Chris Ault embarks on his 25th year as the head football coach at the University of Nevada. A believer of the Pistol offense, Ault's teams have confused and exposed opposing rush defenses for years. The Wolf Pack returns all but 14 lettermen from its second-place WAC squad in 2008, and should be positioned to at least grab that spot in the conference again this season. Looking at some of the statistical rankings from last year, it is surprising Nevada didn't make more noise nationally and didn't finish with better than a 7-5 overall record (5-3 WAC). But when the defense struggles to hold opponents under 35 points, which happened six times, that places a ton of pressure on the offense to deliver every opportunity. The Wolf Pack will be tested right out of the gate this season having to travel to South Bend and play an experienced Notre Dame team with high expectations. Colorado State is next on the schedule and will be a respectable squad while Missouri comes to Reno in Week 4. Nevada absolutely has a chance to win the WAC in 2009, but will most likely finish runner-up to Boise State for the second straight year.
It might surprise many people that the Wolfpack offense was just as prolific as Boise State's in 2008. The two teams tied for the nation's No. 12 scoring offense, averaging 37.62 points per game. Nevada posted nearly 900 more yards of offense than the Broncos, and its total offense ranked No. 5 in nation with 508.54 yards per game.
Junior quarterback Colin Kaepernick is the best player in the conference and is the cog that turns the wheel for Nevada. He is a 6-6, 215-pound gunslinger who can beat the opposition with his arm and legs, and earned WAC Offensive Player of the Year honors in 2008. Kaepernick is a Major League Baseball prospect (as well as NFL) with a mid-90s fastball and accurate arm which allowed him to zip 22 TDs against 7 INTs on the football field last season. He also rushed for 1,130 yards and 17 TDs, helping Nevada boast the No. 3 rushing offense in the country last year. As a team, Nevada averaged 277.77 ypg on the ground with 39 TDs. Assisting in that statistic was running back Vai Taua (15 TDs) as he churned up 117.0 ypg - a mark good for the No. 8 ranking nationally. The Pack will rollout a two-headed monster in the backfield in 2009 with the return of Luke Lippincott, a Mike Alstott type of player who missed most of last season due to injury. You have to have a great offensive line in order to run the Pistol offense effectively and returning tackles Mike Gallett and Alonzo Durham anchor that unit. Junior wideout Chris Wellington will be the primary target when Nevada has to throw in long third and fourth down situations.
While Kaepernick and the offense put points on the board just about every possession, the Nevada defense gives up points just about every opponent possession. The Pack ranked No. 119 in pass defense in 2008, yielding 311.62 yards per game through the air. The secondary gave up 31 passing TDs and 4,051 total passing yards – the most in the WAC by 500 yards. Nevada's rush defense was great, ranking No. 6 in the nation (88.62 ypg), but this is somewhat of a skewed statistic considering opponents combined for only 377 rush attempts in 2008. Opponents' gameplans probably diverted from running the ball when it was so easy to complete passes. The strongest sector of Nevada's defense in 2009 will be the team's defensive ends. Juniors Dontay Moch and Kevin Basped put the Pack pass rush in elite company. Only San Jose State's Jarron Gilbert compiled more tackles for a loss in the WAC than Basped (18.5) last season, who also recorded 10.0 sacks. Moch was the WAC sack champion with 11.5, (10 solo), beating Gilbert and earning the No. 12 ranking in the country.
San Jose State Quarterback Kyle Reed vs. Nevada Secondary. At this point in the season Reed will have a firm grasp on the starting quarterback position, or Jordan LaSecla will be under center. Regardless of who is leading the Spartans offensive attack, he will need to find continuous success against Nevada to have a shot at a victory in this matchup. A feeble Wolf Pack secondary provides the perfect opportunity for one of these signal-callers to have a career night. Reed enjoyed one of his best collegiate games last year against Nevada, completing 15-of-27 passes for 215 yards and a pair of scores.
Kaepernick and his offense will post at least 30 points in this game so San Jose State must keep up the pace. By the Nevada contest last season, San Jose State's rush defense had completely become unhinged and the potent Wolf Pack ground game exposed it, churning up 333 yards on the ground in a 41-17 rout of the Spartans. Kaepernick averaged nearly 10 yards per carry (16, 147) with two touchdowns, and Taua found plenty of running room, racking up 18 carries for 125 yards and a score. San Jose State was not able to counter in the same area, coming up with a negative 23 yards of rushing in that contest. Nevada's run-plugging scheme should be as stingy this season so success in the Spartan air game becomes that much more imperative. It may be a closer contest than expected, but State will be riding a three-game losing streak after facing this WAC juggernaut trifecta on the schedule that ends with Nevada.
Scott Cooley is a Contributing Analyst to Inside Sparta. You may contact Scott with any questions, comments, or tips at firstname.lastname@example.org
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