COLUMN: A semblance of balance heading to the high plains
LARAMIE -- "Re-engineered."
That's a word Craig Bohl has used to describe the transformation his offense is currently undertaking. He's repeated that word in press releases and in press conferences.
So, what does that even mean?
I think we all have a good idea now.
The school announced Wednesday morning that the former offensive line coach at Iowa, Tim Polasek, is officially Wyoming's new offensive coordinator. Bohl went back to the well to reunite with a guy he has already hired once before. I'm sure familiarity had plenty to do with the hire. So did results.
Bohl's will set the record straight at 3 p.m. today when he meets with the media.
Polasek brings a pedigree of toughness, efficiency and a run-first attitude. He has also won -- a lot.
I'm sure you are fully aware the Cowboys' issues on offense haven't been in the running game. Wyoming consistently sits atop the Mountain West rankings in that category, flirting with an Air Force team that historically runs the ball on 82% of its snaps.
That should improve even more under Polasek's leadership.
The issue rests in the other statistical battle with the Falcons -- throwing the football. Passing purgatory has become the norm around here. That has cost this program victories.
That should be a thing of the past now, too.
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Some were asking -- no, begging -- for a complete overhaul of this offense well before Brent Vigen left Monday to become the new head coach at Montana State. During his seven-year stay in Laramie, only twice did the Cowboys finish in the upper half of the 12-team league in passing. Once was in 2016. A guy named Josh Allen was under center then.
Others were more realistic.
That's what this hire represents.
Yes, Wyoming will continue to run the ball. Bohl and Co. are returning all five starters on the offensive line this fall. The backups are all intact, too. You know about Xazavian Valladay. He has proven to be one of the best backs in the nation over the past two seasons. Trey Smith isn't too shabby either.
This team is built to run, but if history tells us anything about Polasek, a semblance of balance could be heading to the high plains.
Let's revert back to 2014, the first time Polasek was given the keys to an offense. Carson Wentz was his quarterback. John Crockett was his all-world tailback. Let's put it this way, the cupboards weren't bare when Bohl left North Dakota State for Laramie that winter.
This is what transpired in Fargo with Polasek at the helm that season:
* 32.9 points per game
* 3,764 rushing yards and 35 touchdowns on the ground
* 3,152 passing yards and 26 touchdown passes
* 48% conversion rate on third down
* NDSU's (15-1) fourth straight national title, first in the post-Bohl era
* Carson Wentz: 228 of 358 passing for 3,111 yards and 25 TDs and 10 INTs
* John Crockett: 1,994 rushing yards on 368 attempts to go along with 2,419 all-purpose yards and 22 total touchdowns
Here's Wyoming's offensive stats from 2019, the last time the Cowboys played a full, virus-free schedule:
* 25.4 points per game
* 2,792 rushing yards and 27 touchdowns on the ground
* 1,770 passing yards and 11 touchdown passes
* 43% conversion rate on third down
* Wyoming (8-5) beat Georgia State in the Arizona Bowl, 38-17
* Sean Chambers: 52 of 121 passing for 915 yards and 7 TDs and 3 INTs
* Tyler Vander Waal: 49 of 95 passing for 512 yards and 1 TD and 4 INTs
* Levi Williams: 19 of 39 passing for 343 yards and 3 TDs and 2 INTs
* Xazavian Valladay: 1,265 rushing yards on 247 attempts to go along with 1,476 all-purpose yards and six total touchdowns
One of these stat lines screams balance and efficiency. The other is Wyoming.
NDSU went 40-5 and claimed a pair of national championships with Polasek running the show on offense. Yes, the Bison ran more than they threw. That trend continued through the 2016 season before Polasek left for Iowa City.
But -- a big but -- the passing game was always productive.
This should make fans -- and guys like Jackson Marcotte, Nate Weinman, Parker Christensen, Treyton Welch and Colin O'Brien -- very happy ... Polasek uses the tight ends -- frequently.
During that 2014 season, the Bison's third-leading pass catcher was indeed a tight end, Kevin Vaadeland, who snagged 25 balls for 265 yards and three scores.
Here's the output from the Cowboys tight ends in 2020: 12 catches, 184 yards, 0 touchdowns.
Surely it had to be better in 2019, right?
Not by much: 29 catches, 391 yards and 4 touchdowns in 13 games. Josh Harshman caught 20 of those.
The Bison also tossed the ball to tight end Andrew Bonnet 18 times for 228 yards and two scores. Luke Albers hauled in 13 passes for 177 yards and four touchdowns.
NDSU tight ends racked up 56 catches for 710 yards and found the end zone nine times.
Crockett also caught 30 balls out of the backfield for 265 yards and found the end zone three more times. That has been a rarely used outlet in Laramie, despite the success it was producing. Valladay caught just 11 passes in 2019. Ninety one of his 211 receiving yards came in the Arizona Bowl. So did one of his two touchdown grabs.
Wide receivers weren't exactly neglected in Fargo either.
Zach Vraa and RJ Urzendowski combined for 1,263 receiving yards and nine touchdowns. They reeled in 74 passes from Wentz. Wyoming's top pass-catching pair in 2019 -- Raghib Ismail Jr. and Austin Conway -- hauled in 46 catches for 669 yards and three scores.
This hire fits Bohl's DNA. He likes to say don't expect a "Mike Leach offense" anytime soon. No matter the issues plaguing this passing game, the Pokes will continue to run ... and run ... and run again.
But imagine if this Wyoming team could be more potent through the air. Imagine high-percentage throws to big tight ends and tailbacks. Imagine a 3rd-and-6 not feeling like a country mile.
If that happens, imagine winning -- a bunch.
Polasek has proven he can recruit, loading the Iowa roster with some of the best offensive lineman in the country. He's shown he can develop. He was in Wentz's ear for two seasons before the QB was selected second overall in the 2016 NFL Draft.
This Wyoming team, in some estimations, is just a fresh, new voice away from the top of the standings.
Maybe it's Polasek's booming vocals that can help put this program over the top.
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