Coming out of the murkiness of non-conference play, Nevada fans have a much clearer view of what the team is capable of this year. Falling to a tough Pac-12 team on the road should not deter Wolf Pack fans from watching the rest of the season, but rather keying in outcomes of the season. One of the biggest takeaways from the loss to Arizona in Tucson is that this team’s biggest strength is its adaptability. In every game this season Nevada has focused on its opponents weaknesses, even if it is not squad’s strength, and with encouraging results. Even though the Wolf Pack is no longer undefeated (it had to happen sometime), the strides made from last year are noticeable, especially looking at the box scores of each game.
Before I go into the rest of this column detailing Nevada’s key strength this season, let me address a big concern many readers will have: “But Chris, the Pack doesn’t have to play Florida State or UCLA this season, its schedule is vastly more manageable this have to play the college football national champs or one of the
top three teams in the Pac-12 this year. However, as my uncle Ron used to say, “Smoke ‘em while you got ‘em.” Side note: My uncle Ron never said this, I am just using it for effect.
My point is this: while Nevada’s schedule is much easier this year, the fact of the matter is that this team is showing it can make a big run in the Mountain West and has benefited greatly from the new slate of games. The most significant case in point is last week’s game against the Wildcats. If it wasn’t for a pass that was thrown 6 inches above Jerico Richardson’s hands or being able to convert two red zone field goals into touchdowns, the Wolf Pack would have an unprecedented unblemished mark. This record would have been unfathomable last year aka “Hell in a Wolf Pack Cell.”
Nevada has hung with every team it has played. While the season is still young, there
are still some good takeaways thus far, especially in the team’s preparation. In game one against Southern Utah, the Wolf Pack focused on the passing game by racking up 303 yards through the air on the way to a win.
Against a pass-heavy Washington State team, Nevada ditched the air attack and focused on the ground game by riding running backs Don Jackson and James Butler to three touchdowns and a Pac-12 victory. Finally with Arizona keying in on the patented Wolf Pack pistol run offense, quarterback Cody Fajardo exploded for three touchdowns and over 300 yards passing to almost upset the Wildcats.
Multiple times this year head coach Bill Polian has commented that his team doesn’t play the prettiest. Nevada has been avoiding mistakes and it’s putting it’s blue-collar role each game. It’s becoming more evident by looking at the stat lines of each of its players.
On a micro-level, many players have given up playing time for the benefit of the overall success of the squad. Jackson has mentored Butler in the backfield by sharing carries. Last year’s leading rusher Kendall Brock converted to wide receiver to help with depth issues and has offered his services all over the field. Additionally, each player that has made an interception this year has done so either
for the first time as a starter or for the first time in their collegiate career, By extension, the team’s adaptability also means it is cashing in on every chance it gets to make an impact. Nevada has a 100 percent conversion rate in the red zone over three games (13/13 chances) and it holds a positive mark in the turnover ratio (+3).
The margin for error for this year’s squad has widened, but it is not enough for the team to relax. Nevada has a chance to make a run at a Mountain West division title barring significant injuries to multiple players.
This week’s bye week preparation will be critical in seeing how much of a difference one year can make.
Chris Boline can be reached at email@example.com.