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LARAMIE – Jordan Bertagnole enjoyed 2020 more than a lot of people.

Due to opt-outs and injuries, the former Natrona County High standout was thrown into the starting lineup four times and played extensively in all six of Wyoming’s games during the pandemic-shortened season.

But it was also a painful year for Bertagnole, who suffered a torn labrum in the finale against Boise State and sat out spring practice to recover from the injury.

“It wasn’t until fall camp when I started to get back in the groove of things,” Bertagnole said. “I finally started hitting people and could kind of feel the toll of not hitting people in a while. I was sore and whatnot, but definitely started getting back in the swing of things in August.”

During UW’s 24-14 loss at Air Force in the Mountain West opener, Bertagnole made his presence felt as the defensive line fought back after the Falcons threw the first punches with a pair of long scoring drive.

Bertagnole finished with eight tackles and recovered a fumble to help limit Air Force, which canceled the 2020 game in Laramie due to COVID-19 issues, to 3.3 yards per carry and 222 rushing yards.

“It was my first time ever playing Air Force and I always knew that they were a run-heavy team. (Defensive line) Coach (Pete) Kaligis always said, ‘It’s going to come at you a lot quicker than you think it is,” Bertagnole said of facing the triple-option attack that once again has the Falcons leading the FBS in rushing. “I just kind of stuck to what I was doing and just made sure that I took advantage of all the reps that I’d gotten in practice.

“I would say that it was definitely one of my better performances but, there’s always something I can do better.”

The Cowboys (4-1, 1-1) will obviously have to defend the passing game better against Fresno State on Saturday at War Memorial Stadium (1:30 p.m., FS2).

The Bulldogs (4-2, 1-1) are third nationally in passing yards per game (396.0). Senior quarterback Jake Haener has completed 69.5% of his passes for 2,230 yards with 18 touchdowns and six interceptions,

UW allowed Haaziq Daniels to finish 7-for-10 for 110 yards and a touchdown through the air in the second half after the Air Force quarterback went into the intermission without attempting a pass.

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“It’s definitely going to be different preparing for a spread offense after going against a triple-option offense,” said cornerback C.J. Coldon, who had six tackles and the team’s only two pass breakups at Falcon Stadium. “Every day coming to work focusing on my keys and technique and playing man a lot.”

UW head coach Craig Bohl knows one of the keys to beating Fresno State is getting pressure on Haener.

During the Bulldogs’ 27-24 loss at Hawaii, a hobbled Haener was sacked three times and threw four interceptions.

“They can run the football, but it’s an entirely different style of run. We need to get pressure on Haener and we need to get him moving around,” Bohl said. “That’s going to mean we’ll bring a (linebacker) occasionally, we’ll blitz some, but we’ve got to do it with four men. Those guys, not only the inside guys but the flank guys, have got to get some pressure.”

Bohl was pleased with how Bertagnole and Cole Godbout (seven tackles) played in the interior of the defensive line at Air Force. Linebacker Chad Muma also helped turn the tide at the point of attack with a team-high 11 tackles.

“We went into that game being really concerned about being knocked off the football. And what occurred during the course of the game, you saw a transition in the second quarter to where the line of scrimmage began to be solidified and us coming up with some tackles at the line of scrimmage,” Bohl said. “Bertagnole did a great job. It’s important for us to have several players in there, but what began to occur is between him and Cole Godbout, those two guys in this game solidified that front along with Chad Muma.

“All of a sudden you saw Troy (Calhoun) start punting. Troy and I know each other really well, and there was a reason why things began to change.”

Bertagnole, who led UW’s defensive line with 31 tackles and was second on the team with 6.5 tackles for loss last year, spent his true freshman season redshirting while another NCHS graduate was leading the Cowboys.

The 6-foot-4, 275-pound defensive tackle was watching the NFL’s Thursday night football game between Cincinnati and Jacksonville when Troy Aikman noted during the broadcast that Casper was the city that produced Bengals’ star linebacker Logan Wilson and Jaguars’ defensive tackle Taven Bryan.

Wilson, a third-round pick in 2020, leads Cincinnati with 47 tackles and three interceptions. Bryan, a first-round pick in 2018, played collegiately at Florida after graduating from NCHS.

“Following what Logan did here is definitely some big shoes to fill,” Bertagnole said. “But it’s definitely good being that next Casper guy and just being one of the few Wyoming guys that we have on the team in general. It’s cool because I did actually watch that game, and when they did do the Casper shout-out I was like, ‘Dang, that’s pretty cool they’re finally seeing a little bit of what Wyoming’s about.”

Follow UW beat writer Ryan Thorburn on Twitter @By_RyanThorburn

This article originally ran on trib.com.

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