Mountain West Notebook: Strong bounces back after rough start

Nevada's Carson Strong looks to pass against NMSU.

Nevada's Carson Strong looks to pass against NMSU.
Photo by Thomas Ranson.

Carson Strong did not appreciate the way he started the game against New Mexico State this past Saturday night.
“I wasn’t playing my best football, to say the least,” the Nevada Wolf Pack quarterback said after a 55-28 victory.
Strong completed 3-of-6 passes for just 15 yards with a sack and an interception in the first quarter as the Pack fell behind 7-3.
“It was the worst quarter of football I’ve played in a very long time,” Strong said. “I just wasn’t locked in like I usually am.”
Strong definitely locked in after the first quarter, completing 22-of-26 passes for 362 yards and six touchdowns over the next two quarters. He had four touchdown passes in the second quarter alone before leaving the game late in the third quarter.
The six touchdown passes is a Wolf Pack record for consecutive quarters. Chris Vargas had five in the first and second quarters and also the second and third quarters (seven for the game) against UNLV in 1993 and also had five over the third and fourth quarters against Utah State in 1992.
Mike Maxwell twice passed for seven touchdowns in a game in 1995 (against UNLV and Louisiana-Monroe) but never more than four in consecutive quarters in either game.
Strong’s six touchdowns came over a span of just 23 passes. It was reminiscent of a stretch by Pack quarterback Stan Heath in 1948 when he tossed five touchdowns over just 18 passes against Oklahoma City.
The six touchdowns are a career high for Strong, who had five in a game twice last year. He is also the first Pack quarterback in history to pass for exactly six touchdowns in a game. The seven by Maxwell (twice) and Vargas are the Pack record. The Pack also passed for seven in the 1948 game against Oklahoma City, five by Heath and two by Alva Tabor. Nine different Pack quarterbacks (including Strong) have passed for five touchdowns in a game.
“Toa (Taua) got me going,” said Strong of his 16-yard scoring pass to the Pack running back with 12:34 to go in the second quarter on Saturday. “After that I just said to myself, ‘All right. I’m good. I can do this.’”

LOCKHART, STOVALL STEP UP
The Wolf Pack’s depth at wide receiver showed up Saturday night against New Mexico State in a big way.
Melquan Stovall and Justin Lockhart each had seven catches and a touchdown, helping fill the void left by the absence of Elijah Cooks and Romeo Doubs because of injuries. Cooks is out for the season while Doubs could return Saturday against Hawaii.
The seven catches by Lockhart for 103 yards are career highs for the 6-foot-2, 200-pounder. He had six catches against UNLV and Utah State last season. The 5-9, 185-pound Stovall tied his career high with his seven catches but set a career high with his 155 yards receiving. He also had seven catches against San Jose State last year.
“Romeo and Cookie are our leaders and they just told us to go out there and play our game,” Stovall said. “Romeo was on the sideline during the game (against New Mexico State) and he just told me, “Just be patient, just be patient.’ He just told me that the ball will find me.”
Strong has faith in all his receivers.
“We have a real deep receiving corps,” the Pack quarterback said. “I trust all my guys. It doesn’t matter who it is because I know all of them can make plays.”

REBELS HOPE TO END SLIDE
The UNLV Rebels are 0-5 this season after an 0-6 season in 2020 under new head coach Marcus Arroyo. The Rebels, coming off a 24-17 loss at Texas-San Antonio two weeks ago, had a bye this past week and will host Utah State this Saturday.
Arroyo wasn’t happy with his team after the loss to UTSA.
“That was our most undisciplined game,” he told the Las Vegas Sun. “We beat ourselves in a lot of ways. We know what wins football games and we’re right there in a lot of these games but this one here (against UTSA), we took ourselves out of a lot of situations.
“We let the emotions of the game get to us. That’s the first time I’ve seen that with this group since I’ve been here. We’re going to cut that out like cancer. That will be eliminated.”

SAN JOSE STATE STRUGGLING AT QUARTERBACK
The San Jose State Spartans stumbled on offense in a 32-14 loss at Colorado State on Saturday. Nick Nash, playing for the injured Nick Starkel, was just 11-of-22 for 154 yards, two touchdowns and an interception at quarterback.
Nash, who is normally a wide receiver, played well the week before in Starkel’s absence, completing 15-of-18 passes for 193 yards and three touchdowns against New Mexico State.
Nash is expected to start once again this week when the Spartans take on San Diego State at home on Friday night, though head coach Brent Brennan would not name a starter earlier this week.
Starkel, who injured his non-throwing hand (left) in a 23-3 loss at Western Michigan three weeks ago, has passed for 992 yards and six touchdowns this year in just three-plus games.
“We don’t talk about injuries,” said Brennan, when asked about Starkel’s status on Monday. “This isn’t the NFL, buddy. Hopefully ‘Stark’ will be ready soon.”
Nash did relieve Starkel last season in a 28-17 victory at San Diego State, passing for 169 yards and two touchdowns. He also had a 14-yard touchdown run with 1:33 to play.
“A couple weeks ago he was a wide receiver and now all of a sudden he’s playing quarterback,” Brennan said of Nash. “Nick is just a real competitor. He loves to play and he loves to practice. Last year when he came in (against San Diego State) we were all kind of holding our breath because he hadn’t played that much. But he executed our offense real well. Our team didn’t lose hope and belief when he came into the game.”
A year ago the Spartans won the Mountain West title. This year the Spartans are 3-3 overall and 1-1 in the Mountain West and battling Nevada (4-1, 1-0), Fresno State (4-2, 1-1), Hawaii (3-3, 1-1) and San Diego State (5-0, 1-0) for the West Division title.
“Now we’re in a different place,” Brennan said. “We’ve got to find that hope and belief again and that ability to finish off games.“

AIR FORCE RUNNING OVER OPPONENTS
The Air Force Falcons are 5-1 overall and 2-1 in the Mountain West and will play at Boise State (3-3, 1-1) in a key Mountain Division game this week.
Air Force ran for 211 yards last week in a 24-14 win over Wyoming. Running back Brad Roberts had 140 yards rushing on 33 carries against Wyoming and leads the Mountain West with 680 yards this season. His teammates rewarded him by giving him a hat last week that read “Diesel” across the front.
“It’s the ‘Diesel Mentality,’” smiled Roberts. “I think my blocking is what earned it for me and the way I just keep my feet moving when I run and get the tough yards.”
“It is a mentality,” said Air Force quarterback Haaziq Daniels, who also wears a Diesel hat. “The mentality is, ‘I don’t care who you are or how big you are. I’m going to come at you and run down your face.’”
 

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