Grading the Nevada Wolf Pack football team’s 33-6 loss to the Idaho Vandals on Saturday at Mackay Stadium:
The Wolf Pack offense almost completely disappeared in the team’s home opener against a Division I-AA (FCS) school. No touchdowns, just six points and 14 first downs. Wolf Pack quarterbacks Brendon Lewis and A.J. Bianco barely combined to complete half their passes (20-of-38) for a mere 148 yards and were intercepted twice. Lewis started for the second week in a row and played the bulk of the first three quarters. The former Colorado quarterback was just 12-of-24 for 104 yards and an interception on the Pack’s final play of the third quarter. It was also Lewis’ final play of the game. He did run the ball nine times for 39 yards, at least getting back to the line of scrimmage on all nine of his carries. That ability to squirm his way out of trouble is why he is the starter. Bianco entered the game for a drive for a dazed Lewis and broke free for a 19-yard run. But the redshirt freshman from Hawaii followed that up immediately with two incompletions and an interception. Neither Lewis nor Bianco showed any sort of consistency against the Vandals‘ Big Sky Conference defense, leading us to wonder what, exactly, third-stringer Shane Illingworth, a former Oklahoma State quarterback, needs to do to get on the field. Bianco did complete his final five passes (all short, safe flips) in garbage time (for 25 yards) late in the fourth quarter to finish 8-of-14 for 44 yards. How do you throw for just 148 yards against a Division I-AA defense in a game when you are trailing the entire time? The six points are the fewest the Pack has scored against a Division I-AA team since a 13-3 loss to Boise State in 1981 (when the Pack and Boise State were both in the Big Sky Conference, along with Idaho).
RUNNING BACK: D
Sean Dollars got just nine carries. Ashton Hayes had just six. Dollars, who should be getting at least 20 carries a game in an offense where the quarterbacks can’t seem to put together two productive plays in a row, had just three carries in the second half. Dollars is a former Oregon running back, right? He had 33 yards on his first carry of the game (the Pack’s third play overall) and then got just 15 more yards combined on his final seven carries to finish with 48. Dollars never got the ball two plays in a row. He lost two yards on a 4th-and-1 play from the Pack 28 in the fourth quarter. Hayes had a pair of 6-yard runs but had zero combined yards on his other four carries. He had just one carry in the second half.
Jamaal Bell continues to be the Pack’s most consistent performer on offense. He had eight catches against Idaho for 67 yards after getting eight for 121 against USC in the season opener. No other Pack receiver caught more than two passes against the Vandals. Among those with two catches were tight end Keleki Latu (27 yards) and wide receivers John Jackson (20 yards) and Dalevon Campbell (23 yards). Latu was targeted five times in the first half and once in the second half. Pack offensive coordinator Derek Sage loves tight ends. Only one Pack completion went for more than 17 yards (a 24-yarder to Bell in the third quarter). Wide receiver Spencer Curtis had one catch for three yards.
OFFENSIVE LINE: C
Lewis and Bianco were not sacked on any of their 38 pass attempts and they at least got back to the line of scrimmage on all 10 of their runs. That is the definition of keeping your quarterbacks in one piece. Idaho also had just one quarterback hurry. But it was, of course, far from a perfect afternoon for the offensive front. The run game was never established. Lewis picked up 14 and Dollars had 33 on the Pack’s first two runs of the game. That is what a Division I-A offensive line is supposed to do to a I-AA defense. But the final 23 Pack runs netted just 71 yards and 19 of that came on one Bianco bootleg. When the Pack desperately needed to run the ball, it couldn’t. Dollars was trapped for a 2-yard loss on a 3rd-and-2 run from the Idaho 8 in the first quarter, Hayes lost two yards on 3rd-and-2 from the Pack 42 in the second quarter and Dollars lost two on 4th-and-1 from the Pack 28 in the fourth quarter.
DEFENSIVE LINE: C
The highlight of the day for the defensive front came in the third quarter, when Ike Nnakenyi and Dion Washington sacked Idaho quarterback Gevani McCoy on successive plays, forcing Idaho to settle for a field goal. The Pack’s James Hansen had two tackles, stopping Vandal running back Anthony Woods for no gain and a 1-yard loss. Thomas Witte teamed up with linebacker Micah Lilo to stop Vandal back Nick Romano for a 2-yard loss. The Pack defensive front wasn’t dominated like it was a week ago against USC, but it certainly didn’t dominate the Idaho offensive front like it should have.
Drue Watts was in the right place at the right time once again, picking up an Idaho fumble. He now has two fumble recoveries this year. No Pack linebacker, though, had more than four tackles. Tongiaki Mateialona had four tackles and also stopped Romano for a 1-yard loss. Stone Combs had three tackles and an important sack, forcing Idaho to settle for a field goal at the end of the first half. Jackson LaDuke had four tackles and stopped Romano for a 4-yard loss. Douglas High grad Chris Smalley had three tackles. The linebackers are clearly the best group on this Pack defense but, of course, that isn’t saying much.
The Wolf Pack secondary has yet to show up this season. Vandal quarterback Gevani McCoy was 15-of-21 for 313 yards and two touchdowns. McCoy is a hidden gem. He won the Jerry Rice Award last year as the most outstanding freshman in the FCS. Don’t be surprised to see him at a Division I-A school next year. But the Pack made him look like USC’s Caleb Williams. In just two games this year the Pack has allowed opposing quarterbacks (mainly Williams and McCoy) to complete 40-of-55 passes for 766 yards and eight touchdowns. Yes, of course, it’s not all the fault of the secondary. A consistent pass rush would be nice. But the Pack secondary is being shredded repeatedly by big plays. Idaho had nine completions of 15 yards or more. Five went for 29 or more. Defensive back Richard Toney led the Pack with seven tackles. Emany Johnson forced a fumble and had four tackles. K.K. Meier had four tackles and knocked away a pass. We get it. Williams and McCoy might be the two best quarterbacks the Pack will face this year. But those Idaho receivers are not the best group the Pack will face. They seemed to take turns impersonating Jerry Rice on Saturday.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C
Brandon Talton had field goals from 29 and 44 yards out. Punter Matt Freem was solid on his first two punts, sending one 40 yards to the Idaho 4-yard line and booming one 46 yards to the Idaho 14 that prompted a fair catch. But his third and final punt went just 16 yards to the Idaho 41-yard line early in the third quarter. Two Pack kickoff returns netted a total of just 29 yards. Idaho’s only kick or punt return was for 26 yards. The Wolf Pack needed its special teams to create some momentum on Saturday, helping to wake up the stagnant offense and defense, and it just never happened. Idaho’s Ricardo Chavez, though, stole the special teams show, making four field goals (26, 29, 34 and 43 yards), three extra points and punting twice, once for 60 yards and the other for 70. That’s how special teams can play a huge part in a victory. The 15 points Chavez scored Saturday are just five fewer than the entire output (20 points) of the Pack offense in two games this year.
Ken Wilson is now 2-12 as Pack head coach. Blame Jay Norvell, the lack of serious NIL dollars and the transfer portal. Whatever the reason, this Ken Wilson experiment is simply not working. This, an embarrassing 27-point loss in the home opener to an FCS school, is the low point. Wilson and his staff were clearly outcoached on Saturday. And we’re not even talking about the X’s and O’s. The Pack players looked flat, bored and afraid to fight back. They didn’t play with any confidence or sense of urgency. This was a team that had lost 11 games in a row and had not won a game in over a calendar year. And this is how you come out in your home opener? You can’t score a single touchdown against a I-AA defense? Are the Pack players even listening to Wilson? Idaho punched them in the face on their very first play (a 75-yard touchdown pass) and the Pack fell down and never got up. Wilson is clearly failing to motivate his team. His offensive coordinator (Derek Sage) the past two seasons is clearly failing his head coach and his quarterbacks. This is not Nevada football.
Wolf Pack fans deserve better than this. This Pack team is the first in school history to lose a dozen games in a row and also give up 99 points in its first two games combined since the very first team in Wolf Pack football history in 1896 lost 70-0 to Belmont and 40-0 to the California junior varsity. We can forgive that 1896 Pack team. That team barely knew a football had points at each end. We cannot forgive this Pack team. The 27-point deficit is the Pack’s largest against a non-Division I-A team since a 45-7 loss to UNLV (Division II that season) to end the 1975 season and Jerry Scattini’s career as Pack head coach. You could argue that this is the Wolf Pack’s most embarrassing loss since the program moved to Division I-A in 1992. Yes, the Pack has lost to FCS teams before since 1992. But this is the first where the Pack was embarrassed. Idaho simply dominated this game. They kept the ball for the final 5:48 of the first half and the final 4:49 of the second half. The Vandals called off the dogs and ran the ball on their final 17 plays. Who was the FBS team on the field on Saturday? Is this what you want to spend your NIL dollars on, Pack fans?
Who: Kansas (2-0) at Nevada (0-2)
When: Saturday, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Mackay Stadium (27,000)
TV: CBS Sports Network
Radio: 105.7 FM (John Ramey)