Leading up to Iowa’s season opener against Wyoming, national pundits and Iowa writers have been talking about one thing and one thing only: Josh Allen, Josh Allen, Josh Allen. Sure, he might be really dang good, but there are 21 other guys on his team starting on offense and defense, and if you’re like me, you probably don’t know a thing about ‘em.
Luckily for us, we were able to get an expert on Mountain West football to talk about Wyoming for us! Jeremy Mauss from Mountain West Wire was kind enough to answer some questions about third-year head coach Craig Bohl, the offense’s weapons at the skill positions, and what to expect from a defense that wasn’t always spectacular in 2016. Of course, we also had to ask what he thinks the final outcome will be, and I think you Hawkeye fans will like his answer. Check it all out below.
Max Brekke: Wyoming finally turned a corner in Year 3 under former NDSU HC Craig Bohl, posting their first winning season since 2011. Are the Cowboys poised to take another step forward in 2017, or are they due for some regression?
Jeremy Mauss: They probably will take a step back, and one of my bold predictions in the preseason was that Wyoming might not make a bowl game. I think they ultimately will but will not be shocked if they come up short. The losses of wide receiver Tanner Gentry, running back Brian Hill and center Chase Roullier are huge. All three are on an NFL roster, Rouiller might even be the starting Week 1 center for the Washington Redskins and Hill is arguably the best running back in school history, or at least the past 15 years. Look for CJ Johnson to be the main wide receiver target for Josh Allen, as the team lost its top three-pass catchers from last year.
The defense should be better with talent like sophomore linebacker Logan Wilson, who was last year's freshman of the year, and also defensive back Andrew Wingard, who was named the preseason conference Player of the Year. The defense had a knack for making plays last season including scoring three defensive touchdowns and were a modest plus-three in the turnover margin. This defense has been young for two years but that is not the case anymore. Look for this side of the ball to be better than the offense.
MB: Josh Allen really struggled last season against Big Ten opponent Nebraska, completing just half of his throws and throwing five interceptions. How were the Huskers able to disrupt the Wyoming passing game so well, and what can Iowa do to try and emulate that?
JM: That game was more of Josh Allen trying to do too much in the fourth quarter. Heading into the final frame it was only a 24-17 game in favor of Nebraska, but then the wheels fell off. Allen tried to do way too much and it cost him, with three interceptions and him fumbling the ball. There was also a pick-six in the third but that was not all on Allen, as the Wyoming player bobbled a pass that then got picked off. Those turnovers, and forcing the Cowboys defense on the field for nearly the entire fourth quarter, and with short fields, did not allow Wyoming to get the upset. Allen wasn't great in the first half either but he did have some nice throws and showed what he can do against a Big Ten defense, but the blowout was due to Allen trying to play hero ball and it failed miserably.
MB: The Cowboys lost a few key pieces around Allen to the NFL, including leading receiver Tanner Gentry and rusher Brian Hill. Who are the weapons the Wyoming offense will rely upon this year, and what names are Iowa fans likely to hear a lot of this Saturday?
JM: Wide receiver CJ Johnson is going to be thrown to a lot in this game so expect for Iowa defenders to focus on him. While he caught just 21 passes last season, he had three touchdowns and came on late with 11 receptions and two touchdowns over the final four games, and that included a season high of five against a really good San Diego State defense. Milo Hall is listed as the starting running back but look for Nico Evans to have a big hand in running the ball as the two try to replace Brian Hill. Replacing Hill will be very difficult as he was a do-it-all running back, which is why it likely will take a pair of backs to equal his production.
MB: On the other side of the ball, Wyoming gave up an awful lot of points in 2016 but also took advantage of a fair amount of turnovers. Should there be a noticeable improvement on that end? How will the Hawkeyes have to attack on offense if they're going to be successful?
JM: Those 34 points given up are a little bit misleading. They gave up most of their points against Nebraska in the fourth quarter and the 69 given up against UNLV was a triple overtime game, but regardless they were not great at keeping teams out of the end zone. This team started very young in Craig Bohl's first year and there are a lot of players who saw time as true freshmen and sophomores who are now more experienced. I expect them to be better than last year and maybe even better than the offense. The key players are Logan Wilson and Andrew Wingard. Both are elite athletes, with Wingard earning freshman All-American honors two years ago, and have been a force in the Mountain West since Day 1.
If Iowa wants to be successful against this Cowboys defense they should focus on running the ball. Wyoming gave up 5.31 yards per carry last year, and that was skewed a bit by a massive game against New Mexico where the Lobos averaged 12.35 yards against the Cowboys. The Lobos run an option-based attack and are known for big plays on the ground, but that number is out of this world. There were five other games where they gave up over five yards per play but in their overtime win over Air Force they held the Falcons to just 3.82 yards per carry. There is some potential in the ground game but that was by far their weakest area last season.
MB: Finish this sentence: Wyoming will beat Iowa on Saturday if...
JM: Josh Allen has zero turnovers and the rush defense holds Iowa to fewer than 150 rushing yards.
MB: Finally, it's prediction time. What's your pick and why?
JM: This will be closer than people think and I would not be overly surprised if Wyoming gets an upset here, but I have to go with Iowa winning 24-17. The main reason is because the ground game with the addition of James Butler for Iowa will be too much, and odds are Josh Allen will make a bonehead play that will lead to points. Plus, the losses on offense are too much to be confident in Week 1 on the road against a physical Iowa team.