2020 Wyoming Defensive Preview
Who will step up for lost NFL talent?
Cowboys defense is next main up.
Despite losing some key contributors the Wyoming Cowboy defense is looking to build upon the success of the 2019 squad that allowed just 17.8 points per game and finished with an 8-5 record and Arizona Bowl championship.
Previewing the 2020 Wyoming Cowboys Defense
While the Cowboys have retained some key elements to their defense from last year, they still have some big names to replace in departing seniors Logan Wilson, Cassh Maluia, and Alijah Halliburton. Finding ways to replace these key contributors may be difficult, Wilson and Maluia represented a linebacker corps that ranked fifth in the country according to Pro Football Focus, while Haliburton was one of the teams best pass defenders last season and took the defensive MVP honor at the Arizona Bowl.
Also leaving the team was defensive coordinator Jake Dickert. Dickert had been with the pokes since 2017, serving as safeties coach, and then as defensive coordinator in 2019. He helped to establish the Cowboy defense as one of the toughest in the country. His departure left the Cowboys with the difficult dilemma of replacing him.
Jay Sawvel will be taking over the Cowboy defense this season as defensive coordinator. Sawvel previously coached at Wake Forest as the defensive coordinator and cornerbacks coach. While there his defenses set school records in tackles for loss.
Returning coach Marty English was given the reins to the Cowboy defense ends. He does have history in Laramie, serving as linebackers coach from 2003-2008 and from 2009-2011 as defensive coordinator. He also made stops along the front range at Colorado State and University of Northern Colorado. English brings decades of defensive knowledge and a great reputation for recruiting the Rocky Mountains.
Will Sawvel and English be able to have some of the success that they have previously had and lead a defense that was one of the best in the Mountain West last season?
Let’s go ahead and breakdown each position group.
Headlining the defensive line this year are two returning players in defensive ends senior Garrett Crall and sophomore Solomon Byrd. Crall is a 3 year starter for the pokes who was fifth on the team last year with 55 tackles, as well as 4.5 sacks. Byrd, who took freshman All-America honors last season, finished the year with 6.5 sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss. Byrd primarily backed up Crall last season, but with the departure of Josiah Hall look to see more snaps for the Palmdale, California product.
Tackles for the season include Victor Jones, Claude Cole, and Wheatland native Justis Borton. They will anchor a front that ranked 11th nationally against the run a season ago.
While the Cowboys did lose a key contributor in Josiah Hall, they have the line needed to cause disruption in the backfield and hold strong against the run. They will look to add on to the success of last year’s team that averaged 3.8 sacks per game and held opponents to just 2.9 yards per attempt.
The defensive back position group this season will look very different than the one from a season ago. The Cowboys will be without the production that guys like Haliburton and Tyler Hall generated, but look for returning players such as junior Azizi Hearn to take a larger role in the defense. Last season Hearn recorded 37 tackles in 10 starts. This season he will joined by sophomore Jordan Murry who in 10 games recorded 21 tackles last season. Also look for big things from redshirt- freshman Caleb Roberson, who was a three-star recruit out of Missouri.
Overall the defensive backfield will be a young, inexperienced, group this season. Jay Sawvel (who’s also coaching the safeties) will have his work cut out for him in getting this group game ready, but if the front plays the way they did last year it shouldn’t put much pressure on this young corps.
The Cowboys lost two of their best players last season in the NFL Draft. Replacing guys like Wilson and Maluia won’t be an easy task, together they were accountable for nearly 600 tackles in the four years that they spent at Wyoming. Looking to fill a much-needed hole will be junior Chad Muma, who will be moving into a starting role after playing backup the past two seasons.
Joining Muma at the outside linebacker position still has yet to be decided, but guys like sophomores Charles Hicks and Ray Rabou are names to be aware of.
Hicks and Rabou both played in nine games last season. Also available to step up into an outside linebacker role is freshman Shae Suiaunoa. A three-star recruit in high school, Suiaunoa brings both the size and speed needed to play either middle or outside linebacker this season.
It will be interesting to see how the linebackers will be utilized this upcoming season. Wyoming lost not only a great run stopping linebacker in Wilson, but as a former defensive back provides excellent pass coverage over the middle. Muma may have some snaps under his belt, but currently, no Cowboy linebacker has proven themselves yet. It will be a tough camp as this position is finalized on the roster.
The Cowboys defense of last year was fantastic. They ranked 11th nationally against the run, had the 6th best red zone defense, and had two of its players drafted into the NFL. These are all great things, but looking at last year, while their run defense was, for the most part, unstoppable, they did give up a lot of yards through the air.
The Cowboys lost two of their best pass defenders in Haliburton and Hall, not to mention the coverage that Logan Wilson provided from linebacker. With a relatively young defense, I would look for them to again be tough on the run this season, but still give up the big pass play. If the Cowboys are able to replicate the success of last year’s defense that saw two pokes named to end-of-season All-American lists it will be a great season in Laramie.
Craig Bohl, Jay Sawvel, and Marty English have their work cut out for them, but I for one welcome September 5th to see the revamped Cowboy defense in action against Weber State.