RENO -- So, what does a football team do when the nation's leading rusher is lost for the season with an injury? The Nevada Wolf Pack has simply unleashed quarterback Zack Threadgill.
Threadgill completed 30 of 36 passes for 408 yards and four touchdowns on Saturday afternoon and the Wolf Pack opened their Western Athletic Conference season with a 31-21 victory against Rice before a crowd of 17,201 at Mackay Stadium.
Coupled with its 31-28 upset of Brigham Young the week before, Nevada (2-1, 1-0) has now won consecutive games for the first time since 1999. Kretschmer, who led the nation in rushing in 2001, went down with a season-ending ACL injury in the first quarter against BYU, but the Wolf Pack offense certainly isn't down. Pressure? Personally speaking, Threadgill said he doesn't feel any pressure.
"I don't feel an extra burden. Our whole offense feels that, with Chance out, everybody has to raise their level," said Threadgill, who has thrown for 823 yards and eight touchdowns in two games. "Our expectations aren't going to change. It's not about one person, it's about the offense and the whole team did a great job of stepping up and playing today."
Threadgill spread the passing game around to six receivers, led by Nate Burleson with a personal record 14 receptions, good for 128 yards and two touchdowns. Aaron Carter caught five balls for 80 yards, Tim Fleming had four receptions for 61 yards and Dan Bythwood three receptions for 75 yards.
There was no rest after the win over BYU, according to coach Chris Tormey. After all, this was the start of the WAC season.
"We put a lot of pressure on these young guys this week and they responded," Tormey said. "We felt like this was a critical game for us. It was conference. Obviously, we had the big win last week over BYU and we wanted to show that it wasn't a fluke. We wanted to show that we could be a good football team, and we got better this week. I was proud of them."
Nevada also came into the game with three injured offensive linemen: tackle Harvey Dahl (foot, out indefinitely), guard John Tennert (knee, out indefinitely) and guard Isaiah Ross (ankle sprain, out three weeks). Freshman Adam Kiefer and sophomore Chris Hines started at the guards Saturday.
"Those guys stepped in and did a great job filling in," Burleson said. "We told them we had confidence in them. Coming out, they were nervous but I could tell they were ready to play."
It showed in the statistics -- and on the scoreboard against Rice (0-3, 0-1).
"Rice has a great D front. No. 87, (defensive end) Brandon Green, is a great player; he'll be playing on Sundays," Threadgill said. "We knew if we could get good protection and throw the ball, we knew we had a good matchup with our receivers on their defensive backs. We had to take advantage of that. And I think our receivers did a great job of making plays after the catch. If they were going to give us the flats, we talked about taking advantage of that."
Threadgill was impressive from the start. The fifth-year senior completed five of six passes for 73 yards on Nevada's opening possession, which culminated with Damon Fine's 28-yard field goal.
Rice turned the ball over on its first play from scrimmage when defensive tackle Derek Kennard Jr. knocked the ball loose from quarterback Kyle Herm to fumble and J.D. Morscheck recovered at the Rice 18. Four plays later Burleson caught a 4-yard touchdown pass to give the Wolf Pack a 10-0 lead.
Rice scored on its play after the kickoff when Vincent Hawkins took a toss around his left end and cut back across the field for an 80-yard touchdown run. Then the Owls recovered a fumble and took a 14-10 lead on their next possession when Greg Gatlin recovered a fumble and Herm threw a 21-yard pass to Jeremy Hurd with 2:30 left in the first quarter.
Nevada took the lead for good when Burleson caught a 19-yard touchdown strike over the middle to made it 17-14 with 5:24 left in the second quarter.
Rice answered with a drive, that ended with a turnover. On first down from the Wolf Pack 40, Marcus Battle got open deep and Herm appeared to deliver a strike, however, Marlon McLaughlin reached overhead and came down with his first career interception at the 1.
In the third quarter, Fleming caught a 31-yard touchdown pass to extend Nevada's lead to 24-14. Then in the fourth, Threadgill got off a pass while in the grasp of a defender that redshirt freshman Nichiren Flowers caught in the end zone to make it 31-14 with 11:58 left to play.
Rice still wasn't finished. Two plays later, Hurd had a 71-yard catch and run on a pass from sophomore quarterback Greg Henderson to bring the Owls back.
But the Wolf Pack took five minutes off the clock on their next possession and then slammed the door shut with a 12-play drive that moved the ball to the Rice 19 and killed the final 5:21. Matt Milton carried seven times for 27 yards on the final two possessions and finished with 74 yards on 21 carries for the game.
"When we needed to run the ball, we ran the ball," Tormey said. "I think that was a real key at the end of the game. We were able to run the ball and chew down the clock and I think that's a real testament to those (offensive line) kids. I thought they played extremely hard all four quarters."