Q&A with Cody Tucker of 7220 Sports
Image credit: 7220sports.com
Cody Tucker is founder/publisher of 7220sports.com, a website dedicated to covering University of Wyoming athletics – which launched June of this year. Cody is a Cheyenne, Wyoming native who most recently covered the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Michigan State Spartans before coming home to cover Wyoming’s one and only four-year university. THERSday Night was able to ask him a few questions about the Pokes heading into the Arizona Bowl.
THERSdayNight.com: With the season-ending injury to Sean Chambers, the QB position for the Pokes was already a little up in the air between Tyler Vander Waal and Levi Williams and now Vander Waal has entered the transfer portal. Where does this leave things for the bowl game for the signal-callers?
Cody Tucker, 7220Sports: It has certainly been crazy around here when it comes to who will – or should – be under center on Tuesday. Vander Waal, despite throwing his name in the transfer portal, has been preparing like he will be the starter in this game. Levi Williams is a true freshman from Texas, who originally signed out of high school with Houston. He is highly touted and has showed in his two regular season outings that he can throw the ball and he’s more of a tough runner, ie Sean Chambers. In my opinion, this has to be Williams’ first start in a Wyoming uniform. What kind of message does that send, starting a guy who is leaving? Williams is more than capable of carrying the load.
THERSdayNight.com: Given the uncertainty of what the quarterback position will offer, who are some guys of the offensive side the Wyoming coaches will want to rely on against Georgia State to make plays and take some pressure off Williams/Vander Waal?
Tucker: That’s easy – the offensive line and 1,000+ yard running back Xazavian Valladay. The Cowboys should also be getting true freshman Titus Swen back from injury for this one. Head coach Craig Bohl and offensive coordinator Brent Vigen have made it no secret what the Pokes will do – run, run and run again. That’s what they have done from day one with this group. Williams is way more equipped to run Bohl’s style of offense, too. He is a big, physical runner who can mix in the pass. San Diego State possessed one of the top run defenses in the nation this season. No one thought the Cowboys could go into San Diego and run the ball. They had more than 130 by half. Nothing will make them shy away from that game plan, though Bohl has said time and again this team needs better balance. I don’t expect it in Tucson.
THERSdayNight.com: Looking back over the years, Wyoming’s rush defense hadn’t been great over the early part of the Craig Bohl era but it ticked up last year to a top 30 rush defense and this year, it’s a top 10 rush defense. What’s been the change there to make the Wyoming defense, especially during this season, such a run-stopping force?
Tucker: The rotation at the defensive line spot has been really good and unexpected. Entering the season, the Cowboys best interior lineman, Rovantae Holt, was lost with an ACL injury in fall camp. Behind him was a bunch of young unknowns. Well, Wyoming fans – and the Mountain West – now know the names Mario Mora and Cole Godbout. Unfortunately for the Pokes, their best tackle, Javaree Jackson, was dismissed from the team last week. That is a big loss up front, but the Cowboys also have a pair of seniors at the linebacker spot, including All-American Logan Wilson. First-team All-MWC safety Alijah Halliburton has been one of the top run stoppers in the nation and Keyon Blankenbaker has been a tackling machine at the nickel spot. Wyoming’s focus will still be, first and foremost, on stopping Tra Barnett. They want to test Dan Ellington and his partially torn ACL. Speed rushers Garrett Crall and Solomon Byrd are licking their chops.
THERSdayNight.com: Just like the Panthers, Wyoming slipped down the stretch and lost three of their final four regular season games. Was there a common theme to the struggles late in the year for the Cowboys?
Tucker: First off, the Cowboys had a brutal schedule in November. They traveled to Boise State and Utah State in back-to-back weeks before coming home to face Border War nemesis, Colorado State. They capped the season at top 25 Air Force. That was a gauntlet. The Pokes were in all four games, lost to the Broncos in overtime, had the ball and a chance to win in Logan, Utah – despite four Tyler Vander Waal turnovers – beat CSU and eventually ran out of gas because of an inept offense against the Falcons. If there was one theme, it was not taking advantage of numerous opportunities to win those games. Against Utah State, Wyoming had the ball inside the Aggies’ red zone time and time again only to come up empty. That, along with the turnovers, are not characteristic of this squad. Another theme for this team in all five of its losses has been getting that one additional stop. They couldn’t do it at Tulsa, San Diego State, Boise State, Utah State or Air Force. One more stop by the Pokes defense could’ve turned a really solid season into a special one. Those first four losses were by a combined 15 points.
THERSdayNight.com: Taking stock now at the end of a fourth straight bowl-eligible season and a third bowl in four years, where do the Wyoming faithful sit with regards to the job Coach Bohl has done? And does the result in this bowl game move the needle any?
Tucker: Bohl is arguably the most respected coach at UW in my 36 years of life. He is a no-nonsense type of guy that expects his players to play “Cowboy tough” football. He wants his team to model the people of this state – hard-working and tough. He recruits a certain type of guy, a player that doesn’t worry about having his name on the back of his jersey, multiple jersey combos, isn’t worried about weather or small-town life. “Come to Laramie and play your ass off.” That is the unofficial motto. And it’s really worked. Bohl now has a full roster of “his guys.” This state has one four-year university. Border to border, it’s Cowboy country. It’s unique but also a chance to be a very big fish in a very small pond. UW is literally the only show in town. So, making it to bowl games is still a big deal. Winning them just adds to the rich history of this program. Trust me, no one is taking this lightly.
THERSdayNight.com: Finally, rather than ask for a straight prediction, I’ll ask this. If you could hypothetically guarantee a number of points Georgia State will definitely score, what number could you say that would make Wyoming fans nervous of the offense matching?
Tucker: Great question! The Cowboys aren’t interested in a shootout. The fans certainly aren’t. However, this team has also shown that when it gets running down hill, it can really impose its will. The Pokes hung 53 on UNLV, 37 on Missouri and 31 on Nevada. The common theme – running at will and owning the line of scrimmage. They also failed to get into the end zone at Air Force in the regular season finale. Why? Because they couldn’t run. Let’s say this, if GSU is stopping the run, the Pokes don’t want to see this game get into the 30s. Maybe even less. However, Levi Williams hasn’t truly gotten a shot to run this offense. He can throw the ball and everyone is excited to see what he can do with some rhythm and the keys to the car. The running backs are healthy and the Panthers haven’t stopped the run. I think Bohl and co. love their chances.
You can check out the companion piece to this Q&A on the 7220 Sports site here, where our own Brady Weiler answers Tucker’s questions.
Our thanks to Cody for his time! The NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl kicks off from Arizona Stadium in Tucson at 4:30pm EST on December 31.