The Nevada Wolf Pack Football team finished the season this past Saturday with a win against their arch-rival UNLV Rebels. The 23-16 victory was a positive ending to an otherwise down season for the Pack.
In Jay Norvell’s first year at the helm, the Wolf Pack finished with an underwhelming 3-9 overall record, after an 0-5 start to the season. What the record doesn’t show is how competitive Nevada was. Three of Nevada’s losses were by a combined eight points. Norvell also held steady in the Mountain West matching last season’s conference record of 3-5.
Norvell was hired to rejuvenate the Nevada offense after the departure of former head coach Brian Polian. Norvell’s impact was immediate as the Wolf Pack scored over 40 points three times this season, something they only did five times in Polian’s four year tenure at the school.
Ty Gangi had a spectacular season in his first full year as the starter. Under Norvell’s Air Raid system the junior quarterback flourished as he threw for over 2,700 yards and 25 touchdowns. One pleasant surprise for the Pack offense was true freshman receiver McLane Mannix. Mannix had 57 receptions for 778 yards with six touchdowns, all second on the team behind senior receiver Wyatt Demps. Demps finished his career at Nevada 10th all-time in touchdown receptions with 20, 11 of them coming this season.
The success of the Wolf Pack’s running game was also a surprise. Before the season started, former Pack star James Butler transferred to Iowa after the hiring of Jay Norvell. Butler led Nevada in rushing during the 2016 season. Butler’s transfer paved the way for Jaxson Kincaide to become the no. 1 running back on the depth chart. Instead, Kincaide missed three games this season due to injury and never had more than seven carries after the week-three loss to Idaho State. Sophomore Kelton Moore stepped up and had a great campaign, as he rushed for 855 yards. Nevada hopes Kincaide can be healthy all of next season so they can have a formidable one-two punch in the backfield.
One issue the offense had throughout the year was consistency. In nine games Nevada scored less than 30 points, and they lost eight of those games.
The defense on the other hand was the weakest part of the Wolf Pack squad. In each of the team’s nine losses the team gave up at least 30 points, and in six of those games gave up more than 40 points. Opposing offenses teed off on the Wolf Pack defense as they rushed for an average of 208 yards per game and threw for over 260 yards per game. Those numbers put them as the 119th ranked defense out of 130 FBS teams. Defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel’s 3-3-5 scheme is something that the Pack will need to improve with recruiting in the coming offseason and throughout spring and fall practices.
Coach Norvell and his staff will have the difficult task of replacing their linebacker corps as the season’s leading tackler linebacker Austin Paulhus, along with fellow linebacker Travis Wilson, are set to graduate. On offense, Sparks native and leader of the offensive line, lineman Austin Corbett, will need to be replaced.
Looking ahead to next season, for the offense, the sky is the limit. Norvell will have Gangi under center as they try to perfect the Air Raid. For the defense, major upgrades need to happen. If not, it could be another lethargic start to the season for the Pack as they play Portland State, Vanderbilt, Oregon State and Toledo in non-conference play.