Isaiah Neyor

Wyoming receiver Isaiah Neyor catches a pass during practice Oct. 5 at War Memorial Stadium in Laramie.

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LARAMIE — Wyoming has been home to one of the Mountain West’s best defenses in recent years.

It’s the other side of the ball that’s left a lot to be desired.

The Cowboys have finished in the bottom half of the Mountain West in scoring each of the past three seasons. In 2018 — the first year of the post-Josh Allen era — UW averaged just 20.3 points to rank 118th out of 129 Football Bowl Subdivision teams. The Cowboys improved slightly to 25.4 points per game last season, but the number still ranked 91st nationally.

So despite having a top-50 defense nationally in points and yards allowed the last two seasons, UW has finished each one in the middle of the pack in the Mountain West’s Mountain Division standings. But UW coach Craig Bohl has a different expectation for his offense heading into this conference-only season.

“I’ll be disappointed if we’re not scoring more points this year,” Bohl said. “If you look at some of the players we have returning, I think we can be more productive on offense.”

To Bohl’s point, the Cowboys have as much experience as any team in the league on that side of the ball. UW returns seven starters and 75 percent of its two-deep on offense, including four starters along the offensive line (right tackle Alonzo Velazquez will miss most if not all of the season with a shoulder injury), leading rusher Xazavian Valladay and quarterback Sean Chambers, who’s healthy again after missing five games last season with a knee injury.

Getting production from the ground game hasn’t been an issue, particularly with Chambers behind center. Paced by Valladay’s Mountain West-leading 1,265 rushing yards a season ago and Chambers’ 12 career rushing touchdowns, UW has finished with one of the league’s top 4 rushing attacks each of the last two seasons.

But a consistent passing game to balance things out has been rare. Whether it’s been Chambers, Tyler Vander Waal (who’s since transferred to Idaho State) or Levi Williams, UW has collectively completed less than 50 percent of its passes the last two seasons and finished 123rd or worse nationally in passing offense as a result.

The Cowboys also still have to largely prove themselves at receiver following the losses of Austin Conway, Rocket Ismail Jr. and John Okwoli, though UW is hardly green at the position. Seniors Ayden Eberhardt and Dontae Crow along with junior Gunner Gentry were all part of the rotation out wide a season ago, but the trio combined for just 14 receptions.

“Particularly as an offensive player, I just think we should be able to run up the score and put as many points on the board as possible,” said Eberhardt, who had the only two touchdown catches among the group last season. “And I think our whole offense has bought into that. We want to score as many points as possible and take some pressure off the defense.”

Adding more urgency to put up points is a trend of poor tackling Bohl said he’s seen around the country early in the season, which has left defenses susceptible to explosive plays. Bohl said he didn’t notice a lot of missed tackles during UW’s scrimmage last weekend, but acknowledged he doesn’t know exactly how four weeks of preparation will translate once the Cowboys go up against other teams starting with their Oct. 24 opener at Nevada.

“In the scrimmage and with things we’ve tried to do to position our guys, I think we’ve been in pretty good places, but tackling has been an Achilles’ heel in a lot of the games I’ve watched,” Bohl said. “I watched one (Thursday) night, and the tackling was a problem as well. We’re going to do the best we can, but we’re going to need to score some points.”

UW still has to decide on a starting quarterback between Chambers and Williams, who played in three games last season as a true freshman. The Cowboys averaged 28.8 points with Chambers behind center last season and just 19.8 in his absence, though Williams did account for four touchdowns in UW’s 38-17 Arizona Bowl win that sparked the competition.

UW still plans to play both signal callers regardless who wins the job. And with plenty of experience around them, there’s a heightened expectation to find the end zone more often.

“Our goal is to score as many points as we can,” Eberhardt said, “and I think we can do that.”

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Follow UW athletics beat writer Davis Potter on Twitter at @DavisEPotter.

This article originally ran on trib.com.

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