Nevada football’s truncated 2020 season is in full swing, and it has several new faces on both sides of the ball. Below is a rundown of the Wolf Pack on offense, defense and special teams.
Nevada on Offense:
A year after returning just six offensive starters with questions at the quarterback spot, the Wolf Pack returns all but one starter to their 2020 campaign.
The group is led by returning quarterback Carson Strong. The redshirt sophomore signal-caller started in ten contests last year, completing 63.4 percent of his passes for 2,335 yards and 11 touchdowns to seven interceptions.
While Strong endured through a roller coaster season, he finished the year on a high note. Strong threw for 753 yards on a 62.1 percent rate with two touchdowns and zero interceptions in his final two games. Though it both resulted in losses, the offense produced 51 combined points for its second-best two-game stretch of the season.
The ground attack will be led by three-year starter Toa Taua. Taua is coming off a down season, rushing for just 802 after reaching 872 in his Mountain West Freshman of the Year 2018 season. His yards per carry (4.9 to 4.1) and total touchdowns (7 to 6) also decreased.
Devonte Lee carries his role as the team’s top backup back into this season. Lee returned from his offseason ACL surgery after missing the first four games and had a productive season. He proved to be arguably Nevada’s top goalline back with seven rushing touchdowns. He had just 66 carries for 302 yards. His best game came against UNLV, totaling a season-high 11 carries for 44 yards and two scores.
Led by key cogs Elijah Cooks and Romeo Doubs, Nevada’s top unit offensively is at the wide receiver. Cooks and Doubs are the team’s two top returning receivers from last year. Cooks led the team with 76 receptions, 926 yards and eight touchdowns. Doubs led the team with 14.8 yards per second, but placed second in receptions (44), receiving yards (649) and touchdowns (4).
With the abrupt retirement of left tackle Miles Beach, the Wolf Pack returned four of their five starters among “The Union.” Moses Landis is projected to fill the hole at left tackle. Senior Nate Brown—who is projected to make the All-Mountain West team by Athlon Sports—shifts from right tackle to right guard.
Nevada on Defense:
The Wolf Pack return seven starters on the defensive end highlighted with Mountain West All-Conference defensive lineman Dom Peterson.
Peterson is the conference’s leading sack and tackle-for-loss leader. He finished the season with nine sacks and 15.0 tackles-for-loss, placing second in both categories behind Boise State’s Curtis Weaver. The 6-foot, 295-pound junior could be poised to have another breakout campaign in 2020.
Joining Peterson on the defensive front is senior Sam Hammond, Chris Green and Kameron Toomer. Green, who totaled one sack and 5.5 tackles-for-loss in five starts last season, may miss the start of the season after he was arrested earlier this month.
Hammond totaled 35 tackles, 1.5 sacks and 3.0 tackles-for-loss, while Toomer tallied 19 tackles, one sack and three tackles-for-loss last season.
The Wolf Pack features an inexperienced linebacking core. Juniors Lamin Touray and Trevor Price insert themselves into the starting group. Touray racked-up a career-best 18 tackles last season while Price finished with just eight.
The duo will join Lawson Hall, who finished T-2 on the team in tackles with 58. Hall, one of Nevada’s four captains, also registered 1.5 tackles-for-loss, six pass deflections, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. He was named to the preseason All-Mountain West by Athlon Sports earlier this offseason.
Nevada features an experienced secondary; a unit that could sneakily be the deepest unit defensively.
E.J. Muhammad was granted his 6th year of eligibility in March, filling in for Daniel Brown atop the corner position. Muhammad tied with Hall atop the team’s tackle leaders, totaling six pass breakups with a fumble forced. He is Nevada’s most experienced defensive back with 35 career games (17 starts).
Austin Arnold and Tyson Williams return as the lead safeties. Williams led the team in tackles last year with 85 — ranking in the Top-20 in the Mountain West.
Nevada on Special Teams:
Placekicker Brandon Talton was special last year. Very special. A few weeks prior to the season’s start, not a whole lot knew his name.
Now, Talton is projected to be a first team All-Mountain West honoree and was named to the preseason watch list for the Lou Groza Award heading into his sophomore season. Talton nailed 21-of-25 field goals and netted his first 13, including a game-winning 56-yard field goal against Purdue in his first career start. Julian Diaz enters as Nevada’s starting punter after working as just a kickoff specialist before.
Matt Hanifan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SagebrushSports.