Grading the Pack: Team passes final test before Boise showdown
For the Nevada Appeal
Grading the Nevada Wolf Pack football team after a 52-6 victory over New Mexico State on Saturday at Mackay Stadium . . .
Colin Kaepernick seemingly played this game at half speed. But that was by design. No sense, after all, emptying the pistol of all its bullets with Boise State coming to town in six days. The senior quarterback methodically picked apart the Aggies, preferring to let his teammates shine in the spotlight. Kaepernick ran the ball just seven times for 35 yards and a touchdown and threw the ball just enough (15-of-27 for 251 yards) to make sure his arm will be good and loose for Boise State next week.
RUNNING BACK: A
Vai Taua ran hard and with a purpose. He picked up 111 yards and two touchdowns and got back to at least the line of scrimmage on each of his 22 carries. Taua did fumble the ball away once and that’s something that cannot happen this Friday night. But the senior always seemed to be just one defender away from breaking a long one against the Aggies.
OFFENSIVE LINE: A
The offensive line had another solid game, allowing just one sack on 27 pass attempts. The big boys up front were missing veteran starting guard John Bender (out with an ear infection). Backup center Jordan Mudge started in Bender’s place and Steve Haley moved into the starting lineup ahead of Jeff Nady at tackle. The offensive line paved the way for the Pack to pick up 243 yards rushing (6.1 a carry) and four touchdowns on the ground.
Malcolm Shepherd had another strong game with a team-high seven catches for 57 yards. Rishard Mathews had three catches and tight end Virgil Green and wide receiver Brandon Wimberly each had two. One of Green’s catches went for 22 yards and a touchdown. Three of Shepherd’s catches and two of Mathews’ and Wimberly’s catches went for first downs. This group doesn’t hit a lot of home runs but they do knock out plenty of singles and doubles.
DEFENSIVE LINE: A+
Dontay Moch (three sacks) and Brett Roy (two sacks) overwhelmed the Aggies’ offensive line all night long. Moch also had eight tackles. Ryan Coulson turned in his typically solid game with five tackles, one for a loss. Zack Madonick also had a tackle for a loss. The defensive line had five sacks and 8.5 tackles for a loss. That’s a pretty good afternoon.
Kevin Grimes simply makes plays. The undersized (6-foot, 205 pounds) linebacker plays his heart out every game. Against New Mexico State he had eight tackles and a sack. James-Michael Johnson was solid with six tackles and DeAndre Boughton had five. Brandon Marshall only had one tackle but he did knock down two passes. Kaelin Burnett was also in on four tackles. Adam Liranzo recovered a fumble and broke up a pass.
New Mexico State quarterback Andrew Manley, mainly because he was running for his life most of the day, completed just 19-of-39 passes for 220 meaningless yards. Khalid Wooten returned an interception 90 yards for a touchdown and Isaiah Frey made an acrobatic catch for another pick. Safety Duke Williams had five tackles and broke up a pass. New Mexico State opened the Pack’s eyes by completing a 44-yard pass on their first play from scrimmage but the Pack secondary settled down after that. The secondary was aided by the fact that Manley had to throw when the Pack got a big lead. Manley completed seven of his first nine passes early in the game when the game was still relatively close but was just 12-of-30 after the Pack took a 17-0 lead.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B
Anthony Martinez converted a 36-yard field goal and Rishard Mathews had a couple nice punt returns of 14 yards each. Wooten also had an impressive 28-yard kickoff return that he almost busted open. But Courtney Randall was caught for holding on one kickoff return and Mathews fumbled the ball away on another punt return that, fortunately, teammate Doyle Miller recovered. You can get away with little mistakes like that against New Mexico State. Boise State, though, is a different matter.
The Wolf Pack handled this game perfectly. They didn’t let Kaepernick, who was just 51 yards away from another 1,000-yard rushing season, run all over the place, risking injury just six days before the biggest game of his life. The Pack simply had Kaepernick take the snap, turn around and hand off most of the afternoon. And that is all you really have to do against New Mexico State. Head coach Chris Ault also did the right thing by pulling most of the starters early in the fourth quarter, though he probably should have done it even earlier (after Taua scored for a 38-6 lead with 4:44 to play in the third quarter). On defense, the Pack was sound and they turned the dogs loose when it was obvious New Mexico State had to throw. The Pack didn’t do anything fancy against the Aggies but this wasn’t a game that called for anything fancy.