By Neil Patrick Healy
Well Nevada fans, you got what you wanted. After senior quarterback Tyler Stewart went down with a shoulder injury in the first quarter, sophomore Ty Gangi took over and gave the Wolf Pack an offensive spark that had been missing for most of the season. In a 42-34 loss to Wyoming on Saturday, Gangi completed 63 percent of his passes for 300 yards and a touchdown, and added a rushing touchdown while keeping Nevada in a shootout against a superior Cowboys team. With Stewart’s injury sidelining him for the remainder of his career, it’s Gangi’s time to shine, but be careful in declaring him the savior of Nevada’s season.
Why you should be excited
Gangi’s mere presence adds another element to the offense that had been lacking over the course of the season: mobility. When he ran the read option and turned it into a 17-yard touchdown run, I knew Stewart had lost his job. Gangi’s 300-yard performance makes him the first Nevada quarterback to throw for 300 yards since Cody Fajardo threw for 306 yards in October of 2014 against Boise State. That’s the kind of electric offense Nevada became famous for.
The shot of life Gangi provided against Wyoming affected everyone on offense. Guys like Hasaan Henderson and Jarred Gipson easily had their best games of the season, with Henderson catching seven passes for 87 yards and Gipson catching three passes for 47 yards and his first touchdown of the season. Henderson’s seven catches were a season high and Gipson, who hadn’t caught more than one pass in a game all season, became the security-blanket tight end that I’ve been on record saying he could be.
Besides putting up good numbers and making his teammates better, Gangi makes the offense way more entertaining to watch. Stewart’s role was the game-manager type who wouldn’t make too many mistakes but also wouldn’t be able to keep his team in games. Gangi made big plays and kept Nevada in a game it wouldn’t have been in with Stewart at the helm.
Why you should relax
Sample size is everything in sports, and Gangi just doesn’t have enough snaps for us to truly evaluate if he’s going to be Nevada’s saving grace. He threw 53 passes all year and didn’t have any meaningful playing time until last week. I want to see him put together good performances over the course of the season before I am comfortable with labeling Gangi as the guy of the future.
Nevada was in a shootout with Wyoming not only because of Gangi’s big night but also because Wyoming is bad on defense. The Cowboys are ranked No. 82 in total defense and No. 113 in pass defense, which may explain why a backup quarterback could light up the stat sheet like that. Nevada’s next three opponents (New Mexico, San Diego State and Utah State) currently rank No. 45, No. 6 and No. 31 in total defense, respectively. Only UNLV, which ranks No. 102 in total defense, is a soft opponent that is more than likely to light up the scoreboard again.
Three of Nevada’s remaining opponents are ranked in the top 50 in rush defense, which will put Gangi in more positions like the one he was in against Wyoming where he’s asked to throw the ball 43 times. We’ve seen him succeed in that spot, but he’ll have a hard time putting up numbers like that again against much better defenses. Having him drop back that many times invites the opportunity to be sacked or turn the ball over.
Gangi has the potential to provide both a dual threat on offense and an excitement factor Nevada has been lacking at quarterback since Fajardo left in 2014. He is clearly electric when given the chance, but I think everyone needs to calm down. The schedule is brutal, the defenses he faces get better, the pressure will continue to mount and Gangi will likely struggle down the stretch. He’ll show glimpses of brilliance like he did against Wyoming, but to think Gangi will lead Nevada to three wins over the next four games is a pipe dream. Regardless of what happens, Nevada just got a little more interesting.
Neil Patrick Healy can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @NP_Healy.