LARAMIE — The groans of disappointment rippled through War Memorial Stadium. A sure-to-be touchdown pass had hit the turf. The throw, had it been completed, would have been a big one.
Wyoming wide receiver Trey Norman was open, wide open, and becoming more so with every step when Brett Smith threw the pass that hit the sophomore in stride. It looked like a touchdown was coming. The Cowboys were about to take a 14-0 lead in the first quarter.
But the football bounced off Norman’s hands. Gravity pulled it to the ground. The groans rippled.
Looking back now, it’s impossible to say how Norman’s drop would have changed the outcome of UW’s second football game of the season — a game the Cowboys lost 34-31 to Toledo. But one thing is certain. The drop has changed Norman’s role on the team. And in order to get the spot he thinks he deserves back, he has to prove he can catch passes when it matters most.
“The bottom line in this offense is, if you drop the ball, you don’t play,” UW coach Dave Christensen said. “Trey is coming to work every day and working hard. When his opportunity comes, he has to make plays.
“It’s like anybody in this program. You have limited opportunities, in games and practice, where the ball is (thrown) to you or where you are in position. When those opportunities come, you have to perform. Or we are going to find somebody else.”
Somebody else appears to be Jalen Claiborne. The junior college transfer got his first start after Robert Herron was sidelined with a shin injury. Now that Herron is back, Claiborne is still listed as a starter as the Cowboys prepared for Saturday’s Mountain West Conference game at Nevada. That means a backup role for Norman.
“I’m a two right now,” Norman tells the Casper Star-Tribune (http://bit.ly/SyvRGI). “But I know I’m not a two. I’m a starter. I can be a starter on this team.”
He had been a starter before the drop. He had earned the spot because he got open, because he had a way of catching his quarterback’s eye. That has not changed.
“The thing I love about Trey is that he is just a natural receiver,” Smith said. “If he sees something break down, he is quick to find open space. He is able to find holes in the zone and sit in them. He’s able to see the windows I see, so we are able to connect on some passes.”
Because of one breakdown in the most important part of that connection — the catch — Norman has lost some ground. Since dropping the touchdown pass, he has caught just three passes for a total of 16 yards.
A chance for major redemption slipped through his grasp in UW’s overtime victory against Idaho. It wasn’t a drop, necessarily. But it could have been a catch.
With the Cowboys trailing 20-14, and no time left in the first half, Smith threw a prayer of a pass 41 yards to the end zone. The ball had no specific target. It was batted around by receivers and defensive backs. The final deflection sent it Norman’s way.
He lunged. He collided with a defensive back. The ball fell to the ground.
“Maybe I should have come down with it,” Norman said. “But it’s one of those things. It was a bang-bang play.”
Norman says he is not worried. One drop and a non-catch on a Hail Mary is not something that represents a trend. Catching the football, he says, is natural. It’s as simple as reading a book. After all, he has made catches since dropping that one against Toledo.
But a dropped pass that would have been a touchdown tends to overshadow such things. Norman knows that, too. He heard the groans in the stadium that Saturday. He was the most disappointed of all.
“When I dropped that, nobody felt worse than me.” Norman said. “Because I know I can make that play.”
Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, http://www.trib.com