Through first 3 games, Wyoming's primary defensive ends have yet to record a sack



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LARAMIE, Wyoming — Wyoming's defensive ends are still searching for their pot of gold.

Typically, the rainbow ends in the backfield, at the quarterback. For four quarters, those two padded bulldogs are let off the leash — spinning, twisting and knifing through and around blockers in hopes of finding a reward waiting helplessly in the backfield.

But through three games, Wyoming's four primary defensive ends — Eddie Yarbrough, Sonny Puletasi, Riley Lange and Siaosi Hala'api'api — have come up empty-handed.

Three games. Four defensive ends. Zero combined sacks.

"We just have to keep working, and one of these days we'll find that gold," said Yarbrough, who led the Cowboys with 6.5 sacks last season. "I'm not concerned about it. We just have to keep grinding."

Given their early schedule, the low output isn't entirely surprising. In the second game of the season, Wyoming hosted Air Force, which features a triple-option attack that spends most of the game on the ground and yields few opportunities to rush the passer.

Last week, the Cowboys ran into No. 2 Oregon and junior quarterback Marcus Mariota — perhaps the most frustratingly elusive player in the country.

Yet defensive ends coach A.J. Cooper isn't one for excuses, even if there are plenty to go around.

"I think (Air Force) ended up throwing 10 or 15 balls that game, and we felt there was still a couple opportunities left out there where we could have made plays," Cooper said. "Obviously, Oregon is a great football team. But at the same token, too, we don't worry about what other people do.

"We need to worry about how we execute and what we do, and we're not executing at a high-enough level yet as defensive ends and a defensive line."

With three games behind them, Wyoming's four primary defensive ends carry a combined 24 tackles on the season, with Yarbrough — a preseason All-Mountain West selection — claiming the only two tackles for loss.

And yet, no one is pushing the panic button.

While the production has been underwhelming, this is still an experienced group. Puletasi and Lange are both seniors, while Yarbrough and Hala'api'api are juniors. Together, Yarbrough and Puletasi combined for 11 sacks a season ago.

Ask the players, and the question isn't "if," but "when."

"I put all my eggs in the basket with those guys," Yarbrough said. "They're experienced and they have a lot of tenacity. I have 100 percent trust in them, because I know when the game's on the line, they're going to do what they have to do."

Saturday afternoon would certainly be an opportune time for Wyoming's defensive ends to find the end of their rainbow. Last week, Florida Atlantic quarterback Jaquez Johnson passed for 318 yards and three touchdowns, and ran for another score.

One of Johnson's strengths is the deep ball, and he connected on touchdown passes of 74 and 59 yards in the 50-21 victory.

To complete that pass, however, the quarterback requires both time and space. And the easiest deep ball to defend, Cooper knows, is the one that's never thrown.

"Coverage can only hold up so long," he said. "They've been doing a good job of keeping the ball in front and not giving up those big, long plays. But at some point on our end we have to get there to prevent those throws from even occurring. That's going to be a big part of this game.

"(Florida Atlantic likes) to take big shots and they attack aggressively with a good group of wide receivers and a good quarterback. We have to take that away from them."

Almost a month into the 2014 season, Yarbrough and Co. have waited long enough for their pot of gold.

With the Owls looming, these Cowboys are sick of waiting.

"You definitely want to hit the quarterback. That's half the mojo right there," Yarbrough said, his signature grin suddenly, noticeably absent.

"The itch is definitely growing, but you still have to do your assignment and do your job."


Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, http://www.trib.com

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