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Grading the Wolf Pack: Nevada gets away with one vs. New Mexico

By Joe Santoro For the Nevada Appeal
Nevada defensive back Tyson Williams (6) celebrates after making an interception against New Mexico during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020, in Las Vegas.
AP Photo/John Locher

Grading the Nevada Wolf Pack’s 27-20 victory over the New Mexico Lobos on Saturday in Las Vegas:

QUARTERBACK: A

Carson Strong wasn’t as efficient as he has been this season but the sophomore did complete 24-of-38 passes for 336 yards and three touchdowns. He was merely very good instead of ridiculously outstanding against the Lobos. All three of Strong’s touchdowns went to wide receiver Romeo Doubs for the second game in a row. The two have hooked up for six of the Wolf Pack’s last seven touchdowns over the last two games. Strong was also intercepted for the first time this season, snapping a streak of 299 passes in a row without an interception. But the Wolf Pack is 4-0 right now because Strong has delivered in a huge way in all four games when the Pack has needed him the most and that just might continue through the 2022 season.

RUNNING BACKS: C

The Pack running game had little to do with this victory. Toa Taua did have 62 yards on 15 carries but the junior carried the ball on just two of the Pack’s first 22 plays and had just six carries at halftime. His final numbers were inflated by 24 yards on two carries with under a minute to go. Taua had more than half his yards (34) for the game on just four carries in the fourth quarter. Devonte Lee had three yards on four carries. These running backs could contribute a whole lot more if only the Pack would give them the ball.

RECEIVERS: A

Doubs has been unstoppable this season. The junior caught five passes for 172 yards and three touchdowns and has now caught 31 passes for 645 yards and eight scores this year. He is on pace to break the Pack’s single-season record for receiving touchdowns (17 by Bryan Reeves in 1993) if the Pack extends its season beyond the regular season (eight games). Six of his last 11 catches have ended in the end zone. Strong’s last six touchdown passes have all been to Doubs. Yes, the Pack is relying on Doubs an awful lot. But it’s working to perfection so why fix something that isn’t broken? But that also doesn’t mean that the other Pack receivers aren’t contributing. Cole Turner caught six passes for 72 yards against New Mexico and Melquan Stovall had five catches for 55 yards.

OFFENSIVE LINE:  C

Wolf Pack running backs had just 19 carries and nine of them were for two or fewer yards. The Pack also gave up two sacks and has now allowed two or more sacks in all four games this season (12 on the year). Guard Jermaine Ledbetter was called for a false start, right tackle Aaron Frost was whistled for a personal foul and a hold and Adam Weynand was called for a false start and a hold. The good news is that the line has given Strong enough time on most occasions to throw deep to Doubs for touchdowns.

DEFENSIVE LINE: B

Dom Peterson had a solid game with eight tackles and a sack and Sam Hammond had four tackles and teamed with Zak Mahannah on another sack. Peterson, though, was called for a personal foul. Kam Toomer had four tackles. New Mexico running back Bobby Cole (17 carries, 90 yards) didn’t have many problems getting through the Pack front.

LINEBACKERS: B+

Lawson Hall was active with 10 tackles, two behind the line of scrimmage. It was the first time he has turned in double-digit tackles this season. Daiyan Henley had eight tackles and Lamin Touray had four, including one for an eight-yard loss on Lobos quarterback Trae Hall. This was likely the best performance of the year for the Pack linebackers.

SECONDARY: A

Safety Tyson Williams was outstanding with 11 tackles and an interception. The 11 tackles are the most by a Pack defender this year. It has helped the Wolf Pack secondary this year that they have faced two backup quarterbacks (Wyoming’s Levi Williams and New Mexico’s Trae Hall) and two that have struggled mightily (Utah State’s Jason Shelley and UNLV’s Max Gilliam). But the Pack has not made any of them stars. The good news is that there aren’t any outstanding quarterbacks in the Mountain West this season not named Carson Strong.  Jaden Dedman might have turned in the defensive play of the game, stopping New Mexico’s Bryson Carroll for an eight-yard loss on a 4th-and-1 run from the Pack 32 on the last play of the third quarter. Five (Williams, Dedman, JoJuan Claiborne, Emany Johnson, Christian Swint) of the Pack’s top eight tacklers against New Mexico were defensive backs.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B-

Brandon Talton made his two field goal attempts (28, 34 yards) and is now 8-for-8 this year. Talton has made his last 14 field goal tries in a row dating back to the UNLV game a year ago. Matt Freem had another solid day, averaging 49 yards on three punts. But there were quite a few special teams mistakes that could have spelled disaster for the Pack. Romeo Doubs fumbled a punt return and Jamaal Bell fumbled a kickoff return (the Pack luckily recovered both). New Mexico also caught the Pack by surprise and executed an onside kick. Christian Swint was off-side on a kickoff return and the Pack allowed New Mexico’s Nathaniel Jones to gain 34 yards on a kickoff return late in the fourth quarter, setting up the Lobos’ final score. Freshman linebacker Peter Montini, though, had two huge plays on special teams, recovering Doubs’ punt return fumble and teaming with Emany Johnson to trap New Mexico’s Chad Alexander on a 5-yard kickoff return.

COACHING: B

Can a team live on throwing bombs to Romeo Doubs alone? Apparently so. The Wolf Pack is falling in love with sending Doubs deep and, well, so far so good. The game plan is not complicated but the opposition simply cannot cover Doubs. The Pack, though, started out slow and sluggishly for the second week in a row (9-0 to Utah State and 10-0 to New Mexico). It hasn’t been a problem because the opposition has been awful but it is a trend that likely needs to end soon. A strange coaching decision to go for a 4th-and-6 (Strong was sacked) at the New Mexico 41-yard line on the Pack’s second drive of the game (in a 0-0 tie) helped spur New Mexico to its first 10 points. We saw the same thing a week earlier against Utah State, when the Pack went for a 4th-and-2 at their own 43 (they didn’t make it) on their first drive of the game. Norvell keeps taking unnecessary risks offensively early in games, putting his always-fragile defense in difficult decisions. The Pack also continues to abandon its running game too soon. Again, that doesn’t hurt you against bad teams and as long as Doubs keeps catching bombs for touchdowns. But, odds are, that formula might not work as well against teams than can walk and chew gum at the same time.

OVERALL: B

The Pack got away with one against New Mexico. The Lobos, who have had to practice out of state this year because of a coronavirus outbreak near Albuquerque, are not a good football team (like most teams in the Mountain West this year). The Lobos also had to play the game with their backup quarterback. The Lobos are also spending the season in a hotel and trying to practice and play games in strange surroundings. The Pack should have won this game by three touchdowns. But every team is under strange circumstances this year, including the Pack. So it is not a sin to come out flat especially after a 10-day layoff (the Pack last played on Nov. 5) against a team you should dominate. Thank goodness for the Strong-to-Doubs traveling touchdown show. It has certainly covered up a lot of Pack sins so far this year.