By Neil Patrick Healy
Barely a week ago, one would have thought the apocalypse had come for Nevada football. Nevada had lost the cannon to hated rival UNLV and everyone counted the Pack out for the remainder of the season. Though many of the fans had given up on them (check how the almost deserted student section looked last Saturday), Nevada still had over half a season left to play and they came out strong against the New Mexico Lobos with a 35-17 win. The difference in emotions from the UNLV game to now were almost night and day, but I know what you’re thinking, “Yeah, but it was only New Mexico.” It’s true that Nevada vs. New Mexico isn’t exactly the clash of the titans, but the win last Saturday proved that the best way to solve most problems during a season is, as former owner of the Oakland Raiders Al Davis would say, is “just win, baby!”
Thanks to a favorable schedule, Nevada could be poised to go on a little mid-season winning streak if they continue to play the way they did against the Lobos. Due up for the Pack is a road trip to scenic Laramie, Wyoming to face the winless Wyoming Cowboys.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
Nevada leads the all-time series against the cowboys 3-2. Wyoming is led by second-year head coach Craig Bohl, who was the head coach at FCS powerhouse North Dakota State. While he was head coach of the Bison, Bohl amassed a 104-32 record with three FCS national championships. Limping into this game with an 0-6 record (all double-digit losses), Wyoming allowed a staggering 33.8 points per game while falling to No. 123 in rushing yards allowed with 229.5 per game. The Cowboys are riding a nine-game losing streak dating back to last season and are coming off a 31-17 loss to the Air Force Falcons where they gave up four sacks and coughed up four turnovers.
LEADING THE PACK
Both sides of the ball are going to get some love this week, so hang tight.
The three-headed attack of quarterback Tyler Stewart and running backs Don Jackson and James Butler led the way for the offense against the Lobos. After Jackson and Butler were held to a combined 80 yards against the Rebels on Oct. 3, the running back duo stepped up big time against New Mexico. The two of them combined for 297 yards and a whopping 6.9 yards per carry while keeping the offense in manageable down-and-distances for a majority of the game despite having to start two new offensive guards due to injuries.
Then there is the battle-hardened Stewart, who answered the call to arms with style. Save an unfortunate fumble taken back for a touchdown midway through the fourth quarter, Stewart played a flawless game. He went 16-for-19 for 166 yards and two touchdowns (both coming in the fourth quarter) and ran for two more touchdowns. Stewart’s final stat sheet was 223 total yards with four total touchdowns, which earned him the College Sports Madness Mountain West offensive player of the week.
Besides Stewart, the entire defense was arguably the star of the show. Facing the ever-challenging triple option, the Pack stood tough and held the Lobos to 273 yards of total offense. Lead by linebacker Jordan Dobrich’s 12 tackles, the unit played its most complete game by sticking to their assignments and not letting New Mexico establish their ninth-rated rushing attack. Keep in mind that the first New Mexico field goal was the result of a muffed punt that put the Lobos on Nevada’s 25-yard line and New Mexico scored a touchdown off a scoop-and-score. This Wolf Pack defense really only gave up one legit scoring drive all game.
KEYS TO THE GAME
To keep the proverbial momentum train moving the right direction, Nevada must keep running the ball the way they did last Saturday. With Wyoming’s weak run defense the only thing standing in the way of this goal, Nevada will look for an encore performance to keep their bowl hopes alive heading into the heart of their conference schedule. On defense, the unit as a whole will have to continue to build on last week’s stellar performance and stop the run early to force the Cowboys to pass. The front seven looked to have finally come into their own last week in what was arguably their most complete performance of the season.
Nevada’s good vibes will continue another week. The way Wyoming has looked so far this season, I expect the Pack to come out of this game with a win while continuing to establish their identity on offense. Traveling up to Laramie isn’t an easy road trip by any means, but Nevada should be able to have their way with the Cowboys as the game goes on. I’m not going to be bold enough to say that both running backs will go over 100 yards again, but Jackson and Butler will definitely be able to establish the running game and continue to put Stewart in favorable down-and-distance situations.
I’m also looking for tight end Jarred Gipson to keep building up his role in the offense. This is my call to action! Dear coach Brian Polian, Gipson is one of the best tight ends in the conference and he only has eight catches up to this point. What is this malarkey? Utilize the weapon you have at your disposal and get my dude the ball.
Neil Patrick Healy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @NeilTheJuiceMan.