Nevada tight end Cole Turner makes a catch in front of Hawaii's Quentin Frazier during their game in Reno on Oct. 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Tom R. Smedes)
Nevada Wolf Pack head coach Jay Norvell has said on numerous occasions this year that this is likely the last college football season for quarterback Carson Strong, wide receiver Romeo Doubs and tight end Cole Turner.
That, however, might not necessarily be the case, according to Turner.
“I’m not saying it’s the last time we’re all going to play together,” Turner said after Friday’s 41-39 triple-overtime loss to Air Force at Mackay Stadium.
Strong has two more years of eligibility remaining after this season while Doubs and Turner have one more. Every college player last season was granted an extra year of eligibility because the 2020 season was shortened by the COVID-19 pandemic. Strong, Doubs and Turner, though, could be early-round picks in the NFL draft this April.
“We haven’t talked about what we’re doing next,” said Turner, who caught five passes for two touchdowns and a 2-point conversion in the loss to Air Force. “We’re too focused on the season.”
One motivation for the three talented Pack players to come back next season could be to try to win the school’s first Mountain West championship. This season, thanks to losses to San Diego State and Air Force the past two weeks, has now fallen far short of expectations. The Wolf Pack, picked by the media as the preseason favorite to win the West Division and go to the Mountain West championship game, are now 7-4 and will end their season at Colorado State on Saturday and in a bowl game next month.
SLOW STARTS ON OFFENSE: The Wolf Pack found itself down 17-3 at halftime against Air Force. It was the first time the Pack did not score a touchdown in the first half since a 30-21 loss to Ohio in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl in Boise to end the 2019 season, a span of 20 games.
Norvell blamed the slow start against Air Force, in part, on the Pack’s disappointing 23-21 loss at San Diego State the previous Saturday. The Wolf Pack, Norvell said, might have been thinking about the loss at San Diego State during the first half against Air Force.
“I’m not quite sure we totally got that loss out of our system,” Norvell said of the loss to San Diego State. “We didn’t start well in the first half.”
Air Force’s pass rush also might have had something to do with it. Air Force sacked Strong five times in the first half for losses totaling 32 yards. The Pack also had two penalties and Strong was intercepted once.
The Wolf Pack offense has struggled in the first half in recent games. The Pack’s only touchdown in the first half against San Jose State three weeks ago was a defensive touchdown. The offense has scored just one touchdown in the first half over the last three games combined against San Jose State, San Diego State and Air Force. Five weeks ago, in a loss at Fresno State, the Pack offense scored just one touchdown in the first half.
MACKAY ATTENDANCE WILTS AGAIN: The Wolf Pack attracted just 15,206 fans to Mackay Stadium on Friday for the last home game of the season and the possibility of the final game for Strong, Doubs and Turner in a Wolf Pack uniform. The three dozen Wolf Pack seniors (many of which could come back next year) were honored Friday.
Even UNLV, a team that had won just two games over its previous two seasons (16 games), drew more fans to its home game this past weekend. The Rebels had an attendance of 16,713 at Allegiant Stadium also on Friday night for their 28-20 loss to San Diego State.
The Wolf Pack averaged 24,117 fans for each of its first four home games this season. The high was 28,960 for the UNLV game, though there were plenty of empty seats in the stadium that night.
The final two home games at Mackay this season, against San Jose State and Air Force, though, averaged just 16,448 fans.
The Pack overall averaged 21,575 fans a game this year for its six home games.
REBELS ON THE RISE: UNLV is just 2-9 this season overall and 2-5 in the Mountain West.
But the Rebels have shown definite signs of life this year, losing six games by eight points or less. Just one of the Rebels’ five losses in the Mountain West was by more than eight points, a 51-20 loss at Nevada on Oct. 29.
The Rebels feel they have built a foundation for future success this season. But head coach Marcus Arroyo doesn’t want his developing team to feel good about a two-win season.
“We expect to win all the games,” Arroyo said. “We’ve got to find a way (to win). We’re not where we want to be. We’re close. But close is for horseshoes and hand grenades. We know that.”
WYOMING FINALLY SHOWS POTENTIAL: The Wyoming Cowboys (6-5, 2-5) erupted against Mountain Division-leading Utah State last weekend, winning 44-17. Wyoming scored the final 20 points in the game and outgained the Aggies, 604-362.
Titus Swen rushed for 169 yards and two touchdowns on just 15 carries while Xazavian Valladay had 145 yards on 21 carries. Quarterback Levi Williams was 12-of-15 through the air for 242 yards and two touchdowns.
The offensive explosion was totally unexpected, given that Wyoming had averaged just 13.7 points a game over its first six Mountain West games. The Cowboys were outscored 55-17 over their first three league games this year, losses to Air Force, Fresno State and New Mexico.
“This is what we wanted and we hit our stride,” Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl said. “It’s been frustrating this year. I felt all along like this team had good potential (on offense) but we just had not been producing. It’s definitely been a long time coming.”
The Cowboys have won two of their last three games after losing their first four Mountain West games. Wyoming has been extremely competitive over its last four games, beating Utah State and Colorado State (31-17) and losing close games to San Jose State (27-21) and Boise State (23-13).
“We were in a lot of choppy water in the middle of the year, just trying to find our way,” said Bohl, referring to 24-17 (Air Force), 17-0 (Fresno State) and 14-3 (New Mexico) losses to start the Mountain West season.
RUN OFFENSE VANISHING: The Wolf Pack is now, officially, the worst rushing team in college football this season.
The Pack ran for 18 yards on 27 carries against Air Force and is now the 130th team in the nation out of 130 Football Bowl Subdivision teams at 59.6 rushing yards a game.
The second worst FBS rushing team in the nation is Mississippi State at 62.1 yards a game. Mississippi State is coached by Mike Leach, who also runs the pass-heavy Air Raid offense, like the Wolf Pack.
Just two teams (Mississippi State and Western Kentucky) have fewer than the Pack’s 271 rushing attempts. And when the Pack does run, it hasn’t been successful. The Wolf Pack’s 656 total rushing yards as well as its 2.4 average run are the worst in the FBS.
A huge part of the Pack’s struggles in the run game is that it has allowed 35 sacks this year for losses of 229 yards (sacks are counted against rushing totals by the NCAA). The Pack is 118th in the nation (out of 130 FBS team) at 3.18 sacks allowed each game. The Pack has allowed three or more sacks in eight of its last nine games.
STRONG RECORD UPDATE: Carson Strong, even if this turns out to be his final college football season, is already an important part of Nevada Wolf Pack history.
The junior, who has two years of eligibility remaining after this season, completed 26-of-43 passes in Friday’s loss to Air Force for 340 yards and four touchdowns.
He now owns the Wolf Pack single-season record for completions (349), breaking Chris Vargas’ 1993 record of 331. Strong now also owns the school record of 501 pass attempts, breaking Vargas’ record of 490 in 1993.
Strong, with 32 touchdown passes this season, is also just two away from Vargas’ 1993 school-record total of 34 and his 3,887 yards is closing in on Vargas’ record in 1993 of 4,265.
The Wolf Pack has two more games remaining this year. Vargas played in just 11 games for the 1993 Wolf Pack, which finished 7-4.
Strong is now 835-of-1,230 in his career for 9,080 yards and 70 touchdowns. If he stays at Nevada just one more season he would likely set all the landmark passing records. The Wolf Pack career records are 878 completions (Cody Fajardo, 2011-14), 1,374 attempts (David Neill, 1998-2001), 10,901 yards (Neill) and 82 touchdowns (Colin Kaepernick, 2007-10).