Scouting a college football team with a first-year head coach can be a real stickler.
Wyoming's new skipper Craig Bohl has been secretive in preseason camp. Scrimmages were closed to the public and the media is only allowed to watch the first 30 minutes of practice.
For Montana coach Mick Delaney and his staff – who will lead their FCS Grizzlies into battle against the FBS Cowboys on Saturday at 2 p.m. in Laramie, Wyoming – preparation is best described by the old Yogi Berra line: When you come to a fork in the road, take it.
In other words, the Grizzlies are studying two teams for one game. They’re taking a long look at what Bohl did in leading North Dakota State to FCS championships the past three years while also mindful of Wyoming’s players and their 2013 tendencies.
“It’s a combination of both,” Delaney explained. “Obviously you want to look at the personnel of Wyoming. But in almost every instance they’ll be doing something different than a year ago.
“So you really do gear in on the Wyoming part of it with personnel. Then as far as all your study, everything goes back to North Dakota State and Coach Bohl and the coaches he brought with him.”
Bohl is an old pro when it comes to dealing with the media. He did, however, offer subtle hints about his game plan in Monday’s press conference.
“We’re not going to do tons of different things than what we’ve done at NDSU,” said the coach, who favors a pro-style offense and Tampa-2 defense.
“There will be some things we’ll do offensively and defensively to adapt to the personnel we have here. But I’m sure their coaches spent a great deal of time looking at the NDSU tape. And for us, a lot of their players we tried to recruit. We know a lot about them.”
The pro-style offense is similar to the pro set Montana will use for the second straight season. In many ways it’s basic smashmouth football.
“They’re going to line up and be really physical,” Delaney said. “They’ll have two tight ends and a fullback a lot. It’s a lot of play-action pass and just try to dominate you physically.”
The Griz defensive front will have an edge in experience on Wyoming’s offensive front. But Montana will be giving away 20 pounds on average.
The Cowboys have two capable running backs in junior Shaun Wick and redshirt sophomore D.J. May, both weighing in at over 200 pounds. Wick racked up 979 yards rushing in a spread offense last season. May missed last season after tearing a pectoral muscle.
“Certainly they’re good at running back,” Delaney commented. “As far as skill people go, they’re also very good at wide receiver and return five offensive linemen. They’ve got a lot of players back.”
Senior Dominic Rufran leads the receiver corps. last year he piled up 75 catches for 960 yards.
Picked to finish fourth in the Mountain West Conference, Wyoming will use a four-man defensive front in their Tampa-2 scheme. Considering the disappointing performance of the defense last year – the Cowboys allowed an average of 482 yards per game, which was 100 more than Montana – the Cowboys were probably due for a change in direction.
“They’ll have either a six- or seven-man box and depending on our personnel, three linebackers or two,” Delaney said. “At times they’ll bring the safety down for an eight-man front when we get into heavy personnel with two tight ends and running backs.
“They’ve got a linebacker whose an excellent player. They’ve got a safety I think is a very good player. Both their corners have started off and on for two years.”
The linebacker is 246-pound senior Jordan Stanton, who had 134 tackles prowling the middle last season. At safety the Cowboys have a pair of seniors in Darrenn White and Blair Burns.
Collectively, the Wyoming defense is probably strongest up front. Six-foot-3 junior end Eddie Yarbrough is a man to watch after recording 12 tackles for loss and 6-5 sacks last season.
“He’s definitely of the guys we are keying on, one that we have a big circle around,” Griz running back Jordan Canada said. “They’ve got some good guys that are athletic and can run around the ball, so Coach (UM co-offensive coordinator) Kefense (Hynson) is working on scheming on how to handle those things, making it easier for all of us to just adjust.”
Wyoming senior cornerback Blair Burns says his defense needs to improve in several areas.
“Every year that I’ve been here, we just haven’t been able to stop the run and the big plays,” he told the Casper Star-Tribune. “That’s one thing that we’re focusing on now, and we’re doing an excellent job of that. We just have to continue to build on that.”
Another area where Montana was distinctly better than Wyoming last season was turnover margin. The Griz finished at +1.40, which was second best on the FCS level. The Cowboys were at -0.33, which ranked 86th on the FBS level.
Quick kicks: Griz senior wide receiver Sean Haynes is working himself into shape after an offseason leg injury. He won’t play on Saturday but may be ready sometime in September.