LARAMIE — A freshly-printed stack of statistics sat on Dave Christensen’s desk. The dissection of the 2012 season is in its infancy. But the coach said the study will be thorough.
Christensen’s fourth season in Laramie ended Saturday evening with a 42-28 loss to San Diego State. Between then and Monday afternoon, the coach hosted an end-of-the-year banquet for his players, met with every senior individually and finalized plans for recruiting — a process that started when assistants hit the road Sunday.
Christensen had just recently found the time to start thumbing through the stapled pack of papers on his desk on Monday, the first step in his analysis of a season that didn’t meet his expectations.
“I’m going to analyze every aspect of our program,” Christensen said. “Every individual in the program. And make decisions based upon what gives us the chance to be successful.”
Christensen said he understands the disappointment with a 4-8 season. Goals he said were within reach (another bowl appearance and a shot at the Mountain West conference championship) were not delivered. Frustration is a result that touches all: fans, players, and a head coach.
“I’m disappointed,” he said. “But I’m not discouraged.”
He remains adamant his team is within reach of its goals. Minor, not major tweaks to personnel and coaching are needed.
“We’re not going to make wholesale changes,” he said. “But we will make some adjustments of things we are doing.”
The specifics of those changes will gain clarity as the offseason progresses. But, on the first day of the first week of the offseason, Christensen walked the Casper Star-Tribune (http://bit.ly/UsAl0E ) through his preliminary end-of-the-season thoughts on three major components of his team.
Christensen’s coaching staff remains untouched for now.
While the coach is not seeking to switch things, some shuffling could occur. Christensen confirmed that Wyoming defensive coordinator Chris Tormey is interviewing for the Idaho head coaching job this week. Christensen said he has not yet considered how he will adjust his staff if Tormey leaves.
“I don’t want to get the cart ahead of the horse,” Christensen said. “Chris is going to interview there. I’m supportive of anything our guys can do from a career standpoint that advances them. We don’t play another game, (and) we don’t have anything until spring. I don’t have a timetable. I haven’t thought about it. I want to let that play out and see what happens.”
Tormey is still assigned to Wyoming recruiting duties as of Wednesday.
Regarding the offense, as he has all season, Christensen applauded the performance of Wyoming quarterback Brett Smith. The quarterback progressed in his second year despite two head injuries that made him miss two full games.
“He certainly didn’t have the sophomore slump everybody talked about,” Christensen said. “When he was healthy, he was as good as any quarterback in this league. And I think, with the kind of competitor Brett is, he will make the same progress again this year as he did last year. If he continues to make the progress he is making, he certainly is going to have an opportunity to play in the NFL someday.”
Other elements of the Pokes’ offensive attack were not as consistent this season.
Christensen stressed that Wyoming needs to present a more effective ground game next year. And he believes that will be achieved in part thanks to more depth on his offensive line. Wyoming played with six linemen this season. Those numbers will be boosted next year; Christensen hopes his offensive line will be two-deep.
“We’ve got to be more sound up front,” he said. “We have to be more physical, so we can run the football. Some of that will come with the maturity of the running backs. But we have to do a better job developing a run game. And we will, to take some pressure off Brett from having to throw it all the time.”
Brandon Miller, who missed most of Saturday’s game with the flu, will return to Wyoming’s backfield next year. Freshmen running backs D.J. May and Shaun Wick will also be back. Wick missed Saturday’s game with a shoulder injury, but Christensen said he will be ready for spring football.
“They got better as they played more,” the coach said of his two freshmen backs. “Going into next year, they’re going to be solid players for us.”
Wyoming’s receivers, however, could be the highlight of 2013. UW loses senior receiver Chris McNeill, but returns everyone else, including Sam Stratton who sat out this season due to a knee injury. Four redshirt receivers all taller than 6-feet tall (Eric Nzeocha, Nico Brown, Trent Sewell and Jake Maulhardt) will look to contribute as well.
“There is going to be great, great competition at the receiver positions,” Christensen said.
On defense, Christensen knows his defense needs to get better.
In Tormey’s first year, Wyoming didn’t improve in stopping the run and took steps back in its pass defense. The Pokes were also less efficient on third and fourth downs.
“We have to be better on defense on third downs,” he said. “We were one of the worst in the country. We have to tackle much better. I don’t think we ever did a good job of tackling. Those are going to be crucial things.”
Other things include finding or developing a defensive player or players who can fill the role of a disruptive pass rusher.
“I don’t know if there’s a guy anybody would circle and say, ‘We’re going to have to double-team this guy,”’ Christensen said. “And that’s what you need. You need somebody who is going to get after the quarterback.”
Wyoming’s secondary was hit hard this season by the season-ending injury to starting safety Luke Ruff. Christensen said the team will request a medical redshirt for Ruff in hopes that he will be able to play next year.
If he does return, he’ll join a group that includes Chad Reese, Blair Burns, Marqueston Huff, Mark Nzeocha and Darrenn White — along with newly recruited defensive backs.
“What we need to do is develop competition back there,” Christensen said. “And we will certainly try to do that with our recruiting.”
The coach has said all season the breakdowns are execution-based, not schematic. He voiced that thought again this week.
“I don’t know that there are a lot of flaws in the scheme, as much as there was technique or assignment-wise,” Christensen said. “But we will look at that, for sure. I think we have a lot of young guys coming back that need to improve between this year and next year. I think they are capable athletes that can do it.”
Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, http://www.trib.com