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Cowboys scrimmage for nearly two hours

Aug 18, 2014 - From staff reports

The Wyoming Cowboys conducted a lengthy scrimmage that lasted nearly two hours on Saturday morning in Wyoming's War Memorial Stadium. It was the first scrimmage of fall camp for the Pokes. Head coach Craig Bohl was impressed by the way his defense began the scrimmage, but said he was also pleased with how his offense responded as the scrimmage progressed.

"The scrimmage was a pretty long scrimmage," said Bohl. "I think we ran 98 plays, which is a little bit longer than we normally go.

"I was particularly pleased with the No. 1 defense early in the scrimmage. I thought we showed great energy and tackled well. We defended the pass well.

"I thought the quarterbacks operated pretty well today. We had one delay of game, but outside of that I thought the quarterbacks were very mindful of that (time management) as we transition from a no-huddle, hurry up offense that our players ran last year to our system.

"As the scrimmage went along, our No. 1 offense showed some real promise. Colby (Kirkegaard) did a nice job, and I think Tommy (Thornton) made a step forward today. He showed that he could operate the offense and put the ball where it needs to be. He really made some good progress.

"We were clean coming on and off the sidelines with substitutions, and I thought we were pretty good in terms of not putting the ball on the ground or committing turnovers."

The Cowboy offense was very balanced on Saturday, gaining 268 yards rushing and 273 passing. The offense averaged 5.4 yards per rush and 9.4 yards per pass completion. It was also efficient, converting 9 of 16 third-down attempts (56.3 percent).

Kirkegaard ended the day completing 9 of 11 passes (.818) for 77 yards, including a nine-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Trey Norman. Thornton completed 8 of 13 passes (.615) for 82 yards, and threw one TD pass to senior wideout Jalen Claiborne. Kirkegaard and Thornton combined to complete 17 of 24 passes (.708) for 159 yards and two TDs, while not throwing an interception.

Asked if Kirkegaard is definitely the starter for the Montana game, Bohl said, "We'll look at the tape, but I think the body of work that Colby has done during the course of fall camp is going to put him in a position to start, but I'll look at the tape. I will say though that from watching today Tommy (Thornton) made some strides. That is encouraging because to have depth at the quarterback position is really important.

"We've got all the confidence in Colby (Kirkegaard) -- our playbook is open. We're not going to have to restrict a lot of the things we like to do. Frankly, coming into the year we didn't know where we would be with our tight ends, fullbacks and quarterbacks. We're encouraged by what we've seen. Our offense is a pretty complicated offense that stresses a defense when you have all your weapons."

Three other Cowboy quarterbacks competed in Saturday's scrimmage. Sophomore Aaron Young completed 5 of 7 passes (.714) for 61 yards, including a 19-yard TD pass to freshman wide receiver Adam Pilapil. Freshmen Austin Fort completed 4 of 5 passes (.800) for 36 yards and scored the only rushing touchdown of the day -- from 11 yards out. Fellow freshman quarterback Nick Smith connected on 3 of 5 pass attempts (.600) for 17 yards and two touchdowns -- one of five yards to wideout Tanner Gentry and another TD pass of one yard to tight end Eric Nzeocha.

The one turnover forced by the defense on Saturday came when senior defensive end Riley Lange tipped a Young pass at the line of scrimmage and senior linebacker Nehemie Kankolongo intercepted the tipped ball.

Kankolongo was one of four senior linebackers to rank among the leading tacklers on the day. He ended the day with seven total tackles, a half tackle for loss and his interception. The Cowboy defense was led in tackles by: senior linebackers Devyn Harris (9 tackles), Jordan Stanton (9 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and 2.0 sacks), Kankolongo and Alex Borgs (6 tackles, 2.0 TFLs and 2.0 sacks). Sophomore Oscar Nevermann, who moved from running back to linebacker this fall, also had seven tackles. The Cowboy defense had five sacks on the day, the other sack coming from senior defensive end Sonny Puletasi.

Bohl was asked to expound on what he saw from his defensive unit in terms of their tackling in Saturday's first scrimmage of fall camp.

"I thought early they did a great job (tackling)," said the Cowboys' first-year head coach. "As the scrimmage went along, maybe because of fatigue or for whatever other reason we didn't tackle as crisply. But you have to attribute some of that to the ability of our backs and receivers. With the exception of the one long run that Brian (Hill) had, I saw a defense that will pursue better and a defense that due to discipline and structure will not give up long, long plays. You will see a defense that will rally to the ball and gang tackle.

"I thought (Patrick) Mertens did a good job pushing the pocket, which was good. Eddie (Yarbrough) was a force to be reckoned with on the outside. I thought our safeties played well. That is a position in the Tampa-2 defense that is really going to be important. Those guys are going to be integrated not only in defending the passing game but in stopping the running game."

The young Cowboy running back who Bohl mentioned as breaking a long run was true freshman running back Brian Hill from Belleville, Ill. Hill rushed for 98 yards on seven carries, including a 47-yard scamper against the No. 1 defense. His fellow freshman running back Nico Evans rushed for 78 yards on nine carries. "I think we've got some good young running backs," said Bohl. "I was encouraged by Brian Hill. He had a good run, and he's got good speed combined with his size."

Asked if the scrimmage was planned around specific situations or was run more like a game situation, Bohl answered, "Some things, we let play out. I had a checklist of some situations we wanted to put our team in, and if they came about in the normal course of the scrimmage I checked them off. If a particular situation didn't occur naturally, we created it. "I wanted to make sure we put our field-goal kicker in a position to attempt field goals from different distances. We also did a lot of kickoffs today with kick returns. I think we pretty much covered the water front today."

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