Wyoming shows progress, production under Christensen

The University of Wyoming capped off a successful season under first-year head coach Dave Christensen with a 35-28 double-overtime win over Fresno State in the New Mexico Bowl on Saturday afternoon.

In their first bowl game since 2004, the Cowboys withstood the nation's leading rusher and a future NFL starter, Ryan Mathews, to cap off a wild season in which they were picked by many prognosticators to finish last in the Mountain West.

In a fitting end to such a surprising campaign, a swarm of Wyoming’s jubilant fans darted out of the stands at University Stadium to celebrate the program’s rebirth.

Just how bright is the future for the Cowboys?

MWC freshman of the year Austyn Carta-Samuels led yet another comeback, tossing three TDs against the Bulldogs — including the game-winner — to give Wyoming its fifth win this season after trailing in the fourth quarter. The 11-point deficit on Saturday was handled with ease by the true freshman signal caller, who was named the game’s offensive MVP.

While the Pokes will lose playmaking linebacker Weston Johnson, their entire starting defensive line and perhaps the two strongest members of its inconsistent offensive line to graduation, the key to sustained success surely begins and ends with Christensen’s strong first recruiting class, his upcoming crop next season and his ability to maximize the talent of the players he inherited from former coach Joe Glenn.

Carta-Samuels wasn’t the only freshman to make an immediate impact in 2009, as running back Alvester Alexander capped off his debut season with a 137-yard, one TD performance against Fresno.

Several other true freshmen on both sides of the ball made significant contributions and provided depth this season, and the bulk of Wyoming’s skill players besides Carta-Samuels and Alexander are underclassmen, as well, from Glenn’s regime.

The 2010 recruiting class currently features speedy wide receiver Anthony Amos, a transfer from City College of San Francisco, and incoming freshman wide receiver Jonathan Aiken, while incoming freshmen Desmond Tautofi and Riley Lange should provide an upgrade on the offensive line.

Next season, Christensen will be able to rely on a steady linebacking corps to carry a young defense. Returning starters Brian Hendricks, Gabe Knapton and Josh Biezuns will all be juniors and should ease concerns for a defense that will lose its veteran presence.

Without question, the Wyoming program looks to have struck gold with the Christensen hire, who was a hot commodity on the coaching market as assistant head coach and offensive coordinator under Gary Pinkel at Missouri. Christensen worked under Pinkel for 16 seasons, with 11 of those as OC at both Toledo and Missouri, and his name had been linked to a handful of openings — including both Washington and Washington State — before taking the gig in Laramie.

Utilizing a pass-oriented version of the no-huddle spread — the scheme now being employed across the nation at a plethora of schools — Christensen’s offense in Columbia tallied a school-record 558 points in 2007, ranking fifth in the nation in total offensive yards per game, eighth in scoring offense and ninth in passing yards. In 2008, the team rose to fourth in the country in both scoring offense and passing yards.

With a quarterback in Carta-Samuels accustomed to rallying the team, who can scramble out of trouble and make plays both in the running and passing game, Christensen once again has a Chase Daniel — the former Missouri Heisman contender — to work with for the next three years in Laramie.

The question is, with the continued success of the Wyoming program and the infatuation with the spread offense running rampant across the country, will Christensen himself be in Laramie that long?

Dave Miller is the Web Manager of the National Football Post. You can follow him on Twitter at Miller_Dave

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