A quarterback quandary

Incomplete pass, incomplete pass, incomplete pass, incomplete pass — 4-and-out, end of drive, end of game, another loss. It’s safe to say, Tyler Vander Waal’s final drive in Wyoming’s 24-16 loss to Utah State Saturday didn’t go as scripted.

In fact, Vander Waal’s entire second half didn’t go well at all. Vander Waal’s only other pass attempt — the very first play of the second half — was intercepted by a defensive lineman and the Aggies paid it off quickly in the form of a touchdown to take a 17-3 lead.

This prompted head coach Craig Bohl to turn to Sean Chambers at quarterback. The true freshman — the first to play at quarterback since Brett Smith in 2011 — entered in the first half for the first time all season, rushing it twice and fumbling once. In the second half, however, Bohl stuck with the youngster, and the early returns were quite positive.

Chambers pioneered four drives — three of which ended in points, a touchdown and two field goals. None of the drives went 3-and-out, something Vander Waal has made an ugly habit of all season. Chambers gave the Pokes an added dimension with his mobility, and above all, he seemed to energize the entire team.

Wyoming defense, which has largely disappointed all season, played its most complete game, yielding 17 points — one of USU’s touchdowns was a kickoff return, and another score spanned just three yards after Vander Waal’s second-half interception. The Aggies entered the game boasting the third-best offense in the nation, scoring just shy of 50 points per game.

But this is about the offense and specifically the quarterback position, and more specifically why Wyoming ended the game Saturday with Vander Waal behind center and not Chambers. With the Cowboys trailing 24-16 with just over two minutes to play in the game, Bohl elected to bring back Vander Waal, whose last and only pass of the second half, just as a friendly reminder, was picked by a defensive lineman.

The decision, while somewhat defensible — for the simple fact that Chambers had not run much two-minute offense in practice and Vander Waal had — was mostly befuddling. Without Chambers’ play Saturday, Wyoming didn’t have a shot with two minutes left to drive down the field and tie the game. Vander Waal was cold coming off the bench and most definitely lacking confidence. And the results, well, they speak for themselves. Another loss, another game where Vander Waal couldn’t move the offense.

If nothing else, that final futile drive Saturday gave Bohl no ground to speak on with Vander Waal, right? There’s no way he could not start Chambers for the Border War, right? Well, Bohl has yet to name a starter for Friday’s rivalry game, making it a game-time decision.

Now, I’m hoping that’s just a little gamesmanship where Bohl isn’t going to tip his hand to Colorado State and is forcing the Rams to scout two quarterbacks. But if Bohl truly goes with Vander Waal instead of Chambers, that’s indefensible.

Vander Waal had nearly eight full games to show what he brings to the table and it’s not much. Did he improve since the New Mexico State game? Did he captain a productive offense? Is he the best individual to lead Wyoming’s football team? Chambers, while he’s only had about a half of football to showcase his talents and ability, his audition wasn’t half bad and certainly better than Vander Waal’s body of work.

Now, perhaps Chambers looked good because Utah State hadn’t scouted against a quarterback that could effectively run the zone read or a mobile quarterback in general. That could be the case, and if that’s true, that will bear itself out in the next few weeks when Chambers receives more significant playing time.

Wyoming, sitting at 2-6 with a bottom-three offense, really can’t get any worse, so it may as well roll with Chambers and see what it has with the youngster.

Pokes notes

• The University of Wyoming women’s swimming and diving team moved to 4-0 on the season with a victory over Colorado State Wednesday.

• UW’s volleyball team pushed its record to 15-8 overall and 7-4 in Mountain West Conference with a win over New Mexico Saturday and a loss to Fresno State Thursday.

• UW’s women’s golf team wrapped up its fall season with a 13th-place finish at the Pat Bradley Invitational. Samantha Hui led the way, finishing 33rd.

By |Oct. 26, 2018|

About the Author:

Bud Denega joined The Sheridan Press in November 2017 as the primary sports reporter. He is a native of Cleveland, Ohio, and graduated from the University of Wyoming. Prior to working in Sheridan, Bud spent time as a sports reporter for the Minot Daily News in Minot, North Dakota, before being a sports reporter for the Laredo Morning Times in Laredo, Texas. Email Bud at: bud.denega@thesheridanpress.com

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