Nevada 101: Revamped O and D await Cougs

In one of 2003's most notable staffing moves, Nevada athletic director Chris Ault fired coach Chris Tormey and named himself as the replacement. Thirteen players either left or were kicked off the team during the subsequent turmoil and the Wolfpack went 5-7 last season -- one game worse than they were under Tormey the prior year.

When: Friday, September 9, 7:00 p.m.
Where: Mackay Stadium (32,500 capacity)
TV: ESPN
Radio: The Cougar Sports Radio Network covers more territory than Marcus Trufant, CLICK HERE for listings.
Only Meeting: 2002, WSU won 31-7
Line: WSU by 10

Washington State led 14-7 heading into the fourth quarter against Nevada in 2002 before pulling away late. Derting's 98-yard interception return for a score remains the longest in program history. Ault has seven conference titles, a .705 career winning percentage and only two losing seasons out of 20 but prior to '04, had been out of coaching for nearly a decade. With most of the team returning this season, Ault is under pressure to return Nevada to a bowl game.

THE WOLFPACK ON OFFENSE

Players to Know:
Jeff Rowe, QB: The junior QB is a big passer with excellent mobility. He completed 58 percent of his passes for 2633 yards with 15 TDs against 12 interceptions. He also rushed for another 129 yards and three scores. If the Cougs can't pressure him, they'll find themselves in big trouble.

Nichiren Flowers, WR: The 6-3 senior was one of the top receivers in the country last year with an impressive 91 catches for 1126 yards. Containing him is a must.

Caleb Spencer, WR: Spencer is definitely Rowe's second option, but still managed 67 catches for 761 yards in 2004.

Overview: Nevada runs a modified shotgun they call a "pistol", with the QB not as deep that still allows for an I-back formation or one back. Look for intermediate range passes, plus some spread formations. The Wolfpack returns four of their top five receivers this season in addition to veteran quarterback Jeff Rowe. Still, the Wolfpack actually did most of their scoring on the ground so the Cougs have to be aware of the running game in the red zone. Nevada tries to runs a lot of plays during the game in an effort to wear defenses down.

Strategy: Most of the offense remains intact from last season with the exception of the offensive line. Nevada averages just 285 pounds per man, and is breaking in three new starters up front. The Cougars should make life as miserable for these guys as possible with plenty of blitzing. However, linebackers can't afford to leave the corners on an island either --the Wolfpack receivers are dangerous.

THE WOLFPACK ON DEFENSE

Players to Know:
Jeremy Engstrom, LB: The team's leading tackler last year as a freshman. Plays all over the field with tenacity.

Nick Hawthrone, SS: Third leading tackler (57) and led team in interceptions (5) last year from SAM linebacker. Moves to strong safety this season.

Charles Wilson, DE: Wilson was Nevada's best lineman last year as teams tended to run away from him. Has good size and speed, and led team in sacks with five.

Overview: The Wolfpack defense is young despite eight starters and ten of the top thirteen tacklers returning. A poor defensive showing resulted in a ton of JC transfers, plus new co-defensive coordinators with a new scheme. Nevada is thought to shifting towards a 3-4 alignment for 2005 that attacks and runs a mixture of run and zone with the LBs in position to clog up passing lanes and redirect receivers on slant routes. The 3-4 has caused problems for the Cougars in the past, and Nevada will try to throw a ton of different zone-blitz packages at Alex Brink to try and disrupt the sophomore quarterback.

Strategy: Nevada surrendered over 2500 rushing yards in 2004, nearly five yards per attempt. With Ault looking to attack, WSU could try to force them to stack the box by rushing with Jerome Harrison early and often. This is particularly true when Nevada runs a 3-4 formation which can cause problems for the spread offense, but which can be vulnerable to an effective running game. If Nevada over-commits to the running game, Jason Hill and company could be set up nicely in the passing attack.

THE WOLFPACK ON SPECIAL TEAMS
Nevada was lackluster on special teams last year but most key personnel return. The glaring exception is place kicker, where Nevada projects to start freshman Brett Jaekle. Senior transfer Justin Bergendahl is waiting in the wings if he can't get it done.

INJURY REPORT
WSU: DT Ropati Pitoitua (broken leg) TE Cody Boyd (bone cysts on ankle), RB Kevin McCall (ankle) are out. S Husain Abdullah (ankle) probable. Nevada: CB Paul Pratt (ACL), OLB/DE J.J. Milan (broken foot), are out.

FINAL THOUGHTS
The Cougs' second WAC opponent in as many weeks should be a tougher test than Idaho. Nevada trails WSU in terms of talent, but are most likely a bowl-bound football team with a potentially dangerous offense and attacking defense. Nevada is young, hungry and ready to defend their home turf on national television. The Wolfpack were 5-1 at MacKay Stadium last season, and the Cougs will need to come out ready to play.

FOR MORE PERSPECTIVE ON THE GAME AND NOTABLE NOTES AS WELL, CLICKS TOHi-ho, it's off to Reno we go


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