The Ups And Downs Of Nevada's Season

After three frustrating losses, Nevada comes into tomorrow night's game with Boise State knowing that a win would turn their season around. Nevada has shown flashes of talent on offense but has been victimized repeatedly by opponents on the ground.

How has an 8-5 Nevada team from last year that took Miami of Florida to the wire in the MPC Bowl slipped to 2-3 this season?  Let's look at the Nevada season thus far.

 

Nevada ran for 77 yards in a 52-10 loss to Nebraska.  Other than quarterback Nick Graziano, the leading rusher was Vai Tauo with 24 yards.  Mike McCoy was the leading receiver for the Pack with two catches for 37 yards and Marko Mitchell had two receptions for 34.  Brett Jaekle kicked a 36-yard field goal, Zachary Whited averaged 40 yards on ten punts, Chris Wellington averaged 23 yards per kickoff return and Alex Rosenblum had one punt return for seven yards. Sam Keller for Nebraska, meanwhile, was 14-25 for 193 yards, a touchdown and an interception returned for a touchdown.  Marlon Lucky ran for 233 yards and three scores for the Cornhuskers; Nebraska totaled 413 yards on the ground.  According to Lucky, "We found out early that we could jam it right down there through the middle," Keller said. "It was a beautiful thing to see."  

Up next for Nevada was Northwestern, a game they had in the victory column until the final seconds.  C.J. Bacher threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to a diving Ross Lane with 21 seconds left to cap a frenzied six-play 80-yard drive as Northwestern pulled out a 36-31 win.  Nevada was ahead at halftime 24-10.  Nevada ran for 192 yards but allowed 204 yards on just 26 carries for Northwestern.  Nevada out gained Northwestern 529-431 and had 30 first downs to 18 for the Big Ten team.  Luke Lippincott exploded for 140 yards rushing for Nevada on 28 carries while Brandon Fragger picked up 31 yards on 12 carries.  Graziano was 22-35 for 337 yards.  Kyle Sammons went over the century mark with 102 yards receiving and five receptions, while Mitchell had four catches for 85, McCoy four for 51 and Fragger four for 40 yards.  Jaekle kicked another 37-yard field goal and Whited averaged 35.5 yards on six punts.

 

The following week, Coach Chris Ault's club spotted Nicholls State a 10-0 lead and then proceeded to unleash a 52-17 blowout.  Nicholls State had defeated Rice in its season opener.  Graziano passed for 236 yards and five touchdowns in Nevada's first win of the season.  Graziano became the first Nevada quarterback since David Neil in 1998 to throw five TD passes.  Lippincott gave the Pack good balance with 127 yards and a touchdown on the ground.  Taui also had nine carries for 71 yards.  Adam Bishop had a career receiving day with three Graziano passes for touchdowns, including two in the third quarter when Nevada put the game out of reach.  The Wolf Pack accumulated 581 yards of total offense.  Nicholls State, a triple-option team, attempted only one pass which was incomplete.  They had 58 carries for 211 yards.  Jaekle had a career-long 45 yard field goal in the win for Nevada while Whited averaged 33.3 yards on three punts.

Following a bye week, Nevada came back to even their season record with a thrilling 27-20 win over instate rival UNLV.  Graziano led the Wolf Pack on a dramatic scoring drive, hitting Sammons with a 43-yard touchdown strike with 27 seconds remaining after UNLV had tied the seesaw battle with 1:02 left.  Graziano completed 20-of-38 passes for 33 yards and three touchdowns, including a 90-yard play to McCoy.  Jaekle set a new career high with a 50-yarder and also booted one from 30 yards out. UNLV rushed 39 times for 205 yards (5.3 yards per carry) but connected on just 18 of 40 passes.  Lippincott rushes for 61 yards while Fragger had 52 for the Pack. Both did well in pass patterns out of the backfield; Fragger had four catches for 27 yards while Lippincott also had four receptions for 25.  McCoy finished with three catches for 97 yards, while Bishop had three receptions for 78 yards, Sammons three for 64 and Mitchell three for 39.

Last week, Nevada lost a game that could have given them an excellent chance to make a bowl game.  Freshman Ryan Matthews ran for 171 yards and three touchdowns to give Fresno State a 47-40 win.  A 67-yard punt return for a touchdown by Clifton Smith and a 40-yard return of a blocked field goal also figured prominently in the Fresno win.  The defeat hurt worse because of the   loss of Graziano in the second quarter.  Nevada was behind 14-6 at the time and although freshman replacement Colin Kaepernick pulled the Pack to within one point at 14-13 it took him a while to find his rhythm.  Fresno extended their lead to 49-20 before Kaepernick led a furious Nevada rally.  He rallied the Wolf Pack to three consecutive touchdowns to turn what once was a rout into a much closer game.  Kaepernick finished with an impressive 23 completions out of 36 attempts for 384 yards and four touchdowns.  Two of the scores, however, came with 28 and three seconds left, respectively.  The scrambling quarterback also had 12 rushes for 60 yards and a touchdown.  Fragger was the top ground-gainer for Nevada with 75 yards on 17 carries, while Lippincott had six for 41 yards.  Nevada amassed 702 yards of total offense in the loss while allowing Fresno State 474.  The Bulldogs toted the ball 35 times for 307 yards (8.8 yards per carry) and connected on 10-of-16 passes for 168 yards.  McCoy was the recipient of nine passes for 135 yards while Sammons grabbed five balls for 69 and Lippincott had three catches for 66 yards including one of the late scores.  Jaekle had two more field goals, while Whited averaged 47.4 yards on five punts.

Overall, this Nevada team is one that has proven it can play.  Often, football is a game of a play or two here, a few yards there that have a great bearing on the outcome.  Both the Northwestern and Fresno State games could have gone their way.  Although they lost a quality quarterback in Graziano, they may have found another in Kaepernick.  He certainly is more of a dual threat.  The Wolf Pack is building a stable of running backs with Lippincott, Sanders and Tauo.  Further, the Nevada receiving corps has some weapons in Mitchell, McCoy, Sammons and Bishop and if that group can do what they accomplished last week against Fresno State with an untested freshman quarterback imagine what they can do with time.

The weakness, strangely, has been Nevada's defense.  Although they returned most of their unit intact, the Pack "D" has been porous on the ground, especially up the middle.  Look for Ault to compensate for that by stacking the line of scrimmage against Boise State.  That hasn't seemed to matter for the Broncos in past games, so it shouldn't alter offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin's game plan much.  Plus, it would allow quarterback Taylor Tharp ample opportunities to air it out.  Tharp is coming off of a 300-yard passing effort against Southern Mississippi and a 19-for-26, four-touchdown performance against New Mexico State and his confidence is building.

Nevada has been one of Boise State's main rivals since the Big Sky Conference days and Coach Ault is a wily veteran who would love nothing more than to beat Boise State.  Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. Sunday night in Bronco Stadium in a game nationally televised on ESPN.  It also is Blue and Orange Out, Part III, with fans in the East and South to wear Orange and fans sitting in the North and West to wear Blue.

 


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