbs: 6 catches, 58 yds; Joseph Braasch: 2 catches, 34 yds; Wyatt Wieland: 2 catches, 20 yds; Colin O'Brien: 2 catches, 10 yds; John Michael Gyllenborg: 2 catches, 6 yds; Jackson Marcotte: 1 catch, 67 yds, TD; Jaylen Sargent: 1 catch, 35 yds, TD; Nick Miles: 1 catch, 17 yds; Ryan Marquez: 1 catch, 12 yds; Caleb Cooley: 1 catch, 8 yds; Dawaiian McNeely: 1 catch, 12 yds; Alex Brown: 1 catch, 7 yds; Tyrese Grant: 1 catch, 5 yds; Titus Swen: 1 catch, 4 yds; DQ James: 1 catch, 3 yds
P: Clayton Stewart: 4 punts, 46.0 avg, 52 long; Ralph Fawaz: 6 punts, 41.3 avg, 45 long
FG: John Hoyland: 2-3, 27 long (missed from 55)
DEFENSE: Nic Talich: 4 tkl, 2 TFL; Zaire Jackson: 4 tkls; Micah Young: 4 tkl, 0.5 TFL; Cameron Stone: 4 tkl, PBU; Jakorey Hawkins: 4 tkl, INT, PBU; Connor Shay: 4 tkl, FR; Jordan Bertagnole: 4 tkl, 2 TFL, PBU; Miles Williams: 3 tkl, FF; Jovan Marsh: 3 tkl, TFL, PBU; Wrook Brown: 3 tkl, TFL; Wyatt Ekeler: 3 tkl; Oluwaseyi Omotosho: 3 tkl, TFL; Sam Scott: 3 tkl; Tommy Wroblewski: 3 tkl; Tyce Westland: 3 tkl; Tre Dean: 2 tkl; Andrew Johnson: 2 tkl, PBU; Brenndan Warady: 2 tkl, PBU; Read Sunn: 2 tkl; Duncan Radakovich: 2 tkl; Kolbey Taylor: Tkl, INT; Cole DeMarzo: 2 tkl; Easton Gibbs: 2 tkl; Shae Suiaunoa: 2 tkl, PBU; Ben Florentine: 2 tkl; DeVonne Harris: 2 tkl, TFL, FR; Brent VanderVeen: Tkl, INT; Brady Bohlinger: Tkl, 0.5 TFL; Akili Bonner: Tkl; Ethan Drewes: Tkl; Braden Siders: Tkl, Sack; Cole Godbout: Tkl
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