Monday, December 21, 2009

Game Notes: New Mexico Bowl

The Wyoming Cowboys upset the Fresno State Bulldogs 35-28 in the New Mexico Bowl led by freshman quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels. Fresno tailback Ryan Mathews had his moments, both good and bad, while Wyoming showed more defensive talent than we thought going in. We break down Mathews, Carta-Samuels and more in our New Mexico Bowl game notes.

* Player of the Game: QB Austyn Carta-Samuels, Wyoming – 17-31, 201 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT, 71 yards rushing

Right from the start it was evident the Bulldogs defense was going to have trouble with Wyoming freshman quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels. On the game’s first series of downs the first-year signal caller scrambled and converted on third-and-long. The drive would be fruitless in terms of points, nonetheless it was a harbinger for things to come.

Following a Fresno score to tie the game at 7-7, Carta-Samuels led the Cowboys on a 15-play, 95-yard drive that took 7:14 off the clock. Once again it started with his legs, as he scrambled to get Wyoming out from out of the shadow of their own end zone. The freshman displayed such a good feel for the pocket and exhibited outstanding instincts—he knows when to hold’em and knows when to fold’em (he is a Cowboys after all). With Fresno defensive end Chris Carter bearing down on him, Carta-Samuels tucked it and was gone. On 4th & 2, first-year head coach Dave Christensen put the ball in the hands, or should we say legs, of his quarterback to keep the drive alive with his shifty running. The gambler in Samuels came out when he threw one up for grabs in the end zone—two Wyoming receivers and two Fresno defensive backs were in the area (obviously someone ran the wrong route) and it was Greg Bolling who went up and snagged the 21-yard touchdown pass in the back corner of the end zone.

In addition to using his legs to pick up yards, Carta-Samuels was able to scramble to bide time and throw on the run just about as well as any quarterback we’ve seen all year. He made more than one accurate throw on the move, across his body, doing a good job of squaring his shoulders before letting the football fly. Fresno didn’t blitz often but when they did, Carta-Samuels was far from rattled. He would use a subtle sidestep to give him the extra second he needed. The freshman recognized the linebackers coming his way and knew where to go with the football, making quick decisions when he needed to.

With Fresno jumping out to a 11-point lead in the fourth quarter, Carta-Samuels continued to work his magic, buying time for his wide outs, with a great understanding of when to scramble and when to stay in the pocket and look down field. On his second touchdown pass of the day, Carta-Samuels showcased his quick release—he knew exactly where to go with the football when Fresno blitzed their linebackers. It was more of the same on the game-tying drive. Before the Cowboys lined up for the field goal, they took a shot at the end zone and Carta-Samuels showed excellent touch…had his receiver not stumbled it could have been the game-winner. But that only delayed the enviable for the Bulldogs, as Carta-Samuel’s prettiest pass of the day came on Wyoming’s second possession of overtime. Again on the move, the freshman connected on a perfect 13-yard scoring strike to his favorite target junior wide receiver David Leonard, and it was a thing of beauty.

* Look At Me: While Carta-Samuels will get most of the accolades, another freshman displayed his big play ability for the Cowboys—tailback Alvester Alexander. The Houston native got the party started by breaking off a 68-yard scoring scamper down the right sideline. It was a simple one-cut-and-go in the open field. Alexander showed good speed on the outside throughout the game. The freshman also has a nice future in Wyoming, but right now, he does most (if not all) his damage outside the tackles. In all Alexander totaled 127 yards on 12 carries, averaging 11.4 yards per carry. Even taking out his 68-yard run, Alexander averaged 5.4 yards per tote.

* The Goal-Line Stand: As much as Carta-Samuels carried the load for Wyoming, the defense stepped up in key moments. During the first possession in overtime, the Cowboys stopped Fresno, who was parked just outside the end zone with four chances to punch it in. On first and goal it was outside linebacker Josh Biezuns scraping down the line of scrimmage to make the play on star tailback Ryan Mathews for no-gain, displaying his speed and athleticism. After two more stops, on fourth and goal, Biezuns once again rose to the occasion, as the sophomore easily shed the fullback and hit Mathews low, stopping the tailback’s momentum, along with inside linebacker Gabe Knapton making the hit high to keep Mathews from falling forward.

* More Defense: Biezun, who is often overshadowed by fellow sophomores Knapton and Brian Hendricks, a pair of Colorado natives, was a stalwart all game long. The outside linebacker (BUCK) recorded seven tackles, including two for a loss. Knapton (MIKE) recorded a team-high 11 stops from his inside position, while fellow inside backer (WILL) Hendricks made six tackles, including 0.5 sacks. He made a nice stop on Mathews during the Cowboys’ game-deciding defensive stand in the second overtime.

Along the line of scrimmage, defensive ends John Fletcher and Mitch Unrein both had active games. Strong and stout at the point of attack, Fletcher showed the ability to shed blocks and often took Mathews head-on and stopped the explosive runner dead in his tracks. He is not great in space and missed a couple of opportunities to sack Fresno quarterback Ryan Colburn. Fletcher, a senior, could bring very good value as 3-4 defensive end late in draft or as priority free agent. Not as highly thought off, Unrein was even more effective with his game-high two sacks among his six tackles, in addition to a key strip (forced fumble and recovery) of Mathews. On one sack, Unrein beat a Fresno guard on inside move, displaying his ability to play in a 3-4 scheme as well. He also pressured Colburn into rushing his throws.

Sophomore cornerback Tashaun Gibson stood out among the defensive backs. After a missed open field tackle on the first defensive play of the game, Gibson was solid, blanketing Bulldog receivers and allowing little to no yards after the catch (seven solo tackles). He has good size and made some plays against the run as well.

* Top Pro Prospect: RB Ryan Mathews, Fresno State – 144 yards, 2 TDs, 4.6 yards per carry

Despite a key fumble and the unsuccessful goal line stand, Mathews was the most gifted player on the field in New Mexico. Mathews is a legitimate home-run threat, but he isn’t afraid to run between the tackles either. Mathews possesses the ability to spin off tackles to get the extra yard. He keeps his legs churning and runs with desire.

For Fresno’s first score, the Bulldogs went to the power game on a 4th & 3, running Mathews between the tackles and the junior broke free for a 29-yard run after he ran through arm tackles with ease. Mathews is very elusive and has a strong upper body—you can’t bring him down high. He also uses a stiff-arm once he gets to the outside and keeps ball in the proper hand. The junior has very good balance and vision. On his fumble, Mathews needed to use better ball security, when putting his shoulder down, two hands should have been wrapped around the football. Matthews was also effective from the wildcat, scoring after taking the direct snap.

Mathews limped off into the locker room in the second quarter and didn’t seam to run with the same authority afterwards. It’s now decision time for the potential second round pick…will Mathew stay or go?

* Up & Down Quarterback Play: Colburn was inconsistent, even though his numbers were solid—13-19 passing for 126 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions. Colburn is pretty accurate and has nice touch, but at times saw the ball sail on him in key spots. While not possessing a rocket, he does have a solid arm. On his touchdown pass, the junior showed particularly nice touch, floating one perfectly to his receiver near the back of the end zone.

Though not very athletic, Colburn is an efficient runner who made good decisions when he did tuck it and run. At 6’3” and 220 pounds, Colburn has good size.

* Disappearing Act: Senior tailback Lonyae Miller—a no-nonsense straight-ahead runner for the Bulldogs—surprisingly saw only one carry in the game. On that one carry, Miller rumbled up the middle with for 12 yards. His lack of playing time may have been due to the mishap on what was supposed to be his second carry—he and Colburn went to different spots in the backfield, which prevented a clean exchange and resulted in a fumble inside the Wyoming ten-yard line.

* Disappearing Act Part II: Senior wide receiver Seyi Ajirotutu was held to one reception for six yards—not the types of numbers the Bulldogs top receiver wanted to close his career out with. Throughout the contest, Ajirotutu had trouble getting off the line of scrimmage when pressed. Ajirotutu is a potential late round pick, but could end up being a priority free agent.

* Disappearing Act Part III: Barely making his presence in the box score was another senior who scouts had marked down as a player to watch—senior cornerback A.J. Jefferson, who made just one tackle on the day. Of course his quiet game was a positive showing, as Carta-Samuels didn’t look Jefferson’s way too often.

* More Defense:
Fresno junior defensive end Carter may not have put up eye-popping numbers (3 tackles and one sack), but he was disruptive for much of the game. On his sack, Carter beat two blockers as the 230-pound end used his speed to explode passed the right tackle before he overpowered the running back. It wasn’t the only time Carter beat a double team. On several other plays his pressure forced Carta-Samuels to leave the pocket or throw the ball away. In addition to his athleticism, Carter displayed some nice moves. On one play he set his man up by taking a speed step to the outside, before countering with an inside move. At 6’2/230 pounds, Carter is very undersized and will likely have to play outside linebacker at the next level—even then he probably needs to pack on a few extra pounds and get stronger. Another season at Fresno would be a wise decision.

The line as a whole had its moments. Sophomore defensive tackle Logan Harrell was active, recording five tackles (one tackle for a loss). The undersized defender used his quickness to beat blockers one-on-one. Backup nose tackle sophomore Chase McEntee also displayed the ability to get into the backfield in limited duty. Defensive end Chris Lewis registered two tackles for a loss and even intercepted a pass, and looks like a good athlete.

Junior MIKE Ben Jacobs was solid throughout turning in a game-high 14 tackles. Maybe even more impressive was Los Angeles native sophomore Kyle Knox. Listed as a backup outside linebacker, Knox finished second on Fresno State with his 10 tackles, including 1.5 tackles for a loss. He’s explosive and appears to have good speed. Knox is one to watch down the road, especially if he can put on a little weight (215 pounds).

Photos Courtesy of University of Wyoming Photo Service & Ryan Watamura