Rams vs. Pack: Jay Norvell returns

Jay Norvell (at right, white pullover) leads the Wolf Pack into Mackay Stadium to face UNLV on Oct. 29, 2021. (AP Photo/Tom R. Smedes)

Jay Norvell (at right, white pullover) leads the Wolf Pack into Mackay Stadium to face UNLV on Oct. 29, 2021. (AP Photo/Tom R. Smedes)

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A look ahead to Friday night’s (7:30 p.m.) Mountain West football game between the Nevada Wolf Pack (2-3, 0-1) and Colorado State Rams (0-4, 0-0) at Mackay Stadium.

HOW TO WATCH, LISTEN: Fox Sports One, 94.5 FM.

THE SPREAD: Nevada by 3 ½ points.

AT STAKE FOR NEVADA: The Wolf Pack is hoping to avoid its first 0-2 start in Mountain West play since joining the conference in 2012. Nevada’s last 0-2 start in conference play was 2007 in the Western Athletic Conference after losses to Fresno State and Boise State.

AT STAKE FOR COLORADO STATE: The Rams are hoping to avoid their first 0-5 start since 2007. A loss to Nevada would also mean that Colorado State would have to win six of its last seven games to become bowl eligible.

NEVADA LAST WEEK: The Wolf Pack had a bye. Nevada was beaten in its last game, 48-20 by Air Force on Sept. 23. The Wolf Pack has lost three games in a row with its last win coming on Sept. 3 over Texas State, 38-14.

COLORADO STATE LAST WEEK: Colorado State also had a bye. The Rams lost their last game, 41-10 to Sacramento State on Sept. 24. Colorado State has now lost 10 games in a row dating back to last season. The Rams’ last win was on Oct. 16, 2021 at New Mexico (36-7).

THE RIVALRY: Colorado State leads, 12-5, but Nevada has won three of the last four games. The Wolf Pack won at Colorado State, 52-10, last year in Fort Collins, Colo., as quarterback Carson Strong completed 17-of-22 passes for 288 yards and four touchdowns. Strong’s first two touchdown passes were to wide receiver Tory Horton, who is now with Colorado State. His other two touchdown passes were to Romeo Doubs, who is now with the Green Bay Packers.

NOT MUCH HAS CHANGED: The first time the Rams and Wolf Pack met was on Oct. 19, 1974 in Fort Collins. Colorado State won, 66-17, as the Rams threw seven touchdown passes (six by quarterback Mark Driscoll).
The Wolf Pack quarterback situation in that game, though, was not much different than it will be Friday night. The Pack split the position in Fort Collins 48 years ago between Jack Fisher and Jeff Tisdel with the two combining to go 9-of-25 for 151 yards. “I told them both I would play them both until one absolutely proves he is the man to be the quarterback,” Pack coach Jerry Scattini said after the 1974 game.
The Pack will go into Friday night’s game in a similar situation at quarterback between Nate Cox and Shane Illingworth. “We’re looking for consistency at that position,” Pack coach Ken Wilson said this week. “The one who can do it with the most consistency is going to play for us.”

THE HEAD COACHES: Nevada’s Ken Wilson is 2-3 in his first season as head coach. Colorado State’s Jay Norvell has a career record of 33-30 in six seasons as a head coach. Norvell was 33-26 in five seasons (2017-21) at Nevada.

NORVELL RETURNS TO RENO: Norvell will be just the third former Wolf Pack head coach to face Nevada as a head coach. Jim Aiken was 38-26-4 as Nevada’s head coach from 1939-46 and lost to the Pack, 13-6, on Oct. 4, 1947 as Oregon’s head coach. Jeff Horton, who was 7-4 in his lone season as Nevada’s head coach in 1993, beat the Wolf Pack in 1994 (32-27) and lost to Nevada (55-32) in 1995 as UNLV’s head coach.

NORVELL’S SLOW STARTS: A loss on Friday will make Norvell the first FBS coach since Mack Brown in the 1980s to start two head coaching tenures at two different schools with an 0-5 record. Norvell lost his first five games as Pack head coach in 2017. Brown was 0-5 in his first season at Tulane in 1985 and lost his first six games at North Carolina in 1988.

OFFENSES SUFFERING POWER OUTAGE: The Wolf Pack is asking fans to wear the color black for what it is calling “Blackout Mackay” on Friday. The term is also fitting as both team’s offenses have clearly suffered a power outage this season. Nevada is 123rd among the 131 FBS team in offense at 280.4 yards a game while Colorado State is dead last at 241.8. Colorado State has also scored just 43 points all season, is averaging 1.4 yards rushing this year and has converted just 19.6 percent of its third down plays. The Rams have also allowed 25 sacks this year. Nevada has just two touchdown passes all year and is 120th in the nation at 147.2 passing yards a game.

PACK OFFENSE HISTORICALLY BAD: The Wolf Pack has just 1,402 total yards (736 passing), two touchdown passes and 83 first downs through its first five games. The 1,402 yards are the fewest through five games for Nevada since 2000 (1,293). The two touchdown passes and 736 passing yards are the fewest since at least 1992, when the program joined the FBS. The 83 first downs are the fewest since it had just 75 in 2000. The Wolf Pack’s 78 pass completions are also its fewest through five games since it had 77 in 2003.

SAYING NO TO NORVELL: Nine Colorado State players have quit the team since the season has started. Those leaving have been safety Tywan Francis, wide receivers Ty McCullough, E.J. Scott, Dante Wright and former Nevada player Melquan Stovall as well as offensive lineman Ches Jackson, kicker Cayden Camper, linebacker Bam Amina and running back David Bailey. McCullough and Stovall are currently second on the team with 13 catches each while Bailey had 61 yards rushing on 20 carries. Francis is third on the Rams with 32 tackles.

WHAT NEVADA NEEDS TO DO TO WIN: Both teams, first of all, need to keep their emotions in check and not focus on facing all of the former teammates across the line of scrimmage. The Pack players also have to forget about getting back at Norvell for abandoning them last December.
Nevada’s key to success, as always, is to control the ball, not turn the ball over and not put too much pressure on its quarterbacks to convert third-down plays through the air. The Wolf Pack likely has only to stay in character by remaining conservative on both sides of the ball, limit its mistakes and let Mackay Stadium work its magic to get a much-needed victory against a team in chaos right now. Colorado State, after all, has not done many things correctly on either offense or defense this year. The Rams’ offensive struggles are chronicled above and their defense has allowed at least 34 points in every game this year as well as 414 yards a game.

WHAT COLORADO STATE NEEDS TO DO TO WIN: Win? What’s that? Colorado State hasn’t even had a lead since the second quarter on Nov. 20, 2021 in Week 11 last season. And now the Rams might be without starting quarterback Clay Millen, who suffered a shoulder injury against Sacramento State two weeks ago. If Millen can’t go on Friday, the starter will be true freshman Brayden Fowler-Nicolosi, who has completed just 6-of-15 passes this year. Both Millen and Fowler-Nicolosi are former Wolf Pack recruits.
The Rams’ top targets in the passing game are also two former Pack recruits in Tory Horton (23 catches, 427 yards, five touchdowns) and Justus Ross-Simmons (7-47-1). Horton has five of the Rams’ six touchdowns this year and Ross-Simmons has the other one. Norvell has a record of 20-8 at Mackay Stadium but that was when he was wearing silver and blue. Norvell, though, hasn’t had a lead in a game since the final game of 2021 when his Wolf Pack destroyed Colorado State in Fort Collins, 52-10.

PREDICTION: Nevada 28, Colorado State 21. This game really should not be as close as the 3 ½-point spread suggests. Colorado State is winless, is now barely treading water and has been a disaster on both sides of the ball. Players, it seems, are abandoning the program each week and now the Rams have to go on the road and face a team that is extremely motivated to beat them. Pack players, coaches and fans, you can be sure, have had this game circled on the calendar since last winter and would like nothing more than to send all of the former Pack players and coaches on the Rams’ roster back home to Colorado with an 0-5 record. This is Ken Wilson’s first truly important game as Nevada’s head coach. A Pack victory is extremely important for his team and his fan base’s confidence for the remainder of the season.


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