Nevada’s roller-coaster ride took another turn Saturday at Mackay Stadium in Reno as the Wolf Pack stumbled to rival UNLV, 27-22.
With the loss, the Rebels captured the Fremont Cannon and snapped Nevada’s eight-year stranglehold on the coveted trophy.
The Pack’s play, though, was uninspired and lacked urgency. On a day where the defense finally stepped up, the offense was stagnant and unimaginative.
Of course, 13 penalties for 105 yards including two 15-yard personal foul calls after a Pack (3-5) touchdown gave UNLV the ball at their own 47 late in the fourth quarter. The Rebels (5-3) later punted and pinned Nevada at its own 12.
The Pack’s inability to score touchdowns the past two games is concerning heading into Saturday’s showdown at No. 16 Fresno State. Quarterback Cody Fajardo looks amiss and the run game is nowhere to be found.
UNLV dominated the third quarter, while Nevada ran only seven plays. The Pack attempted nine run plays in the second half against one of the worst units in the country.
The duo of Don Jackson and Kendall Brock ran hard in the first half but were relegated to spectators in the second half. The Pack must find their identity to save their season.
Any hopes of a bowl game are futile for Nevada, while the win likely saved UNLV coach Bobby Hauck’s job. UNLV’s history of bad football was reversed — at least for a day — when the Rebels outplayed their bitter rival.
Now, UNLV is one win away from becoming bowl eligible.
Rebels quarterback Caleb Herring, who completed 1 of 12 passes for 8 yards two years ago, shredded the Nevada secondary for 335 yards and three TDs. Running back Tim Cornett had 25 carries for 126 yards and one TD.
As for coach Brian Polian and the Pack, they must find consistency. Nevada has yet to play a complete game, save against FCS opponent UC Davis.
The staff must come in better prepared and adjust in the second half. Nevada has scored six points total in the second half in the past two weeks.
Fajardo’s bum knee is not fully healthy, and it shows when he runs. The Pack must use Jackson and Brock as workhorses to ease the pressure on Fajardo.
The passing game is there and has shown glimpses of brilliance. The run game, for some reason, takes a back seat when needed.
Defensively, the unit showed strides of improvement against UNLV and kept the Pack alive. To save the season, though, the defense must grow up in a hurry if Nevada has any chance of reining in the Bulldogs and quarterback Derek Carr.
For all the bells and whistles created with uniforms and new “traditions,” the result has yet to translate on the field.
It better start Saturday, or Polian and his staff can get an early jump on recruiting.
Steve Puterski is the sports editor for the Lahontan Valley News and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.