Photo courtesy of Nevada Athletics
During Nevada’s out-of-conference slate, the Wolf Pack didn’t have a clear identity. After topping San Jose State 21-10 last Saturday, they may have found it: a dominating defense.
Nevada forced three turnovers — including a 27-yard interception return for a touchdown — and willed the team to victory to improve 3-1 (1-0 Mountain West).
The Wolf Pack’s offense struggled mightily, gaining just 256 yards. Nevada relied on Fajardo’s arm early with a heavy passing attack. That didn’t work with the first two possessions of the game being three and outs.
It was not until the Pack went with the running game that the offense flourished. Don Jackson was a man on a mission having four-plus carries of over 15 yards or more and finishing with 106 yards on 12 carries.
Cody Fajardo put his legs to use as well, scoring two touchdowns on the ground and tallying 64 yards.
Despite being outgained by 190 yards, Nevada’s defense made crucial stops throughout the game. While quarterbacking the Wolf Pack the past four years, Fajardo has never been more confident in his defense.
“I know that our last games haven’t been pretty, but we find a way to get it done,” said Fajardo. “The biggest thing about us is that if one side of the ball is slacking the other side is there to back you up.”
The game was a flip from last year meeting where Nevada pulled out a 38-16 win behind its high-octane offense. In that game, the Wolf Pack rolled up 482 yards.
The days Nevada’s attack attempting home-run plays or non-probable fourth down attempts are gone, the defense can hold its own — if not more than the offense.
Through four games last year, Nevada allowed 187 points. Thus far, the Wolf Pack has held opponents to 77 points. While not playing the likes of UCLA and Florida State certainly helps, the addition of defensive coordinator Scott Boone has done wonders.
In 2014, the Wolf Pack has had a plus-five turnover ratio thanks to six interceptions from the defense and seven sacks.
While the defense has made leaps and bounds, Nevada’s hurry-up offense isn’t putting up the jaw-dropping numbers that fans are used to seeing. Nonetheless, the Wolf Pack’s 25-point average is nothing to scoff at.
“It was ugly,” head coach Brian Polian said. “I don’t care about the stats. The only stat that matters is that we found a way to win a very difficult game on the road. …
“This is big for our football team, to open Mountain West play with a win and to do it on the road, do it in a game that we had to show some toughness to find a way to win. I’m proud of them.”
The road victory was Nevada’s first in the Polian era and puts the Wolf Pack one away from matching its win total from 2013.
Nevada has a chance to match its win total on Saturday at home as it hosts Boise State (3-2, 2-1) in Mackay Stadium’s 300th game.
Manny Vieites can be reached at email@example.com.