LARAMIE, Wyo. — Darrenn White plays cornerback, per the University of Wyoming football roster.
But the sophomore started at strong safety in the Cowboys' 35-28 overtime loss at Nevada. White could see more time at safety this week as UW (1-4 overall, 0-1 Mountain West) hosts Air Force (2-3, 1-1) at 5 p.m. on Saturday.
Other defensive backs could play other positions Saturday — and the rest of the season.
"With the secondary guys we have seven or eight guys that are interchangeable at different places," coach Dave Christensen said.
Christensen said he includes cornerbacks and safeties in that mix, but so far most of the changes have come at safety.
More changes could come as senior free safety Luke Ruff left the Nevada game with an injury and is questionable for Saturday. Christensen said three factors — Ruff's health, the offensive scheme UW faces each week and which players perform the best in practice — could yield major changes to the lineup the rest of the season.
UW's secondary struggled against the pass at Nevada as two quarterbacks combined for 438 yards and four touchdowns. Nevada backup Devin Combs, who replaced sophomore Cody Fajardo late in the first half after he took a hit and suffered back spasms, threw a 44-yard touchdown pass with 1 minute, 18 seconds left in regulation to tie the game, and a game-winning 24-yard touchdown in overtime.
It was the second time the Cowboys allowed four touchdown passes in a game this season. Their 34-31 home loss to Toledo was the other. The 438 yards allowed was a season-high, as was Nevada's average yards each completion (14.6). Receiver Richy Turner, who caught the game-tying touchdown, had a 71-yard catch earlier in the game which was the longest UW's allowed this season.
"We failed to communicate a couple of times on switch routes," Christensen tells the Wyoming Tribune Eagle (http://bit.ly/TgXdf0). "We didn't talk well enough on the back end to communicate it. They're very correctible, but devastating plays.
"We knew we were going to be put in some situations where we would be manned up in coverage. It's on me. I probably didn't have our guys prepared well enough for that."
Nevada threw more because UW stopped the run. Nevada entered the game averaging 308.8 yards a game, but had just 127. Junior running back Stefphon Jefferson was the nation's leading rusher, but had just 78 yards on 23 carries against UW.
If Ruff can't play, UW will be without one of its most reliable defensive backs. He's started every game at free safety.
The Cowboys have started three different players at strong safety. Sophomore Mark Nzeocha started the first two, senior Luke Anderson the next two and White last week. Nzeocha had injury issues early in the season but has been back the last few weeks and played mostly on special teams.
On this week's depth chart, Ruff is listed as the starter at free safety despite being questionable. Anderson is the starter at strong safety. Senior Kenny Browder, who has played corner and safety in his career, and Nzeocha are listed as "or" at No. 2 behind Ruff. Sophomore Chad Reese, who had hand surgery earlier this season, is Anderson's backup.
White is listed as the backup to sophomore Blair Burns at one of the two cornerback spots, but will get looks at safety this week in practice.
Christensen said he thought roles would be more defined in a more stable defense by this point of the season.
"But through production it hasn't happened," he said. "So we evaluate them and there's competition every week. If you don't get the job done and somebody else is, or can, then they're going to get an opportunity to see what they can do."
White recorded his first career interception against Nevada and tied for fourth on the team with six tackles. He said he doesn't know which position he prefers, which might be a good thing.
"Wherever I'm needed, I'm there," White said. "The coaches know that."
UW won't see the passing game it did at Nevada against Air Force; the Falcons average just 112 yards a game. However, the Falcons' triple-option offense averages 389.6 rushing yards a game, second-best in the nation. Nevada's run game was mostly between the tackles while Air Force gets most of its yards on the perimeter.
Just more things for UW coaches to think about when trying to find the right combination at safety.
"You have to be disciplined and keep the ball in front of you," defensive coordinator and secondary coach Chris Tormey said. "You have to be able to make plays on the perimeter. You have to be able to play cut blocks and get off cut blocks to make plays against the run."