Nevada head coach Jay Norvell fires up his team before the game against California on Sept. 4, 2021, in Berkeley, Calif. (AP Photo/D. Ross Cameron)
Jay Norvell took control of his football team Saturday night in Berkeley.
Norvell was caught by the Fox Sports One television cameras giving his team a much-needed pep talk with the Wolf Pack trailing the California Golden Bears 14-0 after one quarter.
“The kids, sometimes they just get a little complacent,” Norvell said after the 22-17 comeback victory over Golden Bears. “They were just kind of in a little bit of glaze in the first quarter and just not really firing and responding like they are capable of.”
The Wolf Pack’s dreams of a perfect season seemed like they were going to dissolve just 15 minutes into the season on Saturday. Cal scored touchdowns on its first two possessions and controlled the ball for 13:24 of the first quarter while the Pack had the ball for just 96 seconds.
“We were just kind of pressing a little bit,” Nevada quarterback Carson Strong said.
“We had some first-game jitters,” said defensive back Isaiah Essissima. “And we just kind of ironed them out.”
Norvell’s message came through loud and clear.
“Sometimes you just have to bark at them a little bit and get them going because you know they have it in them,” Norvell said. “I’m so proud of how they responded. When you get in a situation like that and you are not playing so well, you’ve just got to play your way out of it.”
How did the Pack respond to its coach?
The Wolf Pack outscored Cal 22-3 over the final three quarters, out-gaining the Bears 324-138 and controlling the ball for nearly 32 of the final 45 minutes.
“This is what an experienced team does,” Norvell said.
ESSISSIMA MAKES IMPACT RIGHT AWAY: It didn’t take long for Isaiah Essissima to make his presence known with his new Wolf Pack teammates. The transfer from Wake Forest intercepted a pass from Cal quarterback Chase Garbers at the 50-yard line with 4:29 to play to help preserve the Pack victory.
It was the first career interception for Essissima, a backup at Wake Forest the past two seasons.
“We kind of knew what was coming,” said Essissima, who was also recruited by Boise State coming out of Fort Bend Hightower High School near Houston. “I just knew my keys and knew what was going to happen.”
STRONG WINS MOUNTAIN WEST AWARD: Wolf Pack quarterback Carson Strong was named the Mountain West’s Offensive Player of the Week after passing for 312 yards and two touchdowns against Cal.
“He’s just a super competitor now,” Norvell said. “He was amazing (against Cal). It’s just his will, his want-to, his aggressiveness to want to go after those guys and stay on them. I just appreciate him so much in that regard.”
Strong said the Wolf Pack never lost faith on Saturday, despite falling behind 14-0.
“We were confident the whole time,” Strong said. “We didn’t press the panic button. We’re a confident group and we never wavered. I never for one second was worried or felt like we didn’t have a chance to win.”
UNLV STILL WINLESS UNDER ARROYO: The UNLV Rebels suffered a disappointing loss to a Big Sky Conference team on Saturday, losing 35-33 in two overtimes to Eastern Washington at home.
The Rebels are now 0-7 under head coach Marcus Arroyo, who took over the program before the 2020 season.
“It’s really difficult,” said sixth-year senior running back Charles Williams, who had 172 yards on 27 carries in the loss. “But as a man you have to learn from your mistakes.”
Williams now has 3,112 yards, becoming the third player in UNLV history with 3,000 or more rushing yards behind Tim Cornett (3,733) and Lexington Thomas (3,555).
The Rebels are now 36-16-1 against current Big Sky Conference teams. That record, however, does not include a 3-4 record against Nevada when the Pack was in the Big Sky.
SHAKIR LIMITED AND HOLANI OUT FOR BOISE STATE: The Boise State Broncos lost 36-31 last Thursday night to Central Florida in Orlando, Fla., despite building a 21-0 lead.
The Broncos, though, played the game without starting running back George Holani and had standout wide receiver Khalil Shakir on a snap count.
The 5-foot-11, 205-pound Holani, who was limited to just three games last year because of a knee injury, was listed as the starter on the Broncos depth chart and participated in the pregame warmups going into the Central Florida game. Boise State announced Holani would sit out the Central Florida game less than an hour before kickoff.
Holani rushed for 101 yards and seven touchdowns as a freshman in 2019 and had 108 yards a year ago on just 19 carries. The Broncos had just 20 yards rushing on 26 carries against Central Florida without Holani.
Shakir caught five passes, two for touchdowns, against Central Florida. The wide receiver underwent off-season foot surgery and missed all of spring practices.
SEC COMING TO MOUNTAIN WEST: Vanderbilt will play at Colorado State on Saturday. It will be just the sixth time a SEC team has traveled to play at a Mountain West school.
The Mountain West school has won four of the previous five games when hosting a SEC school. Wyoming beat Missouri 37-31 in 2019, Colorado State beat Arkansas 34-27 in 2018, Wyoming beat Mississippi 37-32 in 2004 and UNLV beat Arkansas 31-14 in 2000 in the Las Vegas Bowl. Mississippi State’s 44-28 win at BYU in 2000 is the only time a SEC school has ever won at a Mountain West school’s home stadium.
The SEC holds a 25-11 record against the Mountain West, winning 24-of-31 games at home, including two (Vanderbilt in 2018) and Texas A&M (2015) against Nevada.
MOUNTAIN WEST VS. BIG SKY: The Mountain West is 3-1 against the Big Sky Conference this season.
San Jose State whipped Southern Utah 45-14 two weeks ago while last week Wyoming beat Montana State 19-16 and Hawaii beat Portland State 49-35. The Big Sky’s lone victory over the Mountain West this season is Eastern Washington’s 35-33 overtime win over UNLV last Saturday at Allegiant Stadium.
The Big Sky-Mountain West rivalry continues this week with Cal Poly at Fresno State and Idaho State at Nevada, both on Saturday. Idaho State came to Mackay and stunned the Wolf Pack 30-28 in 2017.