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Joe Santoro: Wolf Pack defense also deserves credit

California quarterback Chase Garbers looks up after being sacked by Nevada defensive end Daniel Grzesiak on Sept. 4, 2021, in Berkeley, Calif. (AP Photo/D. Ross Cameron)

California quarterback Chase Garbers looks up after being sacked by Nevada defensive end Daniel Grzesiak on Sept. 4, 2021, in Berkeley, Calif. (AP Photo/D. Ross Cameron)

Nevada Wolf Pack quarterback Carson Strong and all of his weapons on offense get all of the attention and praise. But, make no mistake, the Wolf Pack beat the California Golden Bears (22-17) on Saturday night with defense.
The Pack allowed Cal just a field goal over the final three quarters as the offense mustered up just enough big plays to pull out the victory. It was, arguably, the Wolf Pack’s best defensive performance against a Power Five team since its 20-13 victory over Boston College in the January 2011 Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco. The 17 points allowed are the fewest the Pack has surrendered to a Power Five team since a 24-13 win over Washington State in 2014 and to Boston College after the 2010 season. The Pack also allowed just 330 yards to Cal, its fewest given up to a Power Five team since it allowed 185 against Boston College.
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When Romeo Doubs has a productive game the Wolf Pack wins.
The Wolf Pack wide receiver, who has been compared to legendary racehorse Secretariat by head coach Jay Norvell, has scored a touchdown in 11 games during his four-year career. The Pack, which got a 43-yard touchdown catch from Doubs against Cal, is 11-0 in those games.
Doubs, who had six catches for 83 yards against Cal, also has nine 100-yard games in his career. The Pack is 9-0 in those games. The keys to an undefeated Pack season, therefore, are simple. Get Doubs in the end zone or at least to the century mark.
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The first time Doubs touched the ball in a game for the Wolf Pack he, of course, scored a touchdown. He settled under a Portland State punt on the night of Aug. 31, 2018 and went 80 yards to the end zone to put the finishing touches on a 72-19 victory.
Doubs has never gotten back to the end zone on a punt return since that electric debut. But he has established himself as one of the best punt returners in school history just the same. His 12.7 average on 26 punt returns is second in school history behind De’Angelo Wilson’s 14.2 in 2005 and 2006. The second longest punt return of Doubs’ career, in fact, took place Saturday night at Cal when he went 38 yards late in the second quarter. In typical Doubs’ fashion, even that return with under a minute to go led to Pack points, a 35-yard Brandon Talton field goal to cut Cal’s lead to just 14-13 with two seconds to play. It’s safe to say that “Doubs” is short for “W,” which is short for “win.”
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The next big test for the Wolf Pack, after it destroys Idaho State by seven or 17 touchdowns (depending on how long Carson Strong plays) on Saturday night at Mackay Stadium, will be Kansas State on Sept. 18 in Manhattan, Kansas.
The Wildcats, who also play an overmatched Division I-AA team looking for a big, fat check this week (Southern Illinois), will also more than likely be 2-0 on Sept. 18. Kansas State beat Stanford this past weekend, 24-7, at the home of the Dallas Cowboys in Arlington, Texas.
But don’t be afraid, Pack fans. This isn’t the Bill Snyder Kansas State Wildcats who were among the best teams in the sport in the 1990s. This Kansas State team is coached by Chris Klieman, who earned his stripes by winning four Football Championship Subdivision (Division I-AA) national titles from 2014-18 at North Dakota State. Kansas State is the Midwestern version of the California Golden Bears. No offense, solid defense, a .500 season at best waiting to happen.
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Norvell did a wonderful job with this Pack schedule. He added a couple schools (Cal and Kansas State) whose name is bigger than their talent early on, knowing that Pack wins would attract the eye of the Top 25 voters.
The win over Cal, by the way, paid off for Nevada in 23 votes in the Associated Press rankings and 13 in the Coaches Poll, proving, once again, that sports writers are smarter than coaches. Also proving that very same point is that Kansas State got fewer votes (13) than Nevada in the Associated Press Top 25 and more than the Pack (19) in the Coaches Poll. Coaches, after all, just vote for their friends and sportswriters, everyone knows, have no friends.
There is a chance the Pack will slip into the Top 25 of both polls after a 65-point win over Idaho State on Saturday. But that honor will likely first come after the win at Kansas State on Sept. 18.
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Don’t ever take Brandon Talton for granted. The 5-foot-9 Wolf Pack kicker might be as important as any player on the roster except for Strong. The Pack, after all, can beat anybody with Strong and without him, well, even Idaho State might be feeling pretty good this week about their chances on Saturday.
Talton, like Strong, covers up a lot of Pack mistakes. The Pack doesn’t beat Cal without Talton’s three field goals from 35, 44 and 49 yards out. Pound-for-pound (he supposedly weighs about 180 pounds but that is likely just roster-padding) he just might be the best player on the best team in the Mountain West.
Talton, who beat Purdue with a 56-yarder on the final play of his first college game in 2019, now has made 39-of-47 field goal attempts in his career. He has scored 173 points, which is more than even Doubs. The Pack is 9-3 when Talton makes at least two field goals and 5-1 when he makes three or more. He has never missed more than one field goal in any one game.
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Why, exactly, is this Saturday’s game against Idaho State starting at 7:30 p.m.? It is not being televised by Fox, CBS Sports Network or ESPN, which seem to revel in torturing west coast fans with ridiculously late starting times. It’s on something called Stadium and, well, Stadium should not dictate to anyone when a game should start.
This will be the latest kickoff at Mackay Stadium for a game against a Division I-AA opponent since the stadium installed lights for the start of the 2003 season. Why anyone would want to sit in a college football stadium as midnight approaches is, well, a mystery. But to do it for a game against a Division I-AA team, well, be careful driving home.
There are a few factors, though, in favor of anyone buying a ticket for this forgettable matchup. It will be the first game at Mackay Stadium that will allow more fans in the stadium than just those on the Pack’s friends and family plan since late November 2019. That alone should get people desperate for live football out to the stadium.
The second thing in favor of this matchup is that it will be the first chance this season that fans will get to see arguably one of the best teams in school history. “The Opponent Doesn’t Matter. Come Watch the Pack Dance in the End Zone” should be the Pack’s marketing slogan this year.

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