The Nevada Wolf Pack fell to the Fresno State Bulldogs 21-3 on Saturday despite an impressive defensive effort. The loss brings Nevada to 3-3 on the season and 1-1 in conference play.
Defensively, the Wolf Pack forced a season-high nine punts and held the Bulldogs to season-low 30 rushing yards on the ground. Offensively, Nevada was held without a touchdown for the first time since 2014 against Louisiana. They mustered just 309 total yards and seven three-and-outs in the loss.
Junior quarterback Cristian Solano made his first collegiate start after a leg injury suffered against Air Force sidelined Ty Gangi. Solano appeared in two prior games with the Wolf Pack last season, notably completing 5-of-6 passes for 56 yards and a 23-yard gain on a fake punt at Colorado State. Solano shattered several school records at San Fernando High School and was named First-Team All-League quarterback and All-City Most Valuable Player during his senior year.
Solano completed 22 of 43 passes for 195 yards and three interceptions, adding a game-high 71 rushing yards.
The special teams units were active to start the game, as both teams combined for four punts in the first quarter. Quarterback Marcus McMaryion broke the scoreless streak for the Bulldogs with a 19-yard touchdown pass to Ronnie Rivers.
Solano found his groove in the second quarter, connecting with three different receivers while rolling to his right and picking up two first downs with his legs into Bulldog territory. Fresno State stood strong in the red zone, forcing the Wolf Pack to come away with a field goal — the only points Nevada would score all night.
Constant pressure off the edge from linebacker Malik Reed and defensive tackle Dom Peterson forced Fresno State into their third three-and-out of the half. Solano made his first mistake of the game, lofting a touch pass over the head of intended receiver Kaleb Fossum and into the hands of defensive back Anthoula Kelly.
The defense stood tall once again after a forced fumble from safety Dameon Barber gave the ball right back to the Wolf Pack to preserve their 7-3 deficit at the half.
The Bulldogs broke out of their offensive spell to start the second half, as McMaryion fired a strike to Jared Rice down the seam for a 69-yard gain. Rivers capitalized with a two-yard dive into the end zone, giving Fresno State a 14-3 lead.
Solano’s third interception of the game stalled Nevada’s momentum into Bulldog territory. Fresno State gave the ball right back with another three-and-out with 11:18 remaining in the fourth quarter.
The Wolf Pack’s seventh punt of the game lead to a 44-yard scoring drive by the Bulldogs capped-off by a Keeshan Johnson touchdown reception. Despite driving into the red zone, Nevada failed to score on the ensuing possession, putting a stamp on what was a quiet night offensively.
Following the loss, Nevada will face off against rival Boise State Broncos Saturday, Oct. 13, at Mackay Stadium — marking the first time Boise State will play in Reno since 2014. The Broncos have quite the advantage in the all-time series sporting a 29-13 record dating back to 1971. Boise State has won 15 of the last 16 games in the series — the lone win being the iconic 2010 matchup where the Wolf Pack upset a third-ranked Broncos team in overtime. Boise State coasted to a 41-14 victory over Nevada last season.
The Broncos’ high octane offense is firing on all cylinders this season, they rank ninth in the nation with 43.2 points per game and sixth averaging 538.5 yards per game.
The Wolf Pack will have their hands full containing senior signal caller Brett Rypien. Rypien’s 1,389 passing yards rank 13th in the nation this season. His 11,265 career passing yards ranks second in school history behind Kellen Moore. Receivers Sean Modster and A.J. Richardson have also contributed their fair share, the duo have combined for 698 yards and five touchdowns this season.
Boise State is also stout defensively. The Broncos are 14th in total defense this season, and they also hold spots in the top-25 in rushing and passing yards allowed per game.
For Nevada, their only chance of staying in the game may rest on the shoulders of Ty Gangi. After being ruled as doubtful, Gangi did not play Saturday against Fresno State. The impact he has on the offense is evident as they clearly need his dual-threat capabilities and strong arm against the Bulldogs’ defense.
Whether or not Gangi is ready to play, the Wolf Pack must control front on both sides of the field. Particularly defensively, the front seven must take away the run game and force Rypien to make plays out of the pocket. Offensively, they may look to build through the air and set the tempo from the gate.
Nevada has plenty of adjustments to make in order to steal a win from their Mountain West Conference foe.
Isaiah Burrows can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @SagebrushSports.