By Jack Rieger
In collegiate and professional sports, there is a theory that claims teams adopt the identity of the city they reside in. For example, the University of Southern California football team has always boasted a flashy, fast-paced offense, which reflects the dramatic, entertainment- driven city of Los Angeles. The Detroit Pistons of the NBA have consistently built a team that has an aggressive, confrontational defense, which mirrors the city’s blue-collar, resilient nature.
The city of Reno is considerably closer to Detroit on this “spectrum of character.” Johnny Cash once famously belted, “But I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die. When I hear that whistle blowing, I hang my head and cry.” If someone were to walk around Fourth Street on any given night, they would likely encounter a combination of police sirens, homeless people and abandoned casinos whose popularity peaked during the Vietnam War.
Reno is a blue-collar city that was conceived thanks to the gold rush and the railroad industry. It is not flashy nor is it eccentric, and neither was the city’s college football team on Saturday. Nevada football completely embraced this tough-minded identity against Buffalo when it ran the ball 39 times for 289 hard-fought yards. Running back James Butler led the rushing attack with 177 yards on 16 carries, including a 91-yard scamper in the first quarter. Don Jackson also had success on the ground, rushing 17 times for 116 yards and two touchdowns.
The Wolf Pack defense, which had struggled mightily through the first three weeks of the season, stuck its foot in the ground and held Buffalo in check for most of the afternoon thanks to some personnel changes. Safety Kendall Johnson was moved to the cornerback position and freshman Dameon Baber made his first start at safety.
Baber made an unforgettable first impression, intercepting two passes, recording 10 tackles, and was named the Mountain West defensive player of the week. Baber’s two interceptions proved to be the difference in the game, with the second coming with just over a minute left in the fourth quarter. Head coach Brian Polian recognized Baber’s outstanding performance after the game.
“That’s a pretty good debut for a true freshman,” said Polian “We knew athletically Dameon was one of our better guys. It was just a matter of when he was going to be ready. It took a couple of extra weeks. He’s a freshman. I’m so happy for him and the way he played today.”
Nevada quarterback Tyler Stewart had his least productive day as a starter in 2015, completing just 12 passes for 90 yards, proving that Nevada’s success is not dependent on its passing attack. Expect Stewart’s role in the offense to remain secondary to the aggressive running attack of Jackson and Butler, as Nevada will continue to embrace the rowdy, vulgar identity of the city it plays in.
FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH
• Nevada and Buffalo played in front of just 19,072 people, one week after Nevada played in front of 108,000 at Texas A&M.
• Butler recorded the longest non-scoring rush in Nevada history (91yards).
• UNLV, Nevada’s rival and next week’s opponent, scored 80 points against Idaho State on Saturday, a Mountain West Conference record.
Jack Rieger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @JackRieger.