Wolf Pack grades: Nevada closes on high note at Colorado State

Nevada running back Toa Taua carries against Colorado State on Nov. 27, 2021, in Fort Collins, Colorado. (Jon Austria/The Coloradoan via AP)

Nevada running back Toa Taua carries against Colorado State on Nov. 27, 2021, in Fort Collins, Colorado. (Jon Austria/The Coloradoan via AP)

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Grading the Nevada Wolf Pack’s 52-10 victory over the Colorado State Rams last Saturday night in Fort Collins, Colo.:
There is not a player, let alone a quarterback, who has had a better season in college football this year than Carson Strong. No, he is not going to win the Heisman Trophy, but that says more about the Heisman process than it does about Strong.
Strong was brilliant against Colorado State in what just might be his final college game. He was 17-of-22 for 288 yards and four touchdowns in less than three full quarters.
OK, yes, Colorado State is an awful football team and basically didn’t show up Saturday. The Rams obviously didn’t watch a single frame of film on Nevada and spent the majority of the game playing man coverage against the Pack receivers. They obviously put absolutely no effort into beating the Pack all week and did even less on Saturday. But Strong did what he was supposed to do just the same. We just witnessed the single greatest regular season of quarterbacking in Wolf Pack history.
Toa Taua ran the ball 14 times for 76 yards, Devonte Lee had 57 on seven and Avery Morrow came off the bench to get 88 yards and a touchdown on five carries. The Pack ran the ball 35 times for 226 yards and three touchdowns.
Yes, Colorado State should be embarrassed. But it is difficult to embarrass a team that played like it didn’t care. Did the Pack, the worst rushing team in the nation heading into the game, go into Saturday focused on establishing the run? Stop laughing. Of course not.
Five of the Pack’s first six plays were passes and the game was basically over four minutes into the game with the Pack up 14-0. The Rams gave no effort all night long on defense. Morrow, who had just 33 yards all season, had two runs of 40 yards or more. Even Pack backup quarterback Nate Cox looked like Colin Kaepernick and ran for a 15-yard touchdown.
Romeo Doubs and Tory Horton combined for just nine catches. But the two also combined for four touchdowns (two each) and 210 yards. But they likely would have had 12-15 catches combined if they didn’t get into the end zone on nearly half of their nine catches. Horton even recovered two fumbles. And Doubs and Horton, like their quarterback, did all of their damage in less than three quarters. Have we mentioned how little effort, heart and coaching Colorado State showed on Saturday?
Make no mistake, the Pack passing offense is good. Real good. But, like we saw at times this year, it’s not this good, especially in meaningful games. The Wolf Pack simply did not face a single shred of adversity on Saturday and did whatever it wanted, whenever it wanted to do it. It’s what the Air Raid has built its reputation on the past three decades.
Yes, of course, the Wolf Pack gave up three more sacks and allowed the Rams to hurry Pack quarterbacks four more times and almost got Strong injured once again. Well, yes, they actually did get Strong injured on the final play of the second quarter.
But Strong, as he’s proven all year playing behind this offensive line, is tough and came back out in the third quarter on one good leg and tossed his fourth and final touchdown of the night, 66 yards to Doubs.
But give the line credit for blowing away the lethargic Rams on running plays. That was good to see, if only as a reminder to head coach Jay Norvell and offensive coordinator Matt Mumme that this team actually can run block a little.
Daniel Grzesiak was in on two sacks (officially 1.5), forced a fumble and had six tackles. He now has 3.5 sacks over his last five games after going five straight games without a sack. Tristan Nichols also had a half sack as did Dom Peterson, Amir Johnson and Zak Mahannah. Sam Hammond had 1.5 sacks and Kam Toomer had a sack.
If you play on the Pack defensive line and didn’t get at least half a sack on Saturday,  well, it’s likely you didn’t actually get on the field. The Pack had six sacks and 9.5 tackles for a loss. The Rams did run for 230 yards, 69 on a fake punt.
Daiyan Henley had 11 tackles, Lawson Hall had seven and Trevor Price had six. Lamin Touray recovered a fumble in the second quarter.
The Pack linebackers, though, weren’t much of factor in this game and, except for the few moments when Henley was returning fumbles and interceptions for touchdowns, that has been the case all year.  Colorado State, after all, did run for 230 yards. Take away the 69-yard run on a punt and the negative 30 yards Rams quarterback Todd Centeio suffered on his six sacks and the Pack defense still gave up 175 yards on the ground on 39 carries (4.5 a carry) against a team that was just trying to eat up the clock and go home.
Berdale Robins had a nice interception early in the third quarter and Tyson Williams had one on a deflected ball early in the second. Jordan Lee, as he has done all year long, was always around the ball, recovering two fumbles to go along with a team-high 13 tackles. If you are looking for the Pack’s most improved player this year, look no further than Jordan Lee. JoJuan Claiborne and Emany Johnson also forced fumbles.
Ram quarterbacks completed 19-of-30 passes for 213 yards and none of those completions meant a thing. How Colorado State threw just 30 passes in a game in which they were down 14-0 just four minutes after the opening kickoff, though, is the real mystery of this game.
You just can’t give up a 69-yard touchdown run on a fake punt. But that is what tight end Trey McBride, who looked like he was pulling a wagon up Pike’s Peak, did to the Pack in the third quarter. But the game was already over at the time (31-0 Pack) and the Wolf Pack special teams were likely falling asleep were boredom like the rest of America watching on CBS Sports Network.
Colorado State’s Thomas Pannunzio had a pair of kickoff returns of 30 and 35 yards but the Pack’s Jamaal Bell returned a kickoff 40 yards in the third quarter. Doubs had a pair of 12-yard punt returns. Why he’s returning punts, for any other reason than just showcasing another one of his many skills on tape for NFL scouts, in a game like this is also a mystery.
For some reason the Pack had to punt five times in this game, two more than Colorado State. But that’s because Colorado State was busy turning the ball over five times.
The Wolf Pack sure knows how to embarrass bad teams. Don’t blame Jay Norvell for running up the score. He took the starters out in the third quarter. But the starters could have stayed in Reno and we likely would have gotten the same result. And that’s OK.
That’s college football. The talented teams pad their stats against the bad teams and everyone, even the bad team that doesn’t put in an honest effort, goes home happy. And that’s what happened on Saturday. Even Rams coach Steve Addazio got himself kicked out of the game in the first half. But who can blame him? Who would want to watch that entire game? The only ones paying attention in the second half were the Pack subs drooling down their chins on the sideline waiting for their chance.
This was like a New York fashion show, with Strong, Doubs and friends able to strut down the runway and show how beautiful they are without any interference. It was an Air Raid photo portfolio. Of course, it meant nothing but it was nice to see the players just go out and become a human video game after a pressure-packed regular season that fell far short of expectations.
If what happened on Saturday makes you wonder how the Pack lost three Mountain West games this season (Fresno State, San Diego State and Air Force) by six points combined, well, stop it. The Pack had its chance to win the division and stubbed its toe all three times. They almost stubbed their toes a fourth time against San Jose State but the defense pulled them out of the fire.
We already knew that Strong could complete deep passes to wide open wide receivers at will. To do that against a team that lost its last six games of the year is, well, fun. There were a lot of nice moments that Strong and Doubs can put on their NFL highlight tapes. But it doesn’t mean anything important.


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