Ault vows that Nevada will improve
RENO – With the sting of the worst win-loss record in his 20 years at University of Nevada, head football coach Chris Ault vowed that things will get better.
The Wolf Pack entered the season only 12 seniors and a starting defense made up of seven and sometimes eight underclassmen. That’s not an ingredient for success. Nevada managed only a 5-7 record, including a 3-5 record in Western Athletic Conference action.
“I felt we’d find a way to have a winning season, I really did,” Ault said recently. “I knew what kind of athlete we had; knew we were short in some areas.
“Las Vegas and SMU were winnable games. This team found a way, in particular on the road, to not play well; to give games away.”
And, if you can’t win on the road, you won’t ever be more than a .500 team. Nevada, against weak opposition, was 5-1 at Mackay Stadium, beating Sac State, Buffalo, Rice, San Jose State and Tulsa. The Wolf Pack was 0-6 in away games, and most of the losses weren’t even close.
Today is the first official day of JC signings for players that either graduated at mid-year or were qualifiers out of high school. Ault said he plans to sign between six and eight JC players today. The rest of the recruiting class will be announced in the spring.
Ault said his first priority is repairing a defense that showed vulnerability in all three areas – line, linebackers and defensive backs. Depth was an issue throughout the season, especially on the defensive line and at cornerback.
“We were hanging on by a thread this year,” Ault said. “Obviously, our linebackers and secondary got exposed regularly. We’re going to be moving some people (around).
“Jeremy (Engstrom) played OK for a freshman; he made an impact. We only have six athletes and four of them are on defense that would pass the current recruiting standards.”
Ault said the defense needs bigger and quicker defensive linemen. Ault said that senior defensive tackle Chris Barry and junior defensive end J.J. Milan were the only guys up front that played consistently throughout the year. The rest of the defensive front played up and down, and didn’t do a good job of stopping the run. Guys like Craig Bailey and Charles Wilson will need to bulk up, get quicker and do a better job next year.
Ault said the defensive front was a disappointment in the sense that it was the most experienced group on that side of the ball. Barry, Craig Bailey, Milan and P.J. Hoeper have all been in the program and have been starters at some point.
Cornerback Paul Pratt’s injured ankle is healing, and he should be ready by the fall. Strong safety Nick Hawthrone, a part-time starter, is back along with senior cornerback Kevin Stanley. Also returning are Roderick Stallings and Shannon Sevor, both of whom saw extensive playing time a year ago. Keone Kauo is the only hit the defensive backfield took last season. Ault will be looking for a lockdown corner, a guy that can handle man-to-man coverage on the outside.
Besides Engstrom, Roosevelt Cooks, Nick Fuhr, Scott Garrison, Jamaal Jackson and Johns Simpson will be back. Kevin Porter hurt his knee late in the season, and will miss all of next year. Ault will be looking for some quicker, rangier guys to fill spots.
Offensively, the line took the biggest hit. Gone are tackle Harvey Dahl, guard Chris Hines and guard John Tennert. Ault said he is looking for JC transfers that can step right in and gain starting roles.
Of the holdovers, Jimmy Wadhams, George Yarno and Thomas Stevens return at center and Adam Keifer returns at tackle. Barrett Reznick and redshirt freshman Dominic Green are guys that will need to step up and take on bigger roles next year. Kyle Robertson, a reserve guard, is having off-season shoulder surgery. He will miss spring ball, but should be back sometime during the summer. Center Kyle Gosselin, who missed all of last season with an injury, returned to practice late last year but Ault isn’t sure how much help he will be.
At quarterback, Jeff Rowe made tremendous strides last year, finishing with more 2,500 yards passing. Brendan Gaskins, who has been on a two-year mission, will probably red shirt his first season barring injury to Rowe or back-up Travis Moore.
Chance Kretschmer has used up his eligibility, and even if he petitions for a sixth year, it’s unlikely he would get it. B.J. Mitchell and Drew Robinson are back, and kick-returner-wide receiver Jarred Belser, JC transfer Robert Hubbard and redshirt freshmen Tommy Haug will be expected to pick up the slack.
“He (Chance) was hurt a lot of the time this year,” Ault said. “We really didn’t have any consistency running the ball. We’re looking for some speed (in the backfield). Don’t be surprised if Ault goes to both the high school and JC ranks to fill holes at this position.”
At wide receiver, Caleb Spencer, Alex Rosenblum, Nichiren Flowers and Trevor Brackett. The only loss was Talib Wise, who saw action at running back and wide receiver. All four returnees are possession receivers, and make no mistake about it, Ault wants somebody who can stretch a defense. He will likely go the JC route for receivers. Spencer and Flowers had nice years, and Ault hopes through conditioning they can add some quickness.
One player who will make an impact next year is freshman Mike McCoy from Colfax High, who red shirted last season. McCoy arguably has the best hands on the team, but he too is a possession receiver.
Damon Fine has graduated, but punter Justin Bergendahl returns. The placekicking job will be up for grabs between red shirt freshman Brett Jaekle from Las Vegas or anybody else that Ault lures to Nevada.
Contact Darrell Moody at email@example.com or 881-1281.