The Nevada Wolf Pack’s football schedule isn’t getting any easier this week.
“I really feel like Toledo is the most complete team of all our non-conference opponents,” Wolf Pack coach Jay Norvell said of Saturday’s game against the Toledo Rockets at Mackay Stadium (4 p.m.). “This very well could be the most talented of the non-conference opponents we have.”
That’s saying a lot about the Rockets of the Mid-American Conference considering the Wolf Pack played Northwestern of the Big Ten last week (a 31-20 loss) in the season opener and will play at Washington State of the Pac-12 on Sept. 23.
“This team has more speed and athletic ability at the skill positions than Northwestern,” Norvell said.
The Wolf Pack allowed 508 total yards to Northwestern with 352 of those yards coming through the air. The Pack now has to face a quarterback in Toledo’s Logan Woodside who led the nation last year with 45 touchdown passes. The 6-foot-2, 210-pound senior threw for 505 yards and five touchdowns last season in a wild 55-53 loss at BYU as well as 239 yards and four touchdowns in a 52-17 win over Fresno State at Toledo.
“He’s an operator,” Norvell said. “He knows what to do with the football. Good quarterbacks are distributors and he does a real good job of that.”
Woodside has a lot of weapons to choose from, including running backs Terry Swanson, Shakif Seymour and Art Thompkins and wide receivers Diontae Johnson and Cody Thompson. Seymour, a 5-11, 218-pound freshman, had 102 yards in his first college game last week against Elon (a 47-13 Toledo win). Thompkins (5-8, 180 sophomore) had 99 yards and Swanson (5-10, 205 senior) had 36 yards and two touchdowns. Johnson caught four passes for 102 yards and returned the second half opening kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown. Thompson had five catches for 112 yards and has now caught 110 passes in his career.
“He (Woodside) definitely goes through his progressions real quick,” Wolf Pack linebacker Gabe Sewell said.
“We try to distribute the ball to as many playmakers as we can,” Toledo coach Jason Candle said this week.
Candle, though, also expressed concerned this week his Rockets had to settle for four field goals against Elon, a Football Championship Subdivision school. “When we got down inside the 20 we kind of malfunctioned a little bit,” said Candle who has a record of 11-4 as Toledo’s head coach.
The Toledo defense dominated Elon, allowing just seven first downs and 175 total yards. Elon was just 3-of-14 through the air for 47 yards.
“Our defense is a unit who is probably tired of hearing how good our offense is,” said Candle, whose Rockets were 9-4 overall last year and finished second in the MAC West Division with a 6-2 record. “They are playing with a chip on their shoulder.”
Candle, though, was quick to remind everyone the Wolf Pack of the Mountain West is a much more difficult challenge than Elon.
“We didn’t have much adversity to face on defense last week,” Candle said. “I’m sure our opponent this week will put us in some tough situations and I’m interested to see how our guys respond.”
Norvell, 0-1 as a head coach, is also interested to see how his team responds after watching a 20-17 fourth-quarter lead disappear last week at Northwestern. Quarterback Ty Gangi completed just 16-of-37 passes last week for 199 yards as the Pack converted just 5-of-14 third down plays. The Wolf Pack, though, ran the ball well (26 times for 142 yards) as Jaxson Kincaide picked up 86 yards on 15 carries.
“We have to do a better job of executing on offense,” said Norvell, who added Gangi will again get the start over backup David Cornwell. “(Gangi) knows the areas where he wants to get better and I expect our whole team to improve this week.”
“I’m excited to be the guy,” said Gangi, who has a 2-3 record as a starter. “Now I just have to go out there and win games.”
Norvell, like Candle, wants his offense to stop settling for field goals.
“We need to score touchdowns when we get the opportunity,” Norvell said. “We weren’t nearly good enough on third down (against Northwestern). We have to dial in on more completions, extend our possessions, extend our drives.”
The Wolf Pack was outscored 24-3 in the second half at Northwestern after taking a 17-7 halftime lead. It was the first time the Pack had squandered a halftime lead of 10 or more points in a loss since losing 31-27 at Utah State on Nov. 21, 2015 (after leading 21-7 at halftime).
“We just didn’t execute enough in the second half,” Wolf Pack center Sean Krepsz said. “But in everybody’s mind we should have won that game. We gave Northwestern every opportunity to take it and being a veteran team they took it.”
Candle, though, is wary of the Wolf Pack. Toledo is 3-0 against the Wolf Pack (averaging 40 points a game) in the series but the two schools haven’t met since 1997. The second meeting, a 40-37 Toledo victory in the 1995 Las Vegas Bowl, was the first overtime game in the history of Division I-A (now the Football Bowl Subdivision).
“Nevada is a team that is playing with some confidence now,” Candle said. “They are better than people give them credit for on paper.”
Norvell said the Wolf Pack left Northwestern thinking they let one slip away.
“We had the game in our hands,” Norvell said. “After the game our guys were upset they didn’t win. Our guys felt we should have won the game. For the most part we were the most physical team on the field. We played aggressive, we played physical. Now we just have to play well.”
Starting with Jerry Scattini in 1969, every new Pack head coach has won his first home opener at Mackay Stadium except Chris Tormey in 2000. Scattini, Chris Ault in 1976, 1994 and 2004, Jeff Horton in 1993, Jeff Tisdel in 1996 and Brian Polian in 2013 all won their first game at Mackay Stadium, which opened in 1966. Every Wolf Pack coach except Tormey who has ever coached a game at Mackay Stadium also has had a winning record at the now 51-year-old stadium. Dick Trachok was 8-6, Scattini was 24-12-1, Ault was 152-38-1, Horton was 4-2, Tisdel was 12-10, Tormey was 10-12 and Polian was 15-9.
“We want to win at home,” Norvell said. “We want to win every game at home. I want our kids to get the feeling that when they walk into the stadium, we win.”