By Neil Patrick Healy
That awkward moment when Nevada loses to a 0-6 team. Yeah, that’s never a good sign of things to come. After coming off a confidence-boosting win over New Mexico, the Pack fell to the lowly University of Wyoming to give the Cowboys their first win of the season. I know the old cliche of “any given Sunday” meaning any team, no matter how bad, has the chance of walking off the field with a win, but that loss was hard to swallow. Wyoming beating Nevada isn’t an earth-shattering upset like Appalachian State over fifth-ranked Michigan or Boise State over Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl, but it is crippling nonetheless. The West Division title is looking more and more delusional after the loss to the Cowboys and one must question how the Pack will finish up the season. When a winless team exposes your flaws, you know there are problems. Nevada must regroup as they host another lowly opponent — the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors. Hawaii is coming off a heartbreaking loss to New Mexico where the Warriors gave up the game winning touchdown pass with 55 seconds left.
What you need to know
It’s Homecoming for Nevada and one of the oldest traditions is scheduling a team that is usually terrible. Sure enough, Hawaii gets the go-ahead to be the hopeful tackling dummy for the Pack. With an 11-8 all-time record against the Warriors, Nevada’s last loss to Hawaii was a heartbreaking 27-21 contest in 2010 when former Nevada quarterback Colin Kaepernick famously fumbled the ball out of the corner of the end zone, which would eventually be the difference maker. That loss was the only blemish on Nevada’s 13-1 season where the Pack finished No. 13 in the nation and was arguably the best season Nevada football has ever had. The Pack is riding a four-game winning streak against the Warriors and has won five out of the last six meetings.
Leading the Pack
Nevada’s passing game came close to leading a comeback against the Cowboys, but fell just short of tying the game in the fourth quarter. With the running game held to 118 yards in the game and facing a three-touchdown deficit, the air attack had to shoulder the burden of bringing the Pack back to contention. Quarterback Tyler Stewart finished the game going 25-for-41 (60 percent) for 287 yards and two touchdowns, while wide receivers Hasaan Henderson and Jerico Richardson finished with big games as well. Henderson caught eight balls for 112 yards while Richardson caught six passes for 82 yards and a touchdown. Tight end Jarred Gipson also came up with a big 12-yard touchdown catch with 58 seconds left in the third quarter to cut the Cowboy lead to 28-14.
Keys to the game
Nevada had its two biggest flaws exposed against the Cowboys: the offensive line and the pass coverage.
Nevada’s running game, which had run wild for 351 yards against New Mexico, was held to a measly 118 yards. This forced Stewart to make plays in the air, which statistically means defeat for the Pack. In Nevada’s four losses this season, Stewart has thrown 29 times or more (32 against Arizona, 29 against Texas A&M, 44 against UNLV and 41 against Wyoming). The offensive line failed to establish a consistent running game before having to abandon it after falling behind 28-7 midway through the game. After Nevada mounted a comeback, Nevada faced a fourth and five on Wyoming’s 36-yard line with 1:45 left in the fourth quarter. Stewart snapped the ball and was instantly mobbed by Wyoming’s defensive line and the heroic comeback was stopped short by Wyoming’s D.J. May coming up with the sack. The offensive line totally collapsed and Stewart had no chance to complete the pass.
To segue into the next key, here is RGJ sportswriter Chris Murray’s tweet that summarized the Cowboys’ game plan:
“This is the offensive formula to beat Nevada’s defense: throw the ball,” Murray said. “Cameron Coffman is 15-of-16 for 149 yards with three touchdowns.”
Those were Wyoming quarterback Cameron Coffman’s stats in the first half. He finished the game going 18-for-20 with 213 yards and three scores while carving Nevada’s secondary at will. If the Warriors have a shot at winning this Saturday they will have completed big passes downfield.
Nevada’s ride to a .500 record will continue with a win over Hawaii. I am confident in this pick not because Nevada is great, but because Hawaii is historically awful on the road. Since 2011, the Warriors have gone 3-25 away from the island and I don’t expect that to change this game. Jet lag sucks, but picture having to play a football game after flying 2,512 miles from warm and tropical Hawaii to Reno. Not to mention that Hawaii has one of the worst run defenses in college football, allowing 226.6 yards per game. Expect running backs Don Jackson and James Butler to get back on track against the Warriors. I also expect Stewart to have another efficient game with a balanced attack to somewhat right the ship.
If Nevada loses to Hawaii, the team’s hopes of reaching a bowl game, and probably the sky, are going to come crashing down.
Neil Patrick Healy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @NeilTheJuiceMan.