Nevada quarterback Malik Henry was poised for a second chance under center, and he made the most of it.
Henry threw for a team-high 352 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions in his first FBS start on Saturday, leading the Pack to a 41-38 victory over San Jose State.
A former five-star recruit, Henry left Florida State University and played two seasons at Independence Community College without a Division-I offer. Henry’s five-star status had lost his shine, but he walked-on at Nevada in the spring and earned his second chance six weeks into the year.
“There was a time [when] I thought I’d never play football again,” Henry said post-game. “God works in mysterious ways and I’m here now. But the team believed in me, and I just went out there and did it for them.”
Henry showcased his football prowess with the Pack. The 6-foot-3 quarterback was credited for Nevada’s longest play of the year, connecting with wide receiver Elijah Cooks for a 55-yard gain down the sidelines. Henry followed it up with a 75-yard touchdown to Romeo Doubs to start the second half.
On several occasions, Henry stepped up in the pocket to avoid the rush while keeping his eyes downfield. His large chunk plays helped Nevada storm into Spartans territory for much of the contest.
“I was really proud of Malik Henry,” head coach Jay Norvell said. “He really handled the game well as far as what we asked him to do. He got his playmakers involved. A lot of that was his decision making and his ability to handle the package we gave him.”
Norvell and offensive coordinator Matt Mumme kept it simple for Henry’s debut in the silver and blue. Nevada running backs Toa Taua and Devontee Lee combined for 184 rushing yards to take some of the load off his shoulders.
The Pack’s potent ground attack helped Henry utilize the play action on multiple third-down conversions.
“I was comfortable with the game plan and our coaching staff to put us in the right position,” Henry said. “I was comfortable with my guys. I knew they were going to make plays for me if I just gave them the ball and they did.”
Despite his strong showing on the field, Henry’s struggles fueled San Jose State’s second-half comeback. His second interception was a scramble to his left, forcing an errant throw to the sidelines for Dominic Christian and into the hands of the Spartans defense.
Henry didn’t let his mistakes get the best of him. He kept his composure and led the Wolf Pack on two-straight scoring drives on their final two possessions to secure the victory.
“Coach Norvell tells us never to worry,” he said. “Anytime a little adversity came, I didn’t worry… I just kept telling myself not to worry and prepare for situations like that.”
Henry’s two interceptions weren’t the only turnovers of the game. Taua fumbled the ball on the San Jose State two yard line. The ball rolled out of the end zone and resulted in a touchback.
After the play, Henry made sure to boost Taua’s spirits on the sideline.
“When I messed up on that fumble there, he was right there to pick me up,” Taua said. “He kept telling me that the game isn’t over and he brought the whole team up.”
Whether Henry suits up for a junior college or a D-I program, each game is the same to him. He does whatever it takes on and off the field to help his team come away with a win.
“There’s nothing different, it’s a football game,” he said. “There is no real difference or anything. To win a game, you need to go in with that same mindset and that’s execution and communication.”
Henry is still in the midst of Nevada’s three-man competition under center with redshirt freshman Carson Strong and fifth-year senior Cristian Solano. All three players have started at least one game this season.
His impressive performance on Saturday may have helped his cause going forward.
“Whether it’s those two guys or me, we just go out there and execute what our coaches tell us to do,” he said. “If we do that, we’re going to be good no matter who is out there at quarterback.”
Isaiah Burrows can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @SagebrushSports.