Pack defense has its hands full with Texas Tech

RENO - Forgive Nevada Wolf Pack coach Chris Ault for appearing to be a little envious this week.

The Texas Tech Red Raiders can do that to an opposing coach.

"We better be ready to play some football," said Ault of today's Nevada Wolf Pack game at Texas Tech (4 p.m., 630-AM, Fox College Sports television). "It's going to be quite a challenge."

The Red Raiders (2-0) have outscored their first two opponents this year - Texas State and New Mexico - by a combined score of 109-23. The Red Raiders' offense is third in the nation at 564.5 yards a game and their quarterback, junior Seth Doege, completed 40-of-44 passes for five touchdowns last week against New Mexico.

In short, the Red Raiders' offense is everything Ault wants his young Wolf Pack offense to grow up to be.

"You look at film of their first two games and, well, they just dominated those two teams," Ault said. "Our defense is going to be tested."

Doege's 91 percent completion percentage last week is a NCAA record for games when the quarterback completes 40 or more passes. The Red Raiders pass for 397 yards a game and run for 167.5.

"They are a terrific throwing team," Ault said. "They spread it out, throw it to a lot of different receivers."

The Red Raiders put on a passing clinic last week against New Mexico. Wide receiver Darrin Moore caught nine passes for 118 yards and three touchdowns and has already caught 21 balls this year for 339 yards and four scores.

"I didn't feel pressure all day," Doege said. "It's a lot easier to sit back there and throw it and catch it when there's no pressure."

Putting pressure on the quarterback is not something the Pack has done well this season. The Pack has just two sacks (both by Brett Roy) and one quarterback hurry (by Jeremiah Green) on their resume this season in two games.

"Seth was able to complete all those passes because he was comfortable in the pocket," said Red Raiders coach Tommy Tuberville, who has also been the head coach at Auburn and Mississippi in his career. "He didn't get touched very much."

Doege, Tuberville said, has shown great maturity for a quarterback in his first two games as a starter.

"He's going through his check downs and he understands why he threw the ball and why he didn't," Tuberville said. "He's really managing the game well."

It also helps that the New Mexico defense rarely got within an arm's length of him.

"When the quarterback has time in the pocket, especially in the type of offense we have, you can complete a lot of passes," Tuberville said.

Texas Tech beat the Wolf Pack 35-19 in 2008 at Mackay Stadium in the only other meeting between the two schools. In that game it was quarterback Graham Harrell (297 yards, one touchdown) and wide receiver Michael Crabtree (seven catches, 158 yards, one TD) doing most of the damage against the Pack.

"We can't give up the big play," Ault said. "That is the top priority. That's why we have to be great tacklers this week. They just try to get you one-on-one in your secondary with their receivers and hope you miss the tackle."

It was a big play - an 82-yard Graham-to-Crabtree TD pass in the fourth quarter - that hurt the Pack in 2008. But the Red Raiders, Ault warned, are more than happy to pick you apart in small chunks of yardage.

"He (Doege) doesn't throw the ball downfield a lot," Ault said. "They've been nickel and diming it a lot on offense. But those nickels and those dimes have turned into dollars."

The Wolf Pack secondary will be clearly tested by a Texas Tech passing attack that has now tossed at least one touchdown pass in 64 consecutive games. It is the same Wolf Pack secondary, after all, that allowed Oregon to pass for 331 yards and six touchdowns just two weeks ago in a 69-20 loss.

"We have a huge challenge," Wolf Pack secondary coach Mike Bradeson said. "We have to go out and execute. It's all about us. We can't worry about them. We have to execute the game plan.

"They have a lot of 'RAC,' run-after-the-catch yards. So we need to tackle."

The Pack, Ault said, also has to hog the ball a little on offense.

"That's your best defense against an explosive offense like that," Ault said. "You have to keep the ball away from them."

That strategy didn't work at Oregon as the Pack had the ball for 38-plus minutes. The problem that day for the Wolf Pack, though, was that they didn't finish off enough drives with touchdowns - a problem that continued in the 17-14 victory at San Jose State last week.

"We haven't done a good job of finishing," quarterback Tyler Lantrip said. "Myself included."

Ault said this week that backup quarterback Cody Fajardo will see playing time on Saturday.

"We're still trying to find the pieces," Ault said.

One of the important pieces, running back Mike Ball, seems to be in place. Ball took over the starting job last week and ran for 124 yards and two touchdowns on 29 carries.

"I think I answered some questions last week," Ball said.

"Now he has to sustain it," Ault said. "That's the key to being a Nevada back. You have to do it every week."

In addition to the Texas Tech offense, the Wolf Pack will also have to find a way to deal with playing in Lubbock, Texas. Texas Tech is 50-3 against non-ranked teams at home since 2000. This will be the Pack's first game in the state of Texas since Nov. 13, 2004 in a 38-020 loss at SMU.

"It's a great environment," said Ault, whose Wolf Pack have played at such tradition-filled places as Notre Dame, Nebraska, Brigham Young, Arizona State, Oregon and Missouri in recent years. "It's football country."

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