Grades: Pack offense posts a zero in ugly loss at Iowa

Nevada running back Toa Taua against Iowa on Sept. 17, 2022 in Iowa City, Iowa.

Nevada running back Toa Taua against Iowa on Sept. 17, 2022 in Iowa City, Iowa.
Nevada Athletics

Grading the Nevada Wolf Pack’s 27-0 loss to the Iowa Hawkeyes on Saturday in Iowa City, Iowa:
The Wolf Pack’s four non-conference games this season did not produce a legitimate starting quarterback. The position, shared by Shane Illingworth and Nate Cox, has offered zero continuity and, if possible, even less consistency and production.
It was Illingworth’s turn to start and play the entire game (except for one Nate Cox run) and, well, the former Oklahoma State backup didn’t come close to taking advantage of the opportunity. While it is true that Illingworth was, without question, facing the best defense the Pack will see this year, he looked like the same quarterback that muddled through two first halves in lifeless victories against fragile New Mexico State and Texas State defenses.
Illingworth completed just 50 percent of his safe and conservative passes (14-of-28) against Iowa, for a mere 82 yards with an interception. Just one of the completions was for more than 10 yards. The Pack looked more afraid of throwing the ball downfield against the Hawkeyes than they were of the lightning that delayed the game four hours. Illingworth gave the offense 82 passing yards and went backward 12 yards on five runs (four sacks). That’s a grand total of 70 positive yards from your quarterback’s arm and legs for an entire game. The Pack’s quarterback situation is about as settled as it was back in February.
We’re aware that Illingworth has far more talent than we’ve seen this season. At least that’s what the college recruiters from Power Five schools led us to believe a few years ago. It’s time the Pack allows him to show it.
Toa Taua had one of his most difficult days in his five seasons in Nevada, plodding his way to 31 yards on 17 carries. Over the final three quarters he had 11 carries for 12 yards. Devonte Lee had the best run of the night for the Pack, a grueling 16-yard run in the second quarter. It’s the type of run that could get Lee an NFL tryout based on his effort alone. But he still finished with just 33 yards on nine carries. Six of his nine carries were for three yards or less.
Taua and Lee, rest assured, will have more running room the rest of the year against all the tissue paper defenses of the Mountain West. But this was their chance to show they can compete toe-to-toe and fist-to-fist against a big-time defense from a big-time conference and, well, they produced 67 yards on 26 combined carries.
The Pack receivers, for the most part, are catching safe, short passes in space this year and simply not doing much with the opportunity. The Iowa defense, which basically overwhelmed the entire Pack offense, did not allow the Pack passing game to even sniff confidence. The 14 catches produced just 82 yards, a disturbing rate of production that suggests a lack of playmaking ability in the receiver group. Dalevon Campbell had three catches for 21 yards and Jamaal Bell had three catches for 19 yards. B.J. Casteel had one two-yard catch. Jacob Munro had 16 yards on two catches. Those numbers would be just fine for one drive. But spread it across an entire game and, well, it’s obvious the Pack offense simply didn’t compete on Saturday.
The Wolf Pack offensive line was simply bullied and manhandled at Kinnick Stadium. The front gave up four sacks and opened up enough daylight for the running game to produce just 85 yards on 32 carries (not including the four sacks for minus-12 yards). The Pack had just 10 first downs for 151 total yards. The Wolf Pack averaged just 2.4 yards on its 64 plays. All of these dreadful numbers, at least on Saturday, started up front.
There’s a reason, it seems, why the Pack doesn’t want its quarterbacks to sit in the pocket long enough and wait for the receivers to get open even on medium-range passes. There’s also a reason why talented backs like Lee and Taua average 2.5 yards a carry over 26 carries. The Pack offense is going to struggle all year, even against less strong Mountain West defenses, if it can’t find an offense in which its offensive line can be productive.
Dom Peterson proved once again that he is, without question, a big-time player who can compete against big-time teams. Peterson was a force on Saturday and did as much as he could to keep the game respectable. He had four tackles, two tackles behind the line of scrimmage and one sack for a seven-yard loss despite fighting Big Ten double teams on a slick surface. In the third quarter Peterson teamed with Tyriq Mack to stop Gavin Williams for no gain and on the very next play he sacked Spencer Petras for a 7-yard loss. Later in the quarter, he dropped Kaleb Johnson for a 1-yard loss.
Peterson wasn’t the only Pack defensive lineman making plays at Iowa. Christopher Love was also a force with three tackles, one for a loss. His other two tackles were for no gain and just one yard. James Hansen had one tackle for no gain and Thomas Witte combined with linebacker Maurice Wilmer on a tackle for a 3-yard loss.
Naki Mateialona had his best game in a Pack uniform with seven tackles and a sack. Drue Watts also made his presence known with three tackles and a sack for a 9-yard loss. Watts also teamed with Christopher Love for a tackle on a 1-yard gain. Josiah Bradley stopped Iowa running back Gavin Williams for no gain. Maurice Wilmer had two tackles, teaming with Thomas Witte for a tackle behind the line of scrimmage.
It certainly wasn’t a great night for the Pack front seven, since Iowa ran for 162 yards on 35 carries, but nearly 60 percent (90-of-162) of those yards came on just two long touchdowns.
The Wolf Pack secondary gave up two many big plays, with four completions going for 21 or more yards. But Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras completed just 16 passes for 175 yards, with the bulk of those yards (120) coming on the four big plays.
Jaden Dedman was active all night with seven tackles and two passes broken up. Bentlee Sanders had six tackles, though he was called for a pass interference. Tyriq Mack had five tackles and Isaiah Essissima knocked down two passes. Sanders and Tyson Williams teamed for a tackle for no gain on an Iowa running play.
Brandon Talton missed a 57-yard field goal as the Pack looked desperate to avoid the shutout late in the third quarter. Talton’s miss, though, was the highlight of the night for the Pack offense. It was the only one of the Pack’s 12 drives that didn’t end in a punt or an interception.
Punter Matt Freem might have been the Pack’s player of the game, booming 10 punts for 446 yards, including one for 66 and another for 50. His 10 punts are tied for the third-most in Pack history and his 446 yards are the fourth-most. Freem, in his first year as the Pack’s starting punter, dropped three punts inside the 20.
Jamaal Bell returned one Iowa kickoff 32 yards.
The Wolf Pack coaching staff looked like all it wanted to do in Iowa was get out of the rain and not get drilled by a lightning bolt. It’s hard to tell if this coaching staff can even motivate players right now, let alone give them a game plan that can get them excited.
The Pack coaching staff, with three lightning delays that lasted four hours, certainly had plenty of opportunities to regroup and come up with something different. But that never happened. The team and the coaches never showed any life or competitiveness.
The offense, except for a few drives after getting behind by three touchdowns to a Division I-AA team 10 days ago, has had no creativity, aggressiveness or surprise this year. The players look bored, as if they feel their coaching staff doesn’t trust them with anything more complicated than an off-tackle run or a 5-yard pass.
Ken Wilson is now the first Wolf Pack head coach to suffer a shutout loss in his debut season since Jerry Scattini, who lost to Humboldt State, 34-0, in 1969.
The Pack defense played fairly well for the most part, except for some unfortunate busted plays. The Wolf Pack only allowed Iowa 15 first downs and 337 total yards. That is a solid defensive performance for a Mountain West team on the road against a Power Five team. Yes, Iowa has an abysmal offense. But the Pack defense put its teammates in position to pull off the upset.
But the offense never showed up and wasn’t competitive, physically or otherwise. Forget that misleading final score. The Hawkeyes’ side of the scoreboard was inflated by some silly broken plays by the Pack defense. Those plays (scoring runs of 40 and 55 yards) only ended in points because the Pack has Mountain West speed. This game should have been something more along the lines of 13-0. But zero is still zero and the Pack sure earned that number.


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