After losing its first five games last season, Nevada looked to start its season on a much better note this time around. Three minutes into the first football game of the season for the Nevada Wolf Pack, Jay Norvell’s team had already surrendered a touchdown to what was supposed to be a lowly Portland State team.
The first drive for Nevada’s high powered offense was disappointing as the Pack turned the ball over on downs. The next Portland State drive stalled and the ensuing punt landed Nevada inside their own one-yard line. The questionable play calling led to the Wolf Pack giving up a safety. Trailing 9-0, Nevada needed something to kickstart an opening night comeback.
The Wolf Pack’s sluggish start gave fans flashbacks to last season when Nevada played Idaho State — a school in the same conference as Portland State. In a game where Nevada was favored to win by almost 5 touchdowns, the Wolf Pack lost. At one point the Pack trailed the Bengals 30-7, but closed the gap to lose by just two points in a 30-28 final.
Fans at Mackay Stadium got a brief moment of rejuvenation when Portland State quarterback Davis Alexander was intercepted by junior defensive back Daniel Brown and returned it for a touchdown. The excitement was quickly lost when Ramiz Ahmed’s PAT was blocked. Amhed redeemed himself drilling a 46-yard field goal to tie the game at end of the first quarter.
Ahmed’s field goal seemed to be the kick in the butt the Wolf Pack needed. Nevada scored its first offensive touchdown when Ty Gangi connected with his favorite target from last year, McLane Mannix, on a 58-yard bomb. The touchdown gave Nevada its first lead of the game.
The next Nevada drive was the last time the Wolf Pack would make a major mistake on offense. Ty Gangi threw a ball off of his back foot down the middle of the field into the arms of the Vikings defense. Portland State could not take advantage of the good field position and the Wolf Pack regained possession.
Nevada’s best drive of the game came right after. Toa Taua opened the drive with an 18-yard run. Ty Gangi made two throws to bring the pack into the red zone. Freshman Devonte Lee capped off the 84-yard drive with a 19-yard rush into the endzone. Jay Norvell’s two freshman running backs proved why the air raid offense is not just about throwing the ball.
The Viking offense responded with a 75-yard pass from Alexander to Charlie Taumoepeau. Nevada countered as Gangi floated a ball in the endzone to McLane Mannix for their second touchdown connection of the night. After scoring, Mannix and left guard Anthony Palomares were both called for unsportsmanlike conduct penalties that forced Nevada to kick off from its own 10-yard line.
Portland State scored a field goal after being gifted great field position. The field goal was the last time the Vikings would put up any points. The Wolf Pack led at the end of the half with a 30-19 lead.
The second half was all Nevada. The opening drive of the half was just four plays and ended in Kelton Moore running into the endzone from nine yards out. The next drive was even quicker as Toa Taua shoveled a pass to a sprint Jaxson Kincaide who blasted past the defense for a 73-yard touchdown. The Wolf Pack continued to embarrass Portland State, as Gangi connected with Mannix for a third time in the endzone. Gangi continued his big night as he ran the ball in from the five yard line on a quarterback keeper resulting in yet another touchdown. Gangi’s touchdown run made it six straight drives that ended in touchdowns for Nevada. Nevada’s good fortune ended after Ramiz Ahmed’s 40-yard field goal was blocked.
With a 58-19 lead, Norvell left his first team offense going into the fourth quarter. Nevada continued to throw the football as the game was entering its fourth hour of play. Norvell finally sat Ty Gangi along with the rest of the starters with just over 10 minutes to go in the game — junior Christian Solano took over the offense. Gangi finished the night with 342 yards and all three of his touchdowns ending up in the hands of Mannix.
Solano and the second stringers did not miss a beat. Going 83 yards in just two and a half minutes, the Pack scored again. With a 65-19 lead, Nevada had its highest scoring outing in the Jay Norvell era.
The extraordinary night for Nevada did not end there. With under seven minutes to go, Portland State punted the ball once again and freshman wide receiver Romeo Doubs was back to receive the punt. Doubs ran up the sideline and cut across the field to the opposite sideline leaving everyone behind him. The 80-yard return was the final scoring play in the rout of the Vikings. In a Mackay Stadium record, Nevada won 72-19.
In maybe the best overall outing for Nevada football in recent memory, Nevada still has issues to fix going into its game next week against Vanderbilt. The offense must try to avoid slow starts because the Wolf Pack defense is not as stout as Portland State made it look. Nevada’s secondary is constantly vulnerable to giving up big plays, and the offense is not going to score 72 points against any other team this year to bail them out. The kicking game also needs to be improved — getting blocked twice in one game is unacceptable at the collegiate level. The pros outweigh the cons, though. Nevada demolished a team in front of its home fans all without its top offensive lineman and one of their best receivers. Malik Reed recorded a sack playing in his new position and Korey Rush — after wrongly being disqualified for a hit Sam Hammond made — also had a solid game.
With a high-powered offense and a defense that has made early improvements from last season, Nevada looks ready to play a lower level SEC school.
Darion Strugs can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @dstrugs.