By Brandon Cruz
In 2008, Nevada football did what they do best, which is running the ball. Colin Kaepernick and his tailback Vai Taua combined for 2,651 yards rushing and 32 touchdowns. Thankfully enough they also had a strong defense to rely on when times got tough.
This year’s 2015 team appears to be quite similar. Tyler Stewart and his two counterparts at tailback, Don Jackson and James Butler, are bringing back that 2008 ground-and-pound. The defense also looks to be beginning to follow in their predecessors’ footsteps.
While the Pack, at this point in the season, is 3-3 and 1-1 in conference play, they appear to be entering mid-season form. Saturday evening’s game against the New Mexico Lobos was, according to Coach Polian, “the best overall team performance.” Hopefully, this is a turning point in what has been a lackluster season to say the least.
The real question that arises is, does Nevada have another Kap? While Tyler Stewart may not be as versatile as Colin Kapernick, he sure did make a push into stardom Saturday evening, becoming the dual threat quarterback the Pack is used to having. Stewart’s statistics were not out of this world by any means, but he made plays when it counted and when the team needed him. Nevada’s quarterback had 230 all-purpose yards, as well as four touchdowns, two of which Stewart scored on the ground.
The true stars of the game were undoubtedly Don Jackson, James Butler and the defensive team as a whole. Jackson and Butler repeatedly ripped off massive gains on the ground against a New Mexico defense that slowly lost their will to fight throughout the course of the game. With this lack of a willingness to fight for a win, Nevada was able to put together an incredible offensive performance, in which they compiled an impressive 537 total yards.
Together Jackson and Butler amassed a staggering 307 yards rushing. Despite the earliness of the season this puts both backs over 500 yards each. Jackson and Butler’s lethal combo is paving the path to give Nevada another season in which 2 rushers eclipse the 1,000-yard mark. Both these tailbacks appear to have a little bit of Vai Taua in them, and the performance they’ve put on this season is nothing short of spectacular.
The biggest concern for the pack coming into the game was whether or not they’d be able to stop New Mexico’s triple option. The triple option gives the team running it the ability to run with three different players. The quarterback can hand it off, keep it or pitch it. Nevada’s defense struggled just a year ago against an Air Force team that also ran the triple option.
It appears that Nevada put that game in the rear-view mirror, because Saturday night they had their best performance yet. The defense had the look of being comprised of All-American players, as they held the Lobos to a measly 273-yards, 135 of that coming on the ground. During the postgame press conference, two-time captain Jordan Dobrich was asked how the defense was so effective at stopping the rush, he stated that “guys were just doing their jobs.” Dobrich’s simple, but powerful statement gets the point across.
If Nevada keeps playing the way they did against the Lobos, their chances of getting to a bowl game look bright.
Brandon Cruz can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @SagebrushSports.