Butler coming on at right time for Nevada | NevadaAppeal.com

Butler coming on at right time for Nevada

Appeal Sports Writer

RENO – After a slow start, Nevada linebacker Ezra Butler is starting to live up to the expectations placed on him after a 7 1/2-sack and 71-tackle season in 2006.

Butler, who was the WAC’s Defensive Player of the Week after garnering six tackles and returning an interception for a score in last week’s 37-21 win over Idaho, has strung together back-to-back games for the first time this season.

“I started slow,” Butler admitted. “To finally get some recognition is good.”

And, Nevada coach Chris Ault said it’s well deserved.

“He’s played well the last couple of ballgames, he really has,” Ault said. “We’re pleased for him (getting the award). He is playing well. He is starting to reach his own standards.

“With our defense, we really need him. We need him to produce and be a productive player that he’s been the last couple of weeks.”

Nevada’s defense struggled the first six weeks of the season, partially because of lack of execution and injuries which took away key performers like Erics Clark and Jon Amaya. Standout linebacker Josh Mauga was lost for the season during the Utah State game.

The defensive unit played solid football in the second half against Utah State and the entire game against Idaho. In each game, Nevada has yielded less than 250 yards total offense.

“We’re using him as much as we can,” defensive coordinator Ken Wilson said. “Without Josh (Mauga) and Jon (Amaya) he’s been our go-to guy. He’s a great player, who is stepping up at the right time for us to make big plays.”

And, Butler is quick to point out that the defense, while getting better, has a ways to go.

“I don’t think we are there yet,” he said. “We’re not confident in the (new) scheme yet. We’ll be there soon.”

Butler was referring to the Pack’s change in defensive philosophy. Nevada started the season as a 3-4 base team, and now Nevada is almost exclusively a 4-3 team with the smallish, yet strong Nick Fuhr manning a defensive end slot in the base defense.

Butler has never played outside linebacker in a 4-3. In past seasons, he might line up as a defensive end in passing situations, giving the team a 4-3 look.

“I’m not coming off the edge as much,” Butler said after Nevada’s win on Saturday. “In the 3-4 scheme, we’re rushing four every play. There is a lot of disguising.”

Ault elaborated on the new scheme and Butler’s new responsibilities.

“Mostly, in the scheme we’re trying to play, it deals with pass drops,” Ault said. “A lot of things we’re doing with him complement what we were doing in the other schemes. He has different reads and a little more help depending on the formation.”

• Last weekend’s win was a big one for Nevada, and special teams played a big role.

Five players wore the coveted black shirts as a reward for stellar play on kickoff and punt units.

Wide receivers Andy McIntosh and Alex Rosenblum, running back Vai Taua and defensive backs Kevin Grimes and Cameron Bayne were the recipients.

• New Mexico State quarterback Chase Holbrook, who was knocked out of the game against Hawaii last Saturday, will play against Nevada on Saturday.

“I feel good,” he said during a conference call on Tuesday afternoon. “I took a shot to the face, but I am back now and I feel good.

“Its hard to be 100 percent during this time of the season, but I am as close as you can get.”

Holbrook & Co. managed just 13 points against Hawaii’s defense, which showed some new looks that NMSU coach Hal Mumme admitted he’d never seen before.

One of the wrinkles Hawaii used was dropping a defensive end underneath a receiver in the red zone.