Mountain West Notes

Notebook: Nevada run game among worst in nation

Nevada running back Devonte Lee, right, stiff arms San Diego State linebacker Caden McDonald on Nov. 13, 2021, in Carson, Calif. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Nevada running back Devonte Lee, right, stiff arms San Diego State linebacker Caden McDonald on Nov. 13, 2021, in Carson, Calif. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Nevada Wolf Pack football head coach Jay Norvell insists he understands the value of running the ball well.
“Is it important to run the ball?” Norvell said. “Yes. Do we want to do better? Yes. Obviously we want to run the ball. We know it is important to run the ball.”
Norvell’s Wolf Pack, though, isn’t going to change its pass-first philosophy anytime soon.
“We kind of made the decision to do what we feel like we need to do to win,” said Norvell, whose Wolf Pack rushed for eight yards on just 15 carries in a 23-21 loss at San Diego State last Saturday. “The most important stats are to win and score points. We are the highest scoring team in our conference and we’ve done that throwing the ball and not running the ball.”
The Wolf Pack, 7-3 overall and 4-2 in the Mountain West, is one of the worst rushing teams in the nation at 64 yards a game.
“We have a quarterback who is playing at a historic level,” said Norvell of Carson Strong, who has passed for 3,547 yards and 28 touchdowns this season. “We’ve made a decision to ride those guys (Strong and his receivers) out.”
Just two Football Bowl Subdivision teams in the nation have run the ball fewer than the Wolf Pack’s 244 attempts this year. Mississippi State has run the ball 214 times and Western Kentucky has run it 241 times. Just one team has averaged fewer than the Pack’s 64 rushing yards per game (Mississippi State at 57.6). Just two teams average fewer than the Pack’s 2.6 rushing yards per carry (Purdue at 2.55 and Southern Mississippi at 2.51).
Norvell, though, isn’t all that concerned with the ground game even though his Pack lost its two most important West Division games this year (Fresno State and San Diego State) to teams that out-gained them 391-55 on the ground combined.
“We’ve won time of possession consistently this year and we are not turning the ball over,” Norvell said. “Is it necessary to run the ball more?”
RUN GAME HISTORICALLY POOR: The Wolf Pack’s 2.6 average on running plays this season is its worst since the 2000 team ran it at a 2.2 clip.
The 2000 Wolf Pack, which finished 2-10, and this year’s Wolf Pack are the only Pack teams since the school joined the FBS in 1992 that have averaged under 3.4 yards a carry.
The Wolf Pack has averaged just 3.4 yards per carry on the ground since the start of the 2019 season (over 32 games), scoring just 30 rushing touchdowns. The Wolf Pack, by comparison, averaged 3,785 rushing yards and 42 rushing touchdowns a year during the last five years (2008-12) of coach Chris Ault’s Pistol offense.
The Wolf Pack has never rushed for as much as 2,000 yards in any of the five seasons since head coach Jay Norvell and offensive coordinator Matt Mumme took over the offense. The Pack never had fewer than 2,218 rushing yards in any of the eight seasons (2005-12) of Ault’s Pistol offense.
The Pack under Norvell and Mumme has scored just 66 rushing touchdowns in 57 games since the start of the 2017 season. Ault’s Pistol scored 100 touchdowns on the ground in just 2009 and 2010 combined.
STRONG ON RECORD PACE: Strong will likely set every important Nevada career passing record if he plays out his remaining two years of eligibility after this season.
Strong is already fourth in school history with 8,740 passing yards and trails leader David Neill by just 2,161 yards. He is also fourth in passing touchdowns at 66, behind leader Colin Kaepernick (82). His 809 career completions are second in school history behind just Cody Fajardo (878).
Strong’s 323 completions this year are just eight behind Chris Vargas’ record of 331 in 1993. His 28 touchdowns are just six behind Vargas’ 34 (1993) and his 3,547 yards are third in school history behind Vargas’ 4,265 in 1993 and Mike Maxwell’s 3,611 in 1995.
Strong, though, will play his final game at Mackay Stadium this Friday night against Air Force if he jumps to the NFL after this season.
“He’s a special guy and he’s had a special career,” Norvell said. “I don’t think he has gotten enough credit nationally for the things he’s done. But a lot of the national media hasn’t seen him play. He’s one of the best quarterbacks in the nation and he’s one of the toughest players in the nation.
“You know, we felt like we had to develop and grow a quarterback here and Carson was the perfect guy. We look for three things when looking for a quarterback and those things are intelligence, accuracy and passion. Carson has all three of those.”
COLORADO STATE KEEPING THE FAITH: The Colorado State Rams have lost four games in a row, including a 35-21 decision to Air Force last Saturday, to fall to 3-7 overall and 2-4 in the Mountain West.
Head coach Steve Addazio, whose Rams will finish the season at Hawaii this Saturday and at home against Nevada on Nov. 27, has remained positive.
“Our team understands we’re building something here,” said Addazio, who is 4-10 in two seasons at Colorado State. “I like our competitiveness, our toughness. Our record is not where we want it to be but our program building is where we want it to be. Like I told the team, we’re going to build something great here. And we’re en route to it now. If you understand football, you know it. We’re building something special here. I like where we’re headed.”
Colorado State has gone 11-27 over the past four seasons.
“We’re going to build this brick by brick,” said Addazio, a former head coach at both Temple and Boston College and an assistant at Florida, Notre Dame and Syracuse. “Nobody said it would be easy. Nobody said it would happen when we wanted it to happen. But this (the struggles) are going to build us for the future and build it the right way.”
UNLV ON WIN STREAK: The UNLV Rebels beat Hawaii 27-13 this past weekend and now are on a two-game winning streak.
UNLV is now 2-8 overall and 2-4 in the Mountain West and has beaten New Mexico (31-17) and Hawaii since a 51-20 loss at Nevada on Oct. 29 was its 14th consecutive setback in a row. The last time UNLV won two in a row was the final two games of the 2019 season. The last time the Rebels won more than two in a row was in 2013 when it won four in a row.
“I’m excited for the fans and for the program,” UNLV coach Marcus Arroyo said.
UNLV beat Hawaii despite giving up a touchdown on the game’s first play. The Rebels also turned the ball over three times.
“I’m most proud of the resiliency of this group,” Arroyo said. “Things weren’t perfect. We were turning the ball over, we were playing ugly. But we won ugly.”
Rebel running back Charles Williams turned in one of the greatest individual performances in school history with 38 carries for 266 yards and three touchdowns against Hawaii. The 38 carries are a school record (Ickey Woods had 37 in a 1987 game) and the 266 yards are tied for second most in school history (Mike Thomas had 266 in a 1974 game). Williams now owns the Rebel career rushing record with 4,029 yards, which is also fourth most in Mountain West history. Williams, a member of the Rebels roster since 2016, also leads the Mountain West this year with 1,089 yards and 13 touchdowns.
AZTECS TURNED JOHNSON LOOSE: The San Diego State Aztecs turned quarterback Lucas Johnson into a thrower in a 23-21 win over Nevada last Saturday.
The 6-foot-3, 215-pound senior completed 21-of-34 passes against Nevada for 176 yards and a touchdown. The completions and attempts are career highs for Johnson, a member of the Aztecs the past two seasons.
“Lucas did not struggle with anything within the offense,” San Diego State coach Brady Hoke said. “He was more decisive than he had been. You did not see him make dumb throws and I was excited about that.”
Johnson was 14-of-24 for 184 yards and a touchdown against the Wolf Pack last season in the only game all season in which he threw a pass. He led the Aztecs to a game-winning field goal on Saturday with 1:21 to play, completing key passes on the drive to Jesse Matthews (six yards), T.J. Sullivan (17 yards) and Elijah Kothe (19 yards).

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