Nevada set to enter the Dark Side | NevadaAppeal.com

Nevada set to enter the Dark Side

BY DARRELL MOODY

Appeal Sports Writer

Nevada football coach Chris Ault has never pulled any punches, and he isn’t about to start now.

So when he talks about San Diego State in glowing terms, it’s not just coach-talk.

“By far the best team we’ve played to date,” said Ault, whose 2-1 Wolf Pack squad visits the Aztecs tonight (6:07 p.m., Qualcomm Stadium). “They should have beaten Michigan. It will be a great test for us.”

Especially for the Wolf Pack offense. The San Diego defense, known as the Dark Side, has 12 tackles for loss, six interceptions, six sacks and has forced eight turnovers. It’s one of the most-athletic units Nevada will see all season.

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“They have several outstanding players (on defense),” Ault said. “They do so many things with their Eagle front. They zone blitz as well as man blitz, and they combine that with different fronts. They really run to the ball. The chemistry of what they’re trying to do is so well balanced. They are a very difficult defense to play against.”

San Diego State defensive line coach Jim House, who coached for 12 years at Nevada, obviously is pleased with the defensive unit.

“They can run, can’t they?” House said. “We’ve been building this group for three years. Now we’re starting to have success. It’s exciting to watch their growth. The linebacking group is as good as there is around.

“Definitely the defense is one of our strengths,” said Andy Buh, a former player at Nevada who coaches the Aztec linebackers. “When teams like us (West Coast) go to the Midwest, teams don’t expect us to strike them the way we are striking them.”

The linebacking group is led by Matt McCoy and Kirk Morrison. McCoy played a sensational game against Michigan last week, earning the Mountain West Conference’s Player of the Week honors after his 18-tackle performance. It was the most tackles since Marviel Underwood recorded 18 in 2002 against Air Force. McCoy leads the team with 25 tackles, more than double of what Morrison (12) has.

“We came away from the Michigan game feeling that Matt McCoy played one of the best games we have ever seen a player have here,” SDSU coach Tom Craft said at his weekly media conference.

Buh said that Morrison and McCoy are complemented well by Steve Larsen and Heath Farwell, the other starting linebackers. Defensive tackle Blake Lobel has a team-leading three sacks for minus-13 yards, and Marcus Demps and Josh Dean are the leaders in the athletic defensive backfield.

This is a defense that creates havoc as evidenced by its eight takeaways and six sacks in two games. The Aztecs’ pressure style defense will create problems for Harvey Dahl and the rest of the Wolf Pack offensive line. The group has settled down the last two weeks after a disastrous opener against Louisiana Tech (nine sacks), but this will be its stiffest test of the young season.

The key for Nevada will be to take care of the ball, establish a running game to keep San Diego State’s defense honest and not trying to take quarterback Jeff Rowe’s head off on every play. Chance Kretschmer is coming off a 154-yard effort against Buffalo, and Drew Robinson and B.J. Mitchell have shown tremendous progress.

Ault said that he will continue to play all three backs.

“Chance is the starter,” Ault said. “He’s our best all-around back. He’s a very good athlete. Drew is the fastest. He’s the future. He can get to the outside. B.J. is more of a physical runner.”

Rowe has throw for 649 yards in three games (58.7 completion mark), including back-to-back games of more than 200 yards. He’s shown the past two weeks that he can move in the pocket a little bit, and he’s thrown just one interception. Nichiren Flowers is coming off a career-high nine catches against Buffalo last week, and Caleb Spencer should rebound after not catching a pass for the first time all season.

“They (Nevada) are fairly balanced offensively,” SDSU head coach Tom Craft said. “They like to throw the football and they have an outstanding running back (Chance Kretschmer).

“There is a huge improvement from their first game against Louisiana Tech and last week against Buffalo. They are getting better. They have a two-game winning streak and will be confident coming into our place.”

Ault admitted last week that the team is still searching for its identity, and that last week’s win over Buffalo was a small step in that direction. A win over the Aztecs would be a little bigger step.

The Aztecs will be a big test for the young Wolf Pack defense led by senior tackle Chris Barry, freshman linebacker Jeremy Engstrom and safety Keone Kauo.

SDSU quarterback Mat Dlugolecki has completed 61 percent of his passes (42 for 69) and thrown for three touchdowns. His favorite targets are Jeff Webb and Robert Ortiz. Webb has 14 catches for 175 yards and one score, and Ortiz has 11 grabs for 183 yards and three scores.

Micah Franklin, the running back starter for the first two weeks, is expected to give up some playing time to Lynell Hamilton, who is slowly rounding into shape after breaking an ankle last season.

“We expect him (Hamilton) to get 15 to 18 touches,” Craft said. “Just to get him back on the field and some extended playing time is good for him and for the team.”

The Aztecs do a lot offensively, and they made good use of the shovel pass against Michigan. The Wolf Pack spent some quality time on defending that play during practice this past week.

“Those guys (Webb and Ortiz) are good players,” said Dave Fipp, Nevada’s co-defensive coordinator. “They’re both great athletes. They do a great job with their offensive scheme.”

Contact Darrell Moody at dmoody@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1281.

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