by Jack Rieger
The Nevada Wolf Pack suffered its first loss of the season Saturday night against the 22nd-ranked Arizona Wildcats. The final score read 44-20, as Arizona thoroughly outplayed Nevada in nearly every facet of the game.
Nevada’s compilation of blunders started shortly after its first offensive drive ended in a three and out. The fourth down snap sailed over the head of Nevada punter Alex Boy, who was able to corral the loose ball and manage a negative 13-yard punt out of bounds. Arizona went on to score two touchdowns in just under 2.5 minutes following the botched punt.
Nevada compiled nine penalties for 105 yards, two of which were unsportsmanlike penalties on head coach Brian Polian. The first unsportsmanlike penalty was given when coach Polian left the coach’s box to argue an illegal formation that negated a Nevada touchdown in the first quarter. Polian said in the post- game news conference that he illustrated the play design in front of the referees before the game started and made sure that the formation was legal. The referees penalized Nevada regardless, and the Wolf Pack was forced to settle for a field goal.
Polian received his second unsportsmanlike penalty in the fourth quarter after complaining about a late hit on a kickoff return. Polian has earned a reputation for having a short fuse in his three years at Nevada, which he acknowledged post game.
“I am incredibly passionate about this job. I am incredibly passionate about our young people,” Polian said. “I don’t apologize for my passion; I don’t apologize for my energy. I’ve got to do a better job of focusing it.”
Nevada’s defense was totally incapable of containing Arizona’s high-octane spread offense, led by running back Nick Wilson. Wilson rushed 21 times for 194 yards and three touchdowns, boasting a 9.2-yard-per-carry average. Nevada’s defensive line came into the game as the Wolf Pack’s most talented group, but they still failed to contain Arizona’s running game.
Arizona quarterback Anu Solomon was able to pick apart the Nevada defense, completing 73 percent of his passes for 264 yards and two touchdowns. Arizona receiver Cayleb Jones hauled in six catches for 103 yards as the Arizona wideouts toyed with the Nevada secondary for the duration of the game. The secondary group was a big question coming into this season and their youth was exposed on Saturday. Coach Polian said post game that he anticipated a tough game for his secondary.
“Defensively, we didn’t tackle well enough,” Polian said. “Our young defensive backfield got exposed at times, which to be quite honest with you was a fear of mine going into the game.”
OFFENSE UNABLE TO FIND CONSISTENCY
Nevada’s offense depends heavily on the running game in order to move the ball with consistency. Unfortunately for the Wolf Pack, their rushers were unable to break through the Arizona front seven, which crowded the defensive line most of the night. Don Jackson finished the night with 24 carries for just 91 yards and no touchdowns. James Butler also had minimal success with just 33 yards rushing.
Because of Arizona’s strategy to load the box, Tyler Stewart had opportunities for big plays but was unable to crack the Arizona secondary. Their greatest opportunity came late in the second quarter when Stewart lofted a deep pass to freshman Victor Gonzalez but Gonzalez dropped the ball in the end zone. If Gonzalez were able to make the catch, Arizona would have led 21-17 going into the half. Stewart finished the game 18-32 with 159 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.
Nevada plays its first road game of the season against 16th- ranked Texas A&M at 9 a.m. on Saturday. As of Sunday, Nevada is a 32.5-point underdog against the Aggies. Texas A&M is 9-0 all time against the Mountain West Conference.
Jack Rieger can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @JackRieger.