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Columbia Missourian

Former MU offensive coordinator upbeat despite 3-9 season at Wyoming

December 6, 2010 | 8:42 p.m. CST
Quarterback Dax Crum gets instructions from Wyoming head coach Dave Christensen near the end of their game against Utah on Oct. 16 in Laramie, Wyo. Crum was the backup to starting quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels.

LARAMIE, Wyo. — Dave Christensen wasn't happy with the final results.

Yet the Wyoming football coach, who has just completed his second season, likes where the program is headed going into 2011.

During Christensen's first two years as assistant head coach and offensive coordinator at Missouri in 2001-02, the Tigers won nine games. In his first two seasons at Wyoming, the Cowboys won 10.

Christensen seems confident his players will improve and more will be added so that last season's 3-9 record (1-7 and last place in the Mountain West Conference) will be forgotten.

There will be changes in 2011, some noticeable and some subtle.

One won't be at quarterback.

Austyn Carta-Samuels was the Freshman of the Year in the MWC in 2009 as he led Wyoming to a 7-6 record and a New Mexico Bowl victory.

But struggles along the line in 2010 forced the offense to change dramatically from the start of the season, which led to a unit ranked in the bottom 20 nationally in scoring (19.2 points per game) and total offense (285.5 yards per game).

Wyoming ran 215 fewer plays than in 2009 and attempted 121 fewer passes, completing 51 fewer.

Carta-Samuels' individual numbers weren't bad. He hit 61.1 percent of his passes for 1,702 yards with nine touchdowns and eight interceptions. He also was Wyoming's second-leading rusher with 392 yards and three touchdowns.

Christensen said Wyoming will run more of a spread offense next season, as was the plan when he and his staff got here.

Christensen is confident Wyoming can do that because of continued development and more competition along the offensive line and at receiver.

And by working more with Carta-Samuels.

"I didn't do a very good job of bringing the kid along," the coach said. "The kid's only been in school for a year and a half. He's not ready for this.

"What I'm trying to do is teach him how to be a leader and how to be a quarterback. I did him a disservice on letting him be a captain (only the second sophomore in Wyoming history). He wasn't ready."

Wyoming returns eight of 11 starters on offense. Running back Alvester Alexander led the team with 792 yards and 14 touchdowns as a sophomore. And even though Wyoming must replace its top two receivers — seniors David Leonard and Zach Bolger — nine of its top 10 after that return.

Chris McNeill is one of those. He will be back as the leading receiver in 2011 as a junior, after posting 28 catches for 257 yards and three touchdowns this year.

Wyoming will stick with a 4-3 set up on defense. The 2010 season was its first after running a 3-4 set.

The change was tougher than expected because the Cowboys had to replace their defensive line. Only one player, sophomore tackle Mike Purcell, had ever played defensive line in a college game.

Wyoming allowed three more points and 33 more rushing yards per game this season compared to 2009. It did give up seven fewer passing yards a game, but it also had three fewer quarterback sacks and forced seven fewer turnovers.

"We will stick with the 4-3 because fundamentally, it's sound," Christensen said. "We have to get better in some technique things at every position."

Christensen expects to have 10 to 12 defensive linemen compete for playing time. Wyoming had only six play in all 12 games this season. It will be interesting to see how players such as defensive ends Josh Biezuns and Gabe Knapton improve. Both were linebackers in 2009.

Knapton finished with 67 tackles, including seven for loss, and four sacks. Biezuns was a Second-Team All-MWC pick with 61 tackles and a team-best 10.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks.

To add depth at running back, sophomore Ghaali Muhammad will move there from outside linebacker. He ran for more than 1,400 yards and scored 14 touchdowns his senior year of high school in St. Joseph, Mo.

"I want to have three to four kids through a season, all playing, so we can be more efficient and explosive there," the coach said.

Christensen said true freshman Robert Herron, who split time at running back and receiver, will play more at receiver.

"We have guys that can catch the ball and some playmaker guys," Christensen said. "Herron's got that explosive speed that can stretch the field. He'll help, but we need to get another guy."

Arguably, the most pressing need for the Cowboys is to add quantity and quality in terms of players.

Wyoming is allowed to have a maximum of 85 players on scholarships as a Football Bowl Subdivision school, but that number was in the low- to mid-60s this season, the number for most Football Championship Subdivision schools.

Wyoming will sign its maximum of 25 in February, and Christensen expects to have around 90 available for spring ball in March.

"The good news is it's changing; it's changing drastically," he said.