By Jack Rieger
Last Saturday, Nevada football reached the lowest point in Brian Polian’s head coaching tenure when it lost to the 0-6 Wyoming Cowboys. In the second quarter of this Saturday’s game against Hawaii, the Wolf Pack trailed the Rainbow Warriors 17-0 and was headed for another head-scratching loss. You could almost feel the disapproval coming from the boosters in the suites on the third floor of the stadium.
Then Nevada rallied – thanks to a sideline speech from Don Jackson and Hasaan Henderson – and managed to score 30 of the game’s next 33 points. Running back James Butler led Nevada’s offense with 136 rushing yards and two touchdowns, including the game clincher with 2:20 left in the fourth quarter.
It’s easy to be optimistic when your team pulls out a fourth-quarter win. Thanks to some late-game heroics against Hawaii, Nevada improved to 4-3 overall and 2-2 in conference, which gives them an outside chance at winning the West Division (although it will probably have to win the rest of its games to catch San Diego State).
Nevada has embraced its identity as a second-half team this season, allowing just 16 points in the third and fourth quarters of conference games. You could argue that in order to be a good second-half team you have to be a poor first-half team, and Nevada has certainly been both this year. Nevada dominated the ground game from the opening whistle, finishing with 244 yards rushing to Hawaii’s 34. The difference in the game was Nevada’s ability to create four turnovers, including the game-clinching interception by senior linebacker Jordan Dobrich in the fourth quarter.
Slow starts have really hurt Nevada this year. The Wolf Pack hasn’t scored a single first quarter point in four straight games and opponents have been first to score in its last seven games.
When asked if his team’s slow starts concern him, Polian responded somewhat defensively. “It takes a series or two to figure out what the issues are and then you get adjusted … It’s not like we went three and out for five straight series. We made yards we just didn’t finish, and we’ve got to get that figured out.”
Going down 17-0 in the first quarter is not a recipe for success, especially since Nevada doesn’t have a high-powered throwing offense. But why is Nevada constantly digging themselves out of early holes? Coach Polian acknowledged that the energy level in the beginning of the game against Hawaii was lower than expected, but senior running back Don Jackson rallied the team.
“We needed a little shot in the butt, but Don gave it to us. Don’s best play today may have been getting everybody up on the sideline and getting in their shorts a little bit.”
For What it’s Worth
- Nevada’s kicker Brent Zuzo is the most underrated player on the team. Zuzo kicked three field goals and kicked and recovered his own onside kick against Hawaii.
- Nevada’s next opponent, Fresno State, has been an underrated producer of NFL talent. Derek Carr, Davante Adams, Logan Mankins and Ryan Mathews have all played for the Bulldogs in the last 12 years.
- After rushing for 134 yards on Saturday, James Butler is now 27th in the country in rushing yards.
Jack Rieger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @JackRieger.