Nevada’s Devonte Lee (2) carries the ball in the second quarter Saturday against Hawaii at Mackay Stadium as offensive lineman Greg Davis blocks. (Photo: Steve Ranson/NNG)
The Nevada Wolf Pack is turning up the volume on the rest of the Mountain West.
“We want to turn our guys loose the rest of the season and see how good we can become as a team and how aggressive we can be as a team,” Wolf Pack coach Jay Norvell said after a 34-17 victory over Hawaii on Saturday at Mackay Stadium.
The Wolf Pack, No. 1 in this week’s Nevada Appeal Mountain West football rankings, forced five Hawaii turnovers and did not turn the ball over once. The Wolf Pack is now tied for fifth in the nation with a plus-1.33 turnover margin per game. The Pack is plus-eight in turnovers this season in six games, forcing 11 and turning the ball over just three times.
“The five turnovers (against Hawaii) was huge,” said Norvell, whose Wolf Pack is now 12-3 over the last two seasons.
With Norvell, it all comes down to a mindset on both offense and defense. “We really want to be aggressive and attack and give our playmakers an opportunity to make plays,” he said.
Norvell said the decision to unleash all of the Pack’s talent came after an eye-opening 38-17 loss at Kansas State on Sept. 18. The Pack has gone 3-0 since, outscoring Boise State, New Mexico State and Hawaii, 130-76.
“We’ve improved ever since the Kansas State game,” said Norvell, who has won 15 of his last 20 games as Pack coach. “We’ve been more aggressive on both sides of the ball. I think that’s the way we have to play because it makes our kids more confident when we play that way.”
San Diego State remained at No. 2 with a 19-13 double-overtime victory over San Jose State. The Aztecs used two touchdown passes from Lucas Johnson to Jesse Matthews in overtime to remain the only unbeaten team (6-0) in the Mountain West.
“I love that matchup (with Matthews) all day long,” Johnson said. “He (Matthews) went up and made a spectacular play two times. I give a lot of props to him.”
Johnson’s only completions in the game were to Matthews in overtime. He was just 2-of-3 for 38 yards after replacing a struggling Jordon Brookshire (13-of-27 for 132 yards) in the fourth quarter.
“We just thought we were a little stagnant and we needed to do something different,” said Aztecs’ coach Brady Hoke, explaining the quarterback change.
The game, tied 6-6 after four quarters, was a field goal contest before overtime. San Diego State’s Matt Araiza connected from 53 and 26 yards and missed from 55 while San Jose State’s Matt Mercurio was good from 32 and 48 yards and missed from 52 yards out with 15 seconds to play in the fourth quarter.
No. 9 San Jose State, the defending Mountain West champions, were called for 12 penalties (101 yards). The Spartans had a 30-yard touchdown pass from Nick Nash to Charles Ross called back because of a facemask penalty in the first quarter when the game was still scoreless.
Air Force remained at No. 3 with a 24-17 victory at No. 6 Boise State. Boise State has now lost three games in a row at home (to Oklahoma State, Nevada, Air Force, by a combined 18 points) for the first time since 1996.
“We had self-inflicted wounds,” said Boise State wide receiver Stefan Cobbs of the loss to Air Force.
Air Force controlled the ball for 37 minutes and rushed for 307 yards and three touchdowns. Brad Roberts, the Mountain West’s leading rusher with 818 yards, had 138 yards and two touchdowns on 28 carries.
Fresno State, which hosts Nevada this Saturday, climbed two spots to No. 4 with a 17-0 victory over No. 10 Wyoming. Neither team had much offense with Wyoming gaining a slight edge in first downs (16-15) and total yards (271-259).
“When you are facing a disciplined team on defense and a team that wants to control the ball on offense you get what you say today,” said Fresno State coach Kalen DeBoer. “I felt we beat them at their own game.”
Colorado State also moved up two spots to No. 5 after a 36-7 victory over No. 11 New Mexico. The Rams got five field goals from Cayden Camper and didn’t allow a point on defense. New Mexico’s only touchdown came on a 63-yard punt return by Luke Wysong. New Mexico also had just 11 first downs.
No. 7 Utah State rallied to beat No. 12 UNLV 28-24 on an 11-yard touchdown run by Elelyon Noa with 35 seconds to play. UNLV’s Charles Williams ran for 221 yards and three touchdowns on 27 carries and scored on runs of 75, 1 and 5 yards.
Utah State’s Savon Scarver, a graduate of Centennial High School in Las Vegas, returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter for a 7-3 lead.
“This hurts,” Williams said. “It hurts my soul. We gave it our all.”
There will be two pivotal games in the Mountain West this Saturday that will help determine which teams show up in the league title game in December. San Diego State will be at Air Force while Nevada will be at Fresno State.
The Nevada Appeal’s Mountain West football rankings for the week of Oct. 18:
1. NEVADA (5-1, 2-0). Last week: Nevada 34, Hawaii 17. This week: Nevada at Fresno State, Saturday.
2. SAN DIEGO STATE (6-0, 2-0). Last week: San Diego State 19, San Jose State 13 (2 OT). This week: San Diego State at Air Force, Saturday.
3. AIR FORCE (6-1, 3-1). Last week: Air Force 24, Boise State 17. This week: San Diego State at Air Force, Saturday.
4. FRESNO STATE (5-2, 5-1). Last week: Fresno State 17, Wyoming 0. This week: Nevada at Fresno State, Saturday.
5. COLORADO STATE (3-3, 2-0). Last week: Colorado State 36, New Mexico 7. This week: Colorado State at Utah State, Friday.
6. BOISE STATE (3-4, 1-2). Last week: Air Force 24, Boise State 17. This week: Bye.
7. UTAH STATE (4-2, 2-1). Last week: Utah State 28, UNLV 24. This week: Colorado State at Utah State, Friday.
8. HAWAII (3-4, 1-2). Last week: Nevada 34, Hawaii 17. This week: New Mexico State at Hawaii, Saturday.
9. SAN JOSE STATE (3-4, 1-2). Last week: San Diego State 19, San Jose State 13 (2 OT). This week: San Jose State at UNLV, Thursday.
10. WYOMING (4-2, 0-2). Last week: Fresno State 17, Wyoming 0. This week: New Mexico at Wyoming, Saturday.
11. NEW MEXICO (2-5, 0-3). Last week: Colorado State 36, New Mexico 7. This week: New Mexico at Wyoming, Saturday.
12. UNLV (0-6, 0-2). Last week: Utah State 28, UNLV 24. This week: San Jose State at UNLV, Thursday.