By Jack Rieger
Nevada entered Kyle Field on Saturday as a 34-point underdog against the 17th-ranked Aggies of Texas A&M. To the surprise of both A&M and Nevada fans, the Wolf Pack lost by just 17 points (44-27) and had a legitimate shot of winning the game in the fourth quarter.
Helen Keller once said that optimism is the faith that leads to achievement, so let’s be an optimist for a moment. Nevada was thoroughly outplayed and overmatched last week against Arizona, but instead of hanging their heads and packing it in, the players of the Wolf Pack rebounded with a hard-fought effort against another nationally-ranked opponent. Resilience is an important characteristic of a winning team, and coach Brian Polian seems to have embraced his team’s underdog role.
“I felt like we were in there with Floyd Mayweather, and we didn’t get knocked out,” said Polian. “We took it 15 rounds and kept swinging.”
If it hadn’t been for a few missed opportunities, we may be discussing a Nevada upset. Late in the first half, Nevada’s Matthew Lyons scooped up a fumble and returned it for a touchdown, but a defensive holding penalty negated what would have been a 14-7 Wolf Pack lead. Another missed opportunity came late in the fourth quarter when Nevada recovered a deep onside kick down just 14 points. The Wolf Pack was unable to score following the onside kick, which ultimately ended the game.
Nevada’s offensive weapons were able to have moderate success against a highly respected SEC defense. Hasaan Henderson performed particularly well, catching five passes for 69 yards and a one-handed circus touchdown that had the Twittersphere buzzing. Nevada’s secondary running back James Butler also had success, rushing 17 times for 107 yards.
Author Kahlil Gibran once wrote, “The pessimist stares at the thorns, oblivious to the rose.” Nevada’s thorns happened to be all over the defensive secondary. Texas A&M’s quarterback Kyle Allen threw for 270 yards and three touchdowns and was taken out in the fourth quarter after the game had been put to rest. This comes after another disappointing performance against Arizona quarterback Anu Solomon, who threw for 264 yards and two touchdowns.
Nevada’s run defense wasn’t much better, allowing 233 rushing yards and 5.7 yards per carry to running back Tra Carson and quarterback Kyle Allen. The Wolf Pack’s front seven, which includes defensive ends Ian Seau and Lenny Jones, came into the season as the most talented group on the team.
The Nevada offensive line was incapable of protecting Tyler Stewart from the ferocious Aggies’ defensive line, specifically defensive end Myles Garrett. Nevada prepared for Myles Garrett’s aggressive rushing style by having their practice squad defense line up offside. Garrett ended up with 3.5 sacks and 4 tackles for loss.
FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH
• Nevada football was paid $1.5 million by Texas A&M just to have the game on its schedule, which is one of the largest non-conference payouts in program history.
• Coach Polian was the special teams and tight ends coach for Texas A&M in 2012.
• The Mountain West Conference had one of the worst two-week stretches in the conference’s history, going 1-19 in non-conference play in weeks two and three.
Jack Rieger can be reached at jrieger@ sagebrush.unr.edu and on Twitter @JackRieger.