The Illinois football team needs to get off to a good start offensively on Saturday.
With a new quarterback behind center, the Illini could take a few series’ to get going. But that could leave the door open for a tough Wyoming defense to make some noise and gain momentum for their program.
Illinois’ offense is going to need to be on-point if we want to come away with a solid win on Saturday.
Here is a breakdown of the Wyoming defense against the Illinois football team.
Heading into the game on Saturday, Wyoming’s defense does carry some solid play in one specific area. They are really good at defending the pass.
Last season alone, the Cowboys only allowed 188.9 yards per game through the air, which ranked No. 12 in the country. A part of stopping the opposing passing attack is forcing turnovers. Wyoming had 10 interceptions on the season from eight different players.
Thankfully, the leader of the Wyoming defense from 2021 has departed. Linebacker Chad Muma ended last season with 142 tackles, three interceptions, 1.5 sacks, and one pass deflection. His tackles and interceptions were the most by any player on the team.
Wyoming isn’t returning many of the players who had an interception last season. Only three out of the 10 interceptions are returning to the squad this season. But they are getting back some key players.
The main returning players to help the Wyoming pass defense are both of their safeties. Isaac White and Miles Williams are back and will be looking to make a play in the secondary. I also want to point out that the same coaching mindset is still in play with Wyoming. Their pass defense might have lost a lot of talent this offseason, but they will be ready to change the momentum of the game at a moment’s notice.
I would make the argument that the biggest weakness the Wyoming defense has coming into the game on Saturday is the fact they are so depleted compared to the 2021 team.
Wyoming had a good pass defense and a below-average run defense last season, but most of the players who supported that defense are now gone.
When it comes to total tackles from 2021, Wyoming is missing five out of their top seven players. Easton Gibbs was second on the team last season with 89 tackles. The depth depletion doesn’t stop there, though.
The Cowboys lost five out of their top seven players in sacks and five out of their top seven players in interceptions. This program isn’t Alabama. They can’t just reload and everything is going to be okay. Losing that much talent is almost like a program reset.
Week zero is going to be a learning curve for Wyoming. Illinois has a chance to come out and pop the Cowboys right in the mouth from the start. They will have an extremely depleted defense.
Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl has done a solid job building a good defense since arriving in 2015. His first couple of years were shaky, but he has steadied the ship and has made the Cowboys into a top 50 defense in the country.
Over the past five seasons, Wyoming has averaged giving up 23.7 points per game or less each year. Their highest average was 23.7 points per game this past season, which ranked No. 43 in the country. The best Bohl managed to do was back in 2017 when the Cowboys gave up just 17.5 points per game, which ranked No. 9 in the nation.
There is a caveat to these numbers, though. Wyoming’s defensive numbers were skewed due to them playing in a weak conference. When they actually played power-five programs, the Cowboys’ defense changed dramatically. In fact, in the seven games Wyoming has played against power-five programs since Bohl took over, they have given up an average of 38.3 points per game.
Bohl is a good coach, but he is going to have to prove that his defense can actually hold a power-five program to under 30 points.
There are a couple of players who I think will be key for Wyoming’s defense on Saturday. The first player that comes to mind is Gibbs at linebacker.
Gibbs is entering his fourth season with the Cowboys, but he is only technically a sophomore. Last season, he started every game for Wyoming and finished with 89 tackles, four pass deflections, and two sacks.
I believe Gibbs has a chance to really disrupt what Illinois wants to do on offense. He is going to have a monster year, and if the Cowboys want any chance at beating the Illini, Gibbs is going to need a big day.
The other defensive player I want to mention is Cole Godbout. He is Wyoming’s nose tackle and the primary player on the line who is going to be a menace for the Illinois running game.
Godbout started every game last season for Wyoming, and his five sacks would lead the team. He also had 70 tackles and five pass deflections on the year. These two are going to be the toughest players Illinois will have to deal with on Saturday.