Report Card: Can Wyoming’s Cornerbacks’ Unit Become a Strength in ’23?
LARAMIE -- In this series, we'll assign a grade to all of Wyoming's position groups during the 2022 football season.
Craig Bohl's Cowboys exceeded all expectations last fall, finishing second overall in the Mountain Division behind Boise State.
UW (7-6, 5-3) fielded the third-youngest roster in the nation. At times, it showed. But there were plenty of bright spots, too.
There was the upset over Air Force, a four-game winning streak, including road victories at New Mexico, Hawaii and Colorado State and eventually a berth in the Arizona Bowl, the program's fifth postseason appearance since 2016.
Let's start the breakdown on the defensive side of the ball.
Cameron Stone led the Cowboys with two interceptions and 23 tackles in 2022. The sophomore also added 10 pass breakups and a forced fumble. Jakorey Hawkins, a first-year transfer from Ole Miss, also tallied 23 tackles last fall. He also picked off a pass and disrupted eight throws during his first season in Laramie. Fellow transfer, Deron Harrell, also snagged an interception in a road victory over Colorado State. The former Wisconsin Badger finished with 13 tackles, two pass breakups and a fumble recovery. Freshman Kolbey Taylor saw playing time late in the campaign, racking up three tackles. He was ejected in the first half of the Arizona Bowl for a targeting penalty. Mathew Posas and Jovan Marsh also combined for two stops on special teams.
If there was a real weakness on this Cowboys' defense -- glaring, at times -- it was at the cornerback spot. Whether it be tackling, breaking up 50-50 balls, creating turnovers or just plain covering speedy wideouts, it was a rough start for this group. Notice I used the word "start." Illinois, Tulsa, BYU and San Jose State combined to throw for 1,328 yards, 10 touchdowns and zero interceptions. Those four signal callers completed 107-of-161 throws in the process. That's better than a 66% completion rate. Over the final seven games of the 2022 campaign, this unit allowed just 1,260 yards through the air to go along with six touchdowns and four picks. Four times this UW defense held its opponent under 200 passing yards. None of those quarterbacks completed more than 23 throws. However, you have to keep things in perspective here. Though Hawkins and Harrell showed steady improvement, New Mexico's passing offense is a mess, Utah State's true freshman Bishop Davenport was making his first start, Jake Heaner and Fresno State called off the dogs early and Ohio was also operating with a back-up QB in Tucson. Wyoming capped the fall at No. 51 in the nation in passing yards allowed (217 per game).
UW FOOTBALL REPORT CARDS:
Benny Boyd - Entering fourth season
Deron Harrell (6-foot-2, 180 pounds, senior); Jakorey Hawkins (5-foot-11, 189-pounds, junior); Jovan Marsh (5-foot-11, 190 pounds, sophomore); Mathew Posas (5-foot-8, 170 pounds, junior); Kolbey Taylor (6-foot-2, 188 pounds, sophomore); Josh Dixon (5-foot-11, 170 pounds, redshirt freshman)
Ian Bell (6-foot-1, 180 pounds, freshman); Chauncey Carter (6-foot, 175 pounds, freshman), Naz Hill (6-foot-3, 180 pounds, freshman), Tyrecus Davis (5-foot-10, 180 pounds, junior, Navarro Junior College)
Cam Stone (5-foot-10, 180 pounds, junior - NCAA Transfer Portal - Hawaii)
Jakorey Hawkins and Deron Harrell showed flashes and appeared to be more comfortable late in the season. UW defensive coordinator Jay Sawvel praised Hawkins' performance, in specific. Those two will need to play like veterans next season with Cam Stone heading to Mountain West foe Hawaii via the NCAA Transfer Portal. This unit will be young. Craig Bohl and Co. brought in three true freshmen on early signing day -- Ian Bell, Naz Hill and Chauncey Carter -- but also snagged a JuCo transfer in Tyrecus Davis, who chose the Cowboys over teams like San Jose State and Colorado State. This group will be tested early with Texas Tech coming to town on Sept. 2 for the season opener. The Red Raiders throw the ball -- a lot. What should help the youthful cornerback room is all the experience that surrounds it. Wyoming's defensive ends, with the return of Sabastian Harsh, could pay huge dividends. The faster the quarterback is forced to make a decision, the better for the secondary. It all starts up front. And when healthy, the Cowboys arguably have the best front in the conference. Though your last memory of Kolbey Taylor isn't a good one, coaches have liked his progression. He has the size and speed to step in when called upon.