Nevada football lost again this past weekend, this time to the hands of Air Force. The Wolf Pack record now stands at 1-7 overall and 1-3 in the Mountain West. The seventh loss also means Nevada is officially out of contention to play in a bowl game this postseason. This seems like a perfect time to do some mid-season grades for the team, based on preseason expectations and in-game performance.
The bottom line for Nevada is that a 1-7 record is terrible. Losing to Idaho State, an FCS school is pathetic. Getting blown out by Washington State and Fresno State doesn’t help team morale either. This team should have only two goals for the remainder of the season; beat UNLV and continue to show that this team is making strides to be better in the future. Beating UNLV would end a rough season on a positive note, and also beating your arch-rival is always a good feeling.
The offense had struggles in the first five games, averaging just 20 points per game. Jay Norvell’s Air Raid has found its rhythm as of late, in the last three games scoring just under 40 points per game. The downside to the offense is the time of possession. The Air Raid had a ton of quick drives under 5 minutes, meaning the already struggling Nevada defense was on the field even longer.
Again, recently the quarterback play has been sensational but those first five games are a blemish on the season. Ty Gangi should have started every game this season and the Kaymen Cureton experiment should never have happened. Cureton is a true freshman who panics as soon as the pocket starts collapsing, he is not ready to start yet. Gangi showed that he was a capable starter since he took over for the injured Tyler Stewart last season. Since Norvell has put Gangi back in the starting role against Fresno State, he has not disappointed.
It is impossible not to mention the quarterback position without mentioning whatever the hell happened with Alabama transfer David Cornwell. He didn’t win the starting job out of fall camp and he wasn’t even the backup. Then he plays one half, throws three interceptions, and leaves the team the next day. The only thing he seemed to do was cement Gangi as the starter.
Running Backs: A-
In an Air Raid offense running the ball would be overlooked but the Pack backfield has been a pleasant surprise. They came into the season with the hefty task of replacing James Butler who transferred to Iowa in the summer. Led by Kelton Moore and Jaxson Kincaide, when healthy, the running game has been consistent enough to compliment the passing game. These guys should continue to grow and have productive futures at Nevada as they are both underclassmen.
The receiving corps has gotten a lot of opportunity with this season’s inception of the Air Raid. The Wolf Pack seemed to have found their top three receivers with true freshman standout McLane Mannix, Wyatt Demps and Brendan O’Leary-Orange. Andrew Celis and Daiyan Henley have also been reliable fourth and fifth options for Ty Gangi this season.
Offensive Line: B+
The offensive line has been solid. The unit that goes by the nickname “The Union” continue to show their unity with their efficient pass blocking for Ty Gangi and run blocking for the speedy running backs. They have given up only 12 sacks this season, which isn’t outstanding but is pretty impressive for how many dropbacks happen each game.
New defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel implemented his 3-3-5 defense this season and it has been a struggle. For all the improvement the Pack offense has made throughout the season, the defense has been stagnant. It has not shown the ability to stop the run or the pass, and it shows. The defense has given up 30 or more points in all but one game this season. The defense has cost this team two wins in each of the last two weeks giving up 44 and 45 points in games where the offense has scored 42 points. The defense has given up more yards than their offensive counterparts have been able to gain in six of the eight games this season. Plain and simple the defense stinks and is the one thing holding the Wolf Pack back.
Defensive Line: D-
Although there are three down linemen every play, it seems like Malik Reed is the only one doing anything for them. Stopping the run starts with a strong defensive line, but the underwhelming line seems to be the reason teams like Air Force went against their namesake and ran for over 500 yards.
The linebacker corps is arguably the strongest part of the defense. Senior Austin Paulhus with preseason All-Mountain West selection Gabe Sewell and Travis Wilson are the anchors to the middle of the defense. The biggest issue with this part of the defense is they can’t seem to make the necessary tackle sometimes, giving the offense extra yards and more explosive plays.
Defensive Backs: D+
These guys have been the busiest players on the team this season. So busy in fact that preseason All-Mountain West selectees Dameon Baber and Asani Rufus are second and third on the team in tackles. True freshman Nephi Sewell, Gabe’s younger brother, is right behind them in fourth.
One issue with the defensive backfield is the decision to play zone instead of man-to-man defense. This leaves holes for opposing offenses to exploit and have easy pickings. The silver lining is that most of the defensive backfield will return next season most likely improve in the second year of Casteel’s defensive scheme.
Special Teams: C+
This is pretty straightforward, the special teams do what they are asked. One area of improvement is placekicker Spencer Pettit trying not to get blocked, as two of his three missed field goals have been blocked.
This grade is so low because of things touched on earlier. Losing to Idaho State is unacceptable, whether it is your first year or not. One thing Jay Norvell has done well though is keeping this team motivated to compete week after week, even after disheartening losses. Norvell needs to see that moral victories aren’t an official stat. Wins and losses are all that matter. Norvell will most likely have a longer leash as he is Doug Knuth’s first football hire.
Norvell is known as a quarterback guru, so it is no surprise that the offense is outperforming the defense. Norvell left defense up to Casteel but he needs to improve the defense soon or they’ll both have a shorter tenure at Nevada than Brian Polian.
Nevada football is on the up-and-up as of late, if they can continue this through the rest of the season, future success is not a long ways away.