RENO — There is a renewed sense of energy on the Nevada Wolf Pack football team’s defense this spring.
“Last week there wasn’t enough energy on either side of the ball,” Wolf Pack head coach Brian Polian said Saturday afternoon. “But today, certainly, the defense had enough.”
The Wolf Pack defense intercepted two passes, forced two fumbles and harassed the quarterbacks all afternoon long in the second scrimmage of the spring at Mackay Stadium. The third and final spring scrimmage, the annual Silver and Blue game, will be next Saturday afternoon (12:30 p.m.) at Mackay Stadium.
“The defense definitely played with more juice today than the offense,” Polian said. “They were flying around the ball on every play and when things went well for them they were happy for each other and got real excited. I just saw a lot more energy and passion from that side of the ball.”
Defensive linemen Jack Reynoso and Jordan Hanson recovered fumbles and linebacker Alex Bertrando and cornerback Markus Smith had interceptions.
“We felt the energy today,” middle linebacker Jordan Dobrich said. “That’s something we’ve really been working on, trying to find that level of energy and leadership.”
In addition to the interceptions and fumble recoveries, there were plenty of big plays for the defense to get excited about.
Dobrich stuffed running back Don Jackson for no gain, defensive end Nolan Dambacher and tackle Fred Lavulo teamed up to stop running back Chris Solomon for no gain and defensive end Tyler Houk caught running back Xavier Stephens for a 2-yard loss.
Bertrando stopped running back Nate McLaurin for a yard loss, linebacker Jonathan McNeal tackled McLaurin for a 2-yard loss and actually forced a fumble, though the play was ruled over before the turnover. Dambacher trapped Stephens for a 2-yard loss, linebacker Travis Hansen caught Stephens for a yard loss and linebacker Danny DeCarlo grabbed Solomon for no gain.
The defense was also credited with a number of sacks, though plays were whistled dead when a defender simply came near a quarterback. Piling up the unofficial sacks were linemen Salesa Faraimo, Lenny Jones, Jake Peppard, Hanson, Dobrich, Dambacher and Houk.
“We’ve had a tendency to start fast and finish slow on defense,” Dobrich said. “We wanted to come out today and start fast and finish fast and I think we did that.”
The secondary also had a number of highlight plays. Smith’s interception came off a pass by starting quarterback Cody Fajardo that was intended for wide receiver Aaron Bradley, Bryson Keeton tackled wide receiver Brandon Wimberly for a 2-yard loss and Nigel Haikins knocked a pass away that was intended for Wimberly.
“If the defense plays like that this season, we’re going to be OK,” Fajardo said. “We didn’t like the fact that we turned the ball over on offense but the good news is when the defense plays like that, it makes us better as an offense.”
The offense scored just two touchdowns, on a 1-yard run by Solomon and a 10-yard pass from backup quarterback Tyler Stewart to wide receiver Dominic Coulter. Colin Ditsworth also kicked field goals from 36 and 22 yards and hit the uprights on an attempt from 42 yards out.
Fajardo completed his first nine passes and finished the afternoon 17-of-27 for 117 yards. Stewart played the best of all the quarterbacks, completing 11-of-13 passes and the one touchdown. Devin Combs was 2-of-7 for 18 yards.
Wimberly caught eight passes for 51 yards and Richy Turner grabbed five for 38 yards to lead the receivers.
Jackson, who played with the starting offense, ran the ball 15 times for 72 yards. He had 22 yards on his first run and fumbled the ball away on his final run. McLaurin had 26 yards on six carries, Solomon had 20 yards on nine carries and Stephens picked up 19 yards on seven carries.
Fajardo said the lack of energy on offense was due in large part to the lack of big plays. The junior quarterback did have a 33-yard run but also didn’t get the ball in the end zone all afternoon.
“When things are not going your way, it’s hard for guys to be up and have a lot of energy,” Fajardo said.
Fajardo, though, admitted that the scrimmages really aren’t designed for a lot of passion and energy on offense. The playcalling is conservative and the quarterbacks aren’t allowed to scramble out of trouble or run wild and make plays.
“It’s a defensive spring,” Fajardo said. “I’m not making excuses but the defense knows what plays we’re going to call. They are practicing against us everyday.”
The offense moved the ball for 459 yards but it was the turnovers that left Polian and Fajardo with a bad taste in their mouths.
“We’ve turned the ball over in both scrimmages so far,” Polian said. “That can’t happen. I’m disappointed today. We’ve talked about ball security at length.”
“You are going to turn the ball over at times,” Fajardo said. “That’s part of football. It’s about how you respond to the turnovers and today we didn’t respond to it.
“You can‘t turn the ball over like that. But the good news is next week is the spring game and we have a chance to fix things.”