Defense ahead of offense in scrimmage
Appeal Sports Writer
RENO – In baseball, pitchers are usually ahead of the hitters during spring training.
It’s the same in football, where the defense usually holds its own against the offense in the early stages of fall camp.
The defense allowed three scores in Saturday’s 106-play scrimmage at Mackay Stadium, and generally made the Wolf Pack’s high-powered offense work for everything it got.
The unit, led by Ezra Butler, who was credited with five sacks, intercepted a pass and recovered a fumble. De’Angelo Wilson intercepted a pass early in the day and returned it approximately 70 yards.
“I thought the defense played pretty well,” Nevada coach Chris Ault said. “They sustained their effort and got after it. They got around the ball. Even when they gave up a big play, they didn’t let down.”
Ault was referring to the second series when Jeff Rowe completed a 52-yard pass to Kyle Sammons down to the defense’s 11-yard line. After a penalty and short pass, Wilson stepped in front of a Rowe pass in the end zone and almost took it back the distance. Andy McIntosh saved the possible touchdown, catching up to Wilson from behind.
On the offensive side of the ball, Ault liked the play of quarterbacks Travis Moore and Nick Graziano, and running back Robert Hubbard. He was less impressed with the overall play of the offensive line.
Unofficially, Graziano completed 8 of 11 passes for 129 yards and two scores, one each to Marko Mitchell and Arthur King. Moore was 3-for-6 passing for 34 yards.
“Graziano did very well,” Ault said. “You are talking about a guy that missed all spring (thumb injury, and he could only hand off or run the ball). He was very consistent.”
Ault was a little concerned with senior Rowe’s performance. Rowe completed 6 of 13 for 103 yards and a score. Even Rowe admitted it wasn’t the best of performances.
“We were sluggish,” Rowe said. “It was the first scrimmage. The defense, they’re always ahead of us. That’s no excuse though.”
“The first couple of series’ I was a little surprised,” Ault said. “He got out of sync early. He has got to stay within the system (better).”
Hubbard, like the rest of the offense got off to a slow start. He played the first two possessions, carrying twice for 5 yards. On the last possession of the scrimmage, he carried six times for 42 yards, and looked like the Hubbard of 2005.
Ault said the line play and wide receiver play was inconsistent at times, leading to a slow start early on, and the fact that the defense racked up five sacks.
“The wide receivers did an average job,” Ault said. “They weren’t consistent.”
Rocco Bene caught three passes for 50 yards, Marko Mitchell four for 47 and Sammons two for 58, including the aforementioned 52-yarder. Caleb Spencer caught just one pass for 15 yards and had an uncharacteristic drop late in the scrimmage that even he couldn’t believe.
Ault felt the linemen missed too many assignments.
“Our pass protection (today) was poor,” Ault said. “Our work on pass protection during the week was good.”
* Sophomore receiver Marko Mitchell caught two of Nevada’s three TD passes. In both instances, he used his lanky 6-foot-4 frame to pull in lob passes in the corner of the end zone. No doubt, he will be a lethal weapon whenever Nevada gets the ball inside the red zone.
* The scrimmage also marked the debut of four freshman running backs – Vai Taua, Brandon Fragger, Courtney Randall and Malcom Tinson.
Taua was the most impressive, carrying five times for 28 yards. Fragger, who had a nifty run called back on a penalty, rushed three times for 17 yards. Tinson and Randall struggled during their time on the field.
“They were very physical,” said Jim Mastro, who coaches the running backs. “There were no mental mistakes. Everything we put in this last week they handled.”
Mastro said he would have to review film before making any other comments on his young runners. Ault said during the recent Media Day that one of his freshman could and may have to contribute this season.
• With a combined 64 freshmen and sophomores, many of whom are expected to play this year, Saturday’s 106-play scrimmage gave the coaches plenty of tape to review today.
“It gives us a chance to see where they are at,” Ault said.
TALE OF THE TAPE
Passing leader: Nick Grazaino 8-11 129 yards 2 TDs
Rushing Leader: Robert Hubbard 12 carries, 65 yards
Receiving Leader: Marko Mitchell 4 catches, 47 yards, 2 TDs