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Grading the Wolf Pack: Nevada offense needs to regain swagger

By Joe Santoro For the Nevada Appeal
Nevada offensive lineman Aaron Frost (65) tries to keep Hawaii defensive lineman Zach Ritner (97) from pulling down Nevada running back Toa Taua (35) during an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 28, 2020, in Honolulu. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)

Grading the Nevada Wolf Pack’s 24-21 loss to the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors last Saturday at Aloha Stadium . . .

QUARTERBACK: B

What else did you want Carson Strong to do with just 25 passes? The sophomore was an efficient 20-of-25 for 168 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. The 25 passes are the fewest he has ever attempted in his career when he has played more than three quarters. He had 14 against Hawaii last year but was benched at halftime and also had 25 at Oregon last year before getting removed late in the third quarter. The Air Raid lost its nerve last Saturday. And it’s not like the Pack had no success throwing the ball at Hawaii. Strong was 14-of-15 for 100 yards over the second and third quarters. His only mistakes on Saturday were not changing the play more often to make sure Romeo Doubs got the ball in his hands. Strong’s longest completion against Hawaii was just 26 yards. Only twice in Strong’s Pack career has his longest completion of the day been shorter (21 against Hawaii last year and 23 against Oregon last year). The Pack has a Maserati at quarterback and wide receiver and left one in the garage and only drove the other around the block observing the speed limit on Saturday. 



RUNNING BACKS: A +

Well, we already knew that Toa Taua and Devonte Lee could run the ball. So Saturday night was no surprise. We are surprised they got such an extended chance to show us. Taua had 131 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries and Lee had 81 yards on 14 carries. Those many carries are nice and Taua and Lee are certainly talented. But that should not happen in a game the Pack trailed for most of the night. The 36 rushing attempts and 208 yards are Pack highs for this season. Again, we ask why. This wasn’t a blowout against New Mexico. The Pack was trailing for most of the game. But we really can’t complain ever again that the Pack isn’t running the ball enough. It resulted, after all, in a loss. 



RECEIVERS: B 

Wherefore art thou was Romeo? The junior wide receiver had his worst game of the year, catching just one pass for 10 yards. Doubs had as many false start penalties as catches, meaning he was only slightly more productive than he would have been had he missed the game entirely. But it wasn’t all his fault. The Rainbow Warriors showed Doubs double coverage and, well, the Pack played into the strategy by hardly ever throwing the ball his way. Cole Turner had six catches for 48 yards but 19 came on one play. Marquise Stovall had 31 yards on four catches but 18 came on one play and Tory Horton had 46 on three, but 26 came on one grab. Turner (4 yards) and Horton (18) had touchdown catches and did what they normally do. But Justin Lockhart (no catches) and Doubs, who had 62 catches for 996 yards and 10 touchdowns between them over the first five games, combined for just one catch for 10 yards. Last week we asked “Where would the Wolf Pack be without Romeo Doubs?” We got the answer on Saturday. They were sitting on a plane flying over the Pacific on Thanksgiving weekend wondering just what the heck happened to their perfect season.

OFFENSIVE LINE:  A + 

All season long head coach Jay Norvell has been telling us that the offensive line is the most improved area of this Pack team this year. Well, to be honest, we didn’t really see much proof of that over the first four games. The last two games, though, the offensive front has indeed been the Pack’s best group. The running game chewed up Hawaii to the tune of 5.8 yards a carry, making sure that Taua and Lee at least got back to the line of scrimmage on each of their 34 carries. Strong was also only sacked once all game long and was rarely hurried in the pocket. Aaron Frost was called for a personal foul, an unidentified lineman was illegally downfield on one pass play and there was one sack but it was about as clean a performance as an offensive line could have.

DEFENSIVE LINE: B

Dom Peterson, the heart and soul of the Pack defense, played less than a half because of an ankle injury. Peterson, though, was a force when he was on the field with three tackles and was in on a sack. He made the tackle on Hawaii’s first two plays. Sam Hammond also had a solid game with six tackles and 1.5 sacks. Amir Johnson had three tackles, including one to stop Hawaii QB Chevan Cordeiro on a 2-yard run. Zak Mahannah also had three tackles, stopping running back Miles Reed after just a yard and teaming with linebacker Daiyan Henley to stop Cordero for no gain. Kam Toomer had a couple tackles. Christopher Love, though, was called for a personal foul, a penalty that led to Hawaii’s second touchdown and a 17-7 lead. The front, though, played reasonably well, especially with Peterson missing.

LINEBACKERS: B

Lawson Hall is doing all he can. The senior was outstanding once again against Hawaii with 10 tackles (29 in last three games). He also had 1.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage, teaming with Henley and defensive back Mikael Bradford to stop Hawaii running back Miles Reed for no gain on two runs and stuffing (with help from Henley) wide receiver Calvin Turner for a two-yard loss. Henley, who plays his heart out, led the Pack with 11 tackles. Trevor Price chipped in with three. Lamin Touray, though, had no tackles and was called for a critical personal foul that led to Hawaii’s first touchdown. One of the most embarrassing plays of the day for the entire Pack defense, and especially the linebackers, however, was when quarterback Chevan Cordeiro scrambled for a 25-yard run on a 3rd-and-15 play from his 35-yard line in the second quarter, a drive that ended in a touchdown.

SECONDARY: C –

The Wolf Pack secondary simply didn’t make enough big plays. It wasn’t all the fault of the secondary but Hawaii QB Chevan Cordeiro completed 26-of-32 passes for 246 yards. The Rainbow Warriors also were 10-of-15 on third and fourth down and had 17 first downs through the air. Hawaii wide receiver Calvin Turner caught 10 passes, including a crucial grab for nine yards on a 4th-and-6 play from the Pack 26 late in the fourth quarter that all but sealed the Pack’s fate. Jaden Dedman was also called for pass interference on the same drive that all but ended the game. The Pack secondary didn’t knock down any of Cordeiro’s passes.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B

Brandon Talton did not attempt a field goal for just the second time in his 19-game Pack career. That’s certainly not his fault. The biggest error on special teams was allowing Hawaii’s Calvin Turner to return a kickoff 47 yards to the Pack 46-yard line with 5:24 left. It was the only kickoff of the game by Julian Diaz (out of four) that didn’t go into the end zone for a touchback. Hawaii then killed the final 5:24 to win the game. Carson Strong did have a nice punt that pinned Hawaii at its own 1-yard line in the third quarter but even that blew up in the Pack’s  face as Hawaii proceeded to go 99 yards for a touchdown. Christian Swint did trap Hawaii’s Dior Scott for a 2-yard loss on a punt return late in the first quarter and Diaz did have a 50-yard punt to the Hawaii 8-yard line. Diaz’s other punt, however, went 44 yards and into the end zone for a touchback when it should have been dropped inside the 20-yard line.

COACHING: C

Hawaii coach Todd Graham simply out coached Jay Norvell, his former wide receivers coach. Graham, the Sun Devils head coach in 2016 when Norvell coached the wide receivers, made the decision to take Romeo Doubs out of the game and, well, it worked to perfection. Norvell and Pack offensive coordinator Matt Mumme never adjusted. Norvell and Mumme seemed to turn into Chris Ault in the 1970s and 1980s with Frank Hawkins, Charvez Foger, Anthony Corley and Lucius Floyd. The Pack seemed afraid to throw the ball to Doubs. Graham’s strategy simply shouldn’t have worked that easily, not with players as talented as Doubs and Strong. Graham, though, simply double-teamed Doubs and Norvell and Mumme fell willingly into the trap. Graham didn’t even know how to pronunce “Doubs,” calling him “Doobs” three times in his postgame press conference on Saturday. All he knew was that he couldn’t let Doubs beat him. Graham, for one day at least, knew more about the Pack offense than the Pack head coach and offensive coordinator. 

OVERALL: C

I guess we should have seen this coming. The Pack offense has been merely good and not spectacular now for three games in a row, never scoring more than 27 points. They barely beat a bad New Mexico team 27-20 and survived a scare against San Diego State (26-21), a team that basically has no offense, especially on a day when its quarterback (Lucas Johnson) and running back (Greg Bell) were hobbled by ankle injuries. Norvell also nearly threw that San Diego State game away by making Strong throw a pass from the shadow of his own end zone in the final minutes with a five-point lead. It was intercepted. Maybe that errant pass made Norvell and Mumme gun-shy, leading to the decision to ignore Doubs all day at Hawaii. This Pack team needs to get its swagger and confidence back on offense and everything will be just fine. Norvell is always insisting that he wants his playmakers to make plays. Well, he forgot about his best playmaker on Saturday.