Room for improvement for Wyoming running backs after ground game struggles at Iowa
LARAMIE — In his record-setting Wyoming career, Brian Hill played five games in which he had a run of 59 yards or more.
Fifty-nine is an arbitrary number. It’s also the number of yards Wyoming’s rushing offense generated Saturday — its first game since Hill left early for the NFL Draft — in a 24-3 loss at Iowa. The Cowboys hadn’t run for fewer yards since 2015, when they had 42 against New Mexico.
Twenty-two yards in the first quarter Saturday, minus-9 in the second, 28 in the third, 18 in the fourth. To be fair, those are net totals, which includes yards lost on sacks. If you look at just Wyoming’s running backs, Milo Hall had 32 yards on nine carries, Kellen Overstreet had 25 on seven and Nico Evans had 8 on three. In total: 65 yards on 19 carries, an average of 3.4 yards per rush.
“We’re going to need to generate some more yardage from our running backs,” Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl said Monday. “Hopefully that can come about.”
Replacing Hill, Wyoming’s leading all-time and single-season rusher, wasn’t going to be easy, especially given the inexperience of that trio. Evans had 11 carries last year, but Overstreet missed 2016 due to injury and Hall, the starter, had never before taken a collegiate carry.
“It felt good to just get out there and run around a little bit, just get out there and compete,” Overstreet said. “I had a lot of fun, honestly. Obviously, the outcome wasn’t what we wanted, but for not being on the field for over a year, I think it was a lot of fun out there.”
“It definitely was cool,” Hall said of getting his first carry. “I didn’t know what to expect, but I thought it was cool.”
Running backs coach Mike Bath saw some good and some bad.
“We had some opportunities in the run game, which, I thought we did a good job of seeing it and taking what was available,” he said. “I feel, like any other coach, you’d like to have more yards after contact and some different things, but I think all three of those guys were engaged. They were helping each other out on the sidelines.
“So it was a start. We need to get better every single day and everything, but I’m looking forward to this week.”
Bath did note one bust in protection, which he called “critical.”
The Cowboys also struggled in short-yardage situations. Cowboys running backs failed to convert on a fourth-and-1 and two third-and-1 plays, with each running back handling one of them.
“Part of it is just being the hammer and finding it,” Bath said of that 1 yard. “But there’s so many other pieces that go along into it, in regards to fitting up blocks, not coming off or then being overloaded at the point of contact. So there was a lot of different factors in those three particular plays on Saturday.”
Said Hall: “We went back and watched film. There was one or two guys on those short-yardage (plays) that missed their block, and I feel like that’s huge. In big games like that, we can’t have any mistakes, and I feel like that’s what cost us.”
Backs don’t run in a vacuum, of course. Wyoming started two true freshmen on its offensive line. The Cowboys also had to begin the year against a stout Big Ten defense.
“I think we’ll be up for the challenge, no matter who it is, but it will definitely help not playing those guys,” Overstreet said of Iowa. “They were a great bunch of defensive guys. So, I think going on, we should attack it like we’re playing them every week, but it’s kind of nice that we’re not.”
So there are things to build on, especially for two running backs who didn’t touch the ball last season.
But putting up just 59 rushing yards isn’t one of them.
“It was frustrating,” Overstreet said. “So frustrating. We got in their territory plenty of times, where we should’ve executed. I know I was in on a third-and-one where we should’ve got that first down. And I think we were third-and-10 and we got four or five and then we ended up and had to punt or (try a) field goal or whatever.
“It’s pretty frustrating just not getting it done and getting in the end zone.”