Wolf Pack grades

Nevada Wolf Pack never challenged against UNLV

Nevada takes the field to face UNLV at Mackay Stadium on Oct. 30, 2021. (Photo: Thomas Ranson/NNG)

Nevada takes the field to face UNLV at Mackay Stadium on Oct. 30, 2021. (Photo: Thomas Ranson/NNG)

  • Discuss Comment, Blog about
  • Print Friendly and PDF
Grading the Nevada Wolf Pack’s 51-20 victory over the UNLV Rebels on Friday at Mackay Stadium:

The UNLV Rebels are hoping Carson Strong jumps to the NFL after this season. Strong simply owns the Rebels and the Rebels are helpless to do anything about it.
The Wolf Pack quarterback completed 37-of-49 passes for 417 yards and four touchdowns on Friday and likely would have passed for well over 500 yards and five or six touchdowns had the Pack defense not returned two interceptions for touchdowns.
Strong’s 417 yards are the third most a Pack quarterback has had against UNLV, behind just Mike Maxwell (552 in 1995) and Chris Vargas (538 in 1993). Strong has now completed 91-of-130 passes for 1,118 yards and seven touchdowns in three career games against UNLV and is the first Pack quarterback in history to throw for 300 or more yards in a game three times against the Rebels.

Toa Taua and Devonte Lee could have just sat up in the stands and enjoyed the victory with the Wolf Pack fans as much as they contributed to this 31-point victory. But they weren’t allowed to join in the Pack party.
Taua and Lee must be the most unselfish backs in the nation. Why else would they stay with a program that uses them about as often as your grandmother takes her 1955 Cadillac out of the garage? Taua had just eight carries for 17 yards and Lee had just six carries for three yards. The two Pack starting backs had zero carries in the second half even though the Pack was up 20-0 at halftime and 27-0 before Strong took the field in the second half.
Rest Strong and keep him healthy and let Taua and Lee do the dirty work? Not in the Air Raid. Taua did catch five passes and Lee caught two (everyone on the roster, after all, is there to serve the Pack passing game) but Taua’s eight carries are the fourth fewest he’s ever had in a game in his four-year career. Don’t forget Taua is a former (2018) Mountain West Freshman of the Year. He didn’t get that award by carrying the ball eight times a game.

This group is why the Wolf Pack doesn’t bother to run the ball. Melquan Stovall caught nine passes for 90 yards and he’s the Pack’s possession receiver. The touchdown makers, Romeo Doubs, Cole Turner and Tory Horton, combined for 16 catches for 185 yards and four touchdowns. Everyone in the Mountain West knows Strong is going to fling about 50 passes a week to these guys and, well, hardly anyone has figured out a way to cover them all.
Doubs now has caught a touchdown pass in his last three games after an eight-game stretch when he caught just one. The Wolf Pack just might have the best wide receiver in the nation (Doubs) catching passes from the best quarterback in the nation.

The Pack front showed improvement against UNLV. Sort of.
The Wolf Pack didn’t give up a single sack for the first time since Week 2 against Idaho State. The Pack had allowed 19 sacks over its previous five games combined.
Zero sacks allowed would be impressive, especially considering Strong tossed 49 passes. But when you consider it was against UNLV, well, one sack allowed would have been cause for concern. The Rebels have just seven sacks all season long in eight games with three of those coming in the season opener against a Division I-AA team (Eastern Washington). Just one team in the nation (South Florida with five) has fewer sacks than the Rebs.
It must be noted that the only two games all season the Pack has not allowed a sack was against a Division I-AA team (Idaho State) and UNLV, which should be in Division I-AA. The Pack front also opened up enough holes for a mere 21 rushing yards on 19 carries and that was by a fresh running back tandem with live legs and by an offensive line that should be drooling and foaming at the mouth to run the ball. And, don’t forget, those 21 yards on 19 carries were without any sacks to muddy up the stats. There were also three penalties by the offensive line, one that nullified a Pack touchdown.

We saw the return of the Pack Sack Attack after a one-game hiatus (just one in the loss at Fresno State). The defensive line combined for five sacks (Tristan Nichols, Daniel Grzesiak, Amir Johnson, Kam Toomer, Dom Peterson) and did a solid job on Rebel running back Charles Williams (30 yards on 17 carries). Jack Powers had three tackles on Williams, one for a yard loss.
Sam Hammond and Peterson also hurried Rebel quarterback Cameron Friel’s passes once each. Grzesiak and Peterson even broke up a pass. This is what you are supposed to do against a confused, struggling offense that has a confused, struggling freshman quarterback playing behind an awful offensive line (33 sacks allowed).

Lawson Hall had six tackles, including one on Williams that went for a three-yard loss. Daiyan Henley, a former wide receiver, then turned in the biggest gain of the game through the air with a 50-yard interception return for a touchdown.
The play made you wonder why the Pack moved him from wide receiver but then you remembered that there was two seasons (2017, ’18) when the Pack was wasting its best tackler at wide receiver and throwing him one pass a game.
Lamin Touray broke up a pass and had a tackle for a loss. There weren’t a lot of opportunities for the linebackers to make a ton of plays (UNLV only handed the ball off 18 times to its running backs) but Hall, Henley and Touray did enough to make their presence known.

When your secondary picks off three passes, returning two of them for touchdowns, well, you get an A, no questions asked. So we’ll overlook the fact that Friel, who was throwing passes last season in high school in Hawaii, did set personal bests with 27 completions and two touchdowns. His 283 yards are the second most he’s had for UNLV. And it’s not like the Pack didn’t know where Friel was going with the ball most of the time. UNLV wide receiver Steve Jenkins caught nearly half of Friel’s completions (12) for nearly half (133) his yards.
But the three picks (by Henley, Tyson Williams and JoJuan Claiborne) are hard to overlook, even though Friel gifted all three of them. Williams returned his pick 49 yards for a score, meaning that the Pack had six touchdowns on passes (four by Strong, two by Friel).
Jordan Lee, despite his lack of touchdowns, might have had the best game of all the Pack defensive backs. Lee, one of the most underrated Pack defenders, had seven tackles and broke up a pass. He stopped Charles Williams three times, twice for no gain and once for a 5-yard loss. Claiborne, a Bishop Gorman High (Las Vegas) graduate, also had a night he’ll never forget with an interception and seven tackles.

Brandon Talton made all six of his extra points and all three of his field goals, including a 52-yarder in the first quarter that gave the Pack a 10-0 lead.
It was just nice to see the Pack even allow Talton try the 52-yarder on the 4th-and-7 play from the 35. A week earlier, in a two-point loss at Fresno State, the Pack punted from the Fresno 38-yard line and ran the ball (for no gain) from the Fresno 33, both in the second quarter.
The only other special teams moment of the night for the Pack worth mentioning was an explosive 47-yard punt return by Romeo Doubs late in the first quarter. The Pack didn’t punt once, scoring on 7-of-8 drives that weren’t interrupted by an expiring clock. And just one of Julian Diaz’s kickoffs was returned (for just 23 yards).

Jay Norvell likes to come off as a tough, hard-nosed, no-nonsense, old-school, this-is-how-we-did-it-in-the-black-and-blue-Big-Ten-in-the-1980s’ type of coach. But, after four-plus seasons, we know better.
Yes, he’s tough and hard-nosed and he was a physical, take-no-prisoners defensive back in the Big Ten when the Big Ten was tough and hard-nosed. But Norvell is also a bit goofy. And we mean that in the best possible way. He likes to have fun, he likes his players (namely his quarterback and his wide receivers) to have fun and he likes to show you what he can dream up.
It was obvious Norvell was going to treat last Friday as sort of an old-school downtown Reno casino floor show from the very first play of the game. He had Strong hand off to Taua, who then flipped the ball to wide receiver Jamaal Bell who then flipped it back to Strong who then connected with a wide open Justin Lockett for a 44-yard gain. UNLV’s secondary looked like a bunch of scattered and stunned Wolf Pack tailgaters scurrying into the stadium at the kickoff. Norvell turned the game into the Silver State Circus right from the start and the Rebels never recovered.
Is that what you should do in your rivalry game on the first play of the game? Probably not. What if Taua flipped the ball over Bell’s head? What if Bell flipped it at Strong’s ankles? What if UNLV actually had a pass rush (the play looked like it was in slow motion) and buried Strong into Chris Ault Field? But Norvell did it anyway because, well, he can and he wanted to. And because it was UNLV, a straight man in an old Reno downtown casino floor show.

The Wolf Pack looked as disjointed, undisciplined and unfocused at times as you can possibly look in a 31-point victory. But that’s the beauty of playing a team that hasn’t won a game in two years.
In between all of the undisciplined (12 penalties on the Pack) and unfocused and disjointed moments (six plays inside the UNLV 2-yard line produced one total yard and a Pack penalty in the second quarter), there were enough Pack highlights for the fourth most points by a Nevada team in this 52-year rivalry. This wasn’t a football game as much as it was a YouTube highlight video for Norvell, offensive coordinator Matt Mumme and his pass-happy Air Raid offense, Strong and the receivers. The Wolf Pack threw the ball on 49-of-68 plays. In the second half, up by at least four touchdowns, it was 23 passes to two runs.
The Pack defense, after all, did the selfish thing by returning two interceptions for touchdowns, robbing the Pack offense of precious plays so Norvell, Mumme, Strong and the receivers couldn’t waste a moment handing the ball off.
A flea flicker on the first play of the game, followed by 23 passes and just two runs in a second half with leads of at least 27 points, might lead one to believe the Pack didn’t truly respect the opponent.


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment