By Neil Patrick Healy
Nevada’s defense, which has been under fire over the course of the season, was faced with the prospect of keeping Fresno State out of the end zone to save the game. The Bulldogs had a first and goal at the four yard line down 27-22 with less than a minute left in the game. Three plays later, the Bulldogs were faced with a fourth and four. Quarterback Chason Virgil rolled out to his left and tossed the ball to Keeshean Johnson, but the pass sailed too far left and it fell incomplete. Nevada won 27-22 and nearly avoided implosion.
Despite the win, the mistakes and missed opportunities piled up against the Wolf Pack that helped Fresno State go on a 16 to six run in the second half to cut the lead to five. After scoring 21 points in the first half, the offense was held to six points in the entire second half, which continues the season trend of the offense shutting down in the second half of games. In its six games thus far, Nevada averages a meager 7.3 points per game in the latter half of games.
The other side of the ball was not immune to mistakes, either. Nevada’s defense has let its opponent rush for over 200 yards in five of its six games this season after letting Fresno State rush for 255 yards (the lone opponent the Pack held under 200 yards was Purdue).
Probably the most troubling trend for Nevada is kicker Brent Zuzo’s troubles on special teams. Entering the season 45-of-50 on field goals inside 50 yards, Zuzo has missed 4-of-8 and has missed two inside the 30 yard line this season after missing a 24-yard field goal along with an extra point. Head coach Brian Polian said he and the coaches would evaluate him and see if they need to make a change.
“It’s not acceptable to miss [one] short field goal and a PAT because that game would have looked completely different,” Polian said.
Polian also took the opportunity to defend Nevada quarterback Tyler Stewart after the game and praised him for running the offense effectively.
“I know people like to pile on our quarterback,” Polian said. “Our quarterback did an unbelievable job at the line of scrimmage tonight. He checked us into the right runs away from the pressure a lot tonight. While his numbers might not be great, I thought Tyler did an outstanding job managing the game.”
The bright spots for Nevada were running back James Butler and wide receiver Wyatt Demps. Demps hauled in nine catches for 124 yards and three touchdowns and became the first player with three touchdown receptions in a game since Aaron Bradley in 2011.
“Three of our top seven wide receivers were down and we knew that Jerico, Wyatt, Andrew Celis and Ahki Muhammad were going to have to grind it out tonight,” Polian said. “For Wyatt to play the way he did is a testament to him.”
Butler continued his success on the ground by rushing for 175 yards and averaged 4.7 yards per carry. On the season, Butler has amassed 728 yards on 5.3 yards per rush.
Stat of the game: Fresno State lost two fumbles in the first half, with one leading to a touchdown. One fumble was three plays after Nevada missed a field goal inside the 25 yard line.
Up next: Nevada travels to San Jose State (1-5, 0-2).
Neil Patrick Healy can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @NP_Healy.