Third time’s a charm? Wyoming hopes so with UNLV looming after extended break

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UW football players

Wyoming’s players warm up before their game against Colorado State on Nov. 5 at Canvas Stadium in Fort Collins, Colo. The Cowboys haven’t played a game since after coronavirus-related issues at Air Force and Utah State forced those games to be canceled.

LARAMIE, Wyo. — Craig Bohl began his weekly press conference Monday by trying to talk Wyoming’s game against UNLV into existence.

“Third time’s a charm,” the Cowboys’ seventh-year coach said.

His opening line, of course, was in reference to UW’s attempt to try to play the next game on its schedule, an effort that’s been futile in recent weeks. Because of coronavirus-related issues within Air Force and Utah State’s football programs, the Cowboys’ last two games have been canceled. And since the Mountain West’s eight-game, conference-only slate leaves no scheduling flexibility leading up to the league’s Dec. 19 championship game, those games won’t be made up.

“It’s been pretty frustrating,” offensive lineman Latrell Bible said. “I’m not going to lie.”

As of Monday, five Football Bowl Subdivision games scheduled for this week had already been canceled or postponed. The good news for UW (1-2, 1-2 Mountain West) is its game scheduled for Friday at UNLV (0-4, 0-4) isn’t one of them.

At least not yet.

UNLV is also coming off an unexpected bye after issues related to COVID-19 surfaced in its program last week, forcing the Rebels to cancel their game against Colorado State. In a statement, UNLV athletic director Desiree Reed-Francois cited four positive tests and subsequent contact tracing as the team’s reason for canceling, but Bohl said Monday “all the indications we have right now” are that Friday’s game will be played.

Bohl added the Cowboys are scheduled to travel to Las Vegas on Thanksgiving, but UW’s coaches and players will be waiting with bated breath until then. The Cowboys didn’t find out until the day before that their game against Utah State last week was being canceled.

That game was supposed to be played Thursday. So for the second straight week, the Cowboys scratched their opponent-specific game plan and took some time to re-calibrate before switching their focus to UNLV over the weekend.

“It’s hard for sure,” defensive back Keyon Blankenbaker said. “Even starting from when we found out the season got postponed (in August), that was kind of shaky. And then finding out we were about to play, it’s all over the place. But we’re just trying to stay level-headed, get better every day, keep moving forward and control what we can control.”

Other players are trying to look at the positive of the situation, too. Cornerback Azizi Hearn said he’s tried to get his teammates to view the extended break between games as an opportunity to take advantage of additional practice time in order to improve themselves before lining up against their next opponent.

Through three games, UW ranks top 5 in the Mountain West in points (29.7 per game), yards (406.3) and rushing yards allowed (95.3). But the Cowboys are yielding nearly 262 passing yards per game, have already given up nine sacks and are converting just 32.6% of the time on third down, which ranks 109th nationally.

“It’s up to us if we want to let it affect us or if we want to let it help us,” Hearn said.

Assuming Friday’s game isn’t called off, 22 days will have passed since the Cowboys last competed. Bohl said there’s some concern about what his team’s fundamentals will look like going that long without game reps, though Blankenbaker said the fact UW has still been able to practice regularly should help keep the players sharp mentally and physically.

“We’ve been playing football all our lives, so it won’t be no different,” he said.

At this point, the Cowboys are just ready for another game to actually arrive.

“While coaches maybe enjoy practice, players, after a while, practice is practice,” Bohl said “It’s, ‘Coach, we want to play.’ So this is going to be great that we’re going to be able to play this week. At least right now, that’s what things are looking like.”

Follow UW athletics beat writer Davis Potter on Twitter at @DavisEPotter.