Nevada football started slow Saturday night for the Wolf Pack against the UTEP Miners. After a mild first quarter, the Pack exploded for a 21 point second quarter and rode that momentum to victory, beating UTEP 37-21.
A highly explosive offense led by senior quarterback Cristian Solano proved to be too much to handle for the UTEP Miners. Nevada outgained their opponent by 125 total yards.
In a twist of fate, Cristian Solano was named the starter against UTEP due to a disclosed Carson Strong injury. Solano was in for the entire first quarter, until, junior Malik Henry took over for one series. In total, Henry saw two offensive series on the day, including the final drive.
This was Solano’s first start of the season and the second of his career. For Malik Henry, it was his first action in Wolf Pack uniform.
Solano went 13-19 for 182 yards and two touchdowns with one interception as he had a great opening showing on the season. Henry went 2-2 for 21 yards on his limited playing time.
Elijah Cooks had a monster game tallying four catches for 82 yards and two touchdowns. This is the second time this season and the third time in his career that Cooks has hauled in two touchdown passes in one game.
Kaleb Fossum also joins Cooks with four catches for 46 yards. Taua also contributed with 41 yards in the air on his own. In total, Nevada had a total of 203 passing yards compared to 116 for UTEP.
In head coach Jay Norvell’s first nonconference road win of his tenure, the Pack failed to put any points on the board in the first quarter. They quickly bounced back scoring early in the second quarter behind Toa Taua’s five-yard touchdown run to tie it up at seven apiece. That touchdown was Taua’s second touchdown of the season and eighth of his young career.
After each team participated in turning over the ball early in the second quarter, the Miners jumped out ahead as Treyvon Hughes marched it in from the six-yard line and make it a 14-7 UTEP lead.
The Pack quickly jumped back into the game as Solano threw his first and second collegiate touchdowns in back-to-back drives with both throws going to wide receiver Cooks. The Pack took the lead due to the pair of touchdowns as Nevada headed to the locker room for halftime.
The Miners opened up the second half with a 10-minute drive that ended with Kai Locksley punching it into the endzone, tying the game at 21 each. From here, it was all Wolf Pack as Nevada never looked back. The Pack scored 16 unanswered points starting with a 27-yard field goal by Brandon Talton.
Talton continues to impress as his 27-yard field goal pushed him to 9-9 on field goals this year. Talton is tied with 25 other kickers in the country in field goal percentage with 100 percent. However, he’s tied with only one other person with nine field goals apiece.
After the made field goal, the Miner’s three-play drive ended quickly with Jordan Lee making his first career interception to end the third quarter. Turnovers have been a recurring theme for the Pack as Nevada has forced at least one turnover in nine consecutive games.
The start of the fourth quarter quickly brought another score for the Pack as Kelton Moore darted from the five-yard line into UTEP’s endzone. The score pushed Nevada’s lead to 30-21 after the extra point was blocked by UTEP.
Kelton Moore had a productive day, as he found the endzone for the second time tonight on the following drive. In total, Nevada totaled 200 yards on the ground against UTEP.
It was a day of firsts for the Wolf Pack as Lawson Hall, Tyson Williams and Jordan Lee all recorded the first interceptions of their careers. The defense stepped up when needed and gave Nevada the chance to pull away late in the game. The last time a Nevada defense recorded three interceptions in a game was in the 2018 NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl.
Williams led the team in total tackles, as he racked up three solo tackles and eight assisted tackles. Dom Peterson was right behind him with nine total tackles including one sack for four yards.
The victory wraps up Nevada’s non-conference schedule and pushes the Pack to 3-1 on the year. This marks the first 3-1 start for Nevada since 2014.
The Pack now opens up Mountain West play against Hawaii who is also 3-1 on the season. The Warriors are coming off a dominant, 35-16 win against Central Arkansas. Hawaii opened up the season with three straight Pac-12 teams and went 2-1 with wins against the University of Arizona and Oregon State.
This game against Hawaii will be held at Mackay Stadium on Sept. 28, at 7:30 p.m. This will be the first of a two-game homestand before Nevada takes to the road again to play Utah State in Oct.
Austin Paschke can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @SagebrushSports.