The Nevada Wolf Pack held a record of 2-2 going into week five against the Air Force Falcons. After the game, the Pack would march out of Colorado Springs, Colo. owners of a 3-2 record and secure their first road victory in their last nine road games.
Nevada needed help from offense, defense and special teams to walk out of Colorado Springs with a win. With standout performances from quarterback Ty Gangi — who was 24 for 33 with four touchdowns — and linebacker Malik Reed, who had seven total tackles, three tackles for loss and two forced fumbles, that’s exactly what happened.
Quarterback Ty Gangi started the game red hot, going 5-5 on the opening and launching a deep 40 yard strike to wide receiver Elijah Cooks for a touchdown. The deep attack put up the Pack early against Air Force, 7-0.
Air Force attempted to answer back on their opening drive by setting the tone with a fourth and one conversion on their own 34-yard line. Ultimately, they punted short after on a fourth and three at the Falcons 49-yard line.
The Wolf Pack defense responded in a huge way after two series saw each team punt the ball. Linebacker Malik Reed sacked Falcons quarterback Arion Worthman, causing him to fumble. Linebacker Lucas Weber swooped on the fumble, putting Nevada in excellent scoring territory.
Unfortunately, Gangi and the offense did not capitalize on this prime real estate by promptly turning the ball right back over. Junior defensive back Zane Lewis, intercepted a pass at the one yard line and returned it 99 yards to tie the game up with just under 10 minutes left in the first half.
Gangi didn’t stay down for long though, responding back on the next drive with a 29-yard pass to wide receiver McLane Mannix to put the Pack back up 14-7.
Gangi continued to light up the Falcons defense throughout this contest. Just before halftime, he once again dropped a dime on the Air Force defense. This time, Gangi connected with wide receiver Brendan O’Leary-Orange for a 30 yard touchdown pass, bringing the score to 21-7.
The Wolf Pack defense played with a chip on their shoulder allowing only 25 yards in the first half. This, to a hybrid triple option offense that has been averaging 402 total yards of offense a game.
Nevada continued their shots at the Falcons defense in the second half. Just two plays after Gangi scampered for a 29-yard gain on the ground, he found Cooks once again for a 23-yard touchdown pass. The score brought the Pack up over the Falcons by 18 points with still a near full half to play.
The following two possessions would see both squads fumble the ball after a short time of possession. The second fumble would help bring the Falcons back into the thick of the fight with Air Force capitalizing on the Wolf Pack turnover with a touchdown. Air Force quarterback Donald Hammond III threw to wide receiver Marcus Bennett for a two-yard touchdown. Donald Hammond III entered the game after quarterback Arion Worthman was benched following the fumble earlier in the game.
A late game surge saw the Falcons rally back to put fire to the heels of Nevada. A missed field goal, turnover on downs, and a safety gave Air Force plenty of opportunities to rally back to potentially win the game. Following the safety, the Falcons had one last chance to win, down 28-25 at this point. With ten seconds left in the game, Hammond III could not drive his team down the field and ended the game with two incomplete passes.
Nevada narrowly defeated Air Force, 28-25. The Pack will now return to Reno to face off against Fresno State, owners of the second highest ranked defense in the Mountain West Conference.
The Wolf Pack will be tested in week six in a very different way against Fresno State. For the past few weeks Nevada has been pitted against strong offensive schemes in either the pass or the run. That is not the case for this game. This week, Fresno comes into the game possessing the 21st ranked overall defense in the nation.
Look for head coach Jay Norvell to test Fresno State’s stout rushing defense. Norvell will undoubtedly rely on freshman Running Back Toa Taua whose averaging 81.4 yards per game, and 7.5 yards per carry. Fresno is currently giving up 122.5 yards per game over the ground. Norvell and Taua will have to exploit this.
Nevada quarterback Ty Gangi will be expected to build on his hot start against Air Force. This will be no easy task with Fresno State currently only giving up an average of 192.3 yards per game through the air. Wide receiver McLane Mannix will have to continue his high efficiency through the air for the Pack to be able to exploit this secondary.
Fresno State has currently only given up three sacks. To win this game, the Pack will have to put Bulldogs quarterback Marcus McMaryion on his back, and the secondary will have to at least get one interception – McMaryion has only thrown one this year so it will be a challenge.
This will be the 25th time Fresno State walks into Reno. Dating back to 1923, the series record when Nevada plays at home is 11-12-1. The last time Nevada hosted the match up, back on Oct. 8, 2016, the Pack won the match up 27-22.
Ryan Freeberg can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @SagebrushSports.