Grading the Wolf Pack: Pack turns in some memorable performances against Boise
For the Nevada Appeal
RENO – Grading the Nevada Wolf Pack football team after a 34-31 overtime victory over the Boise State Broncos Friday night at Mackay Stadium …
Colin Kaepernick beat the Broncos with his legs, his arm, his intelligence and his leadership. The senior made a perfect throw to Rishard Matthews for a 7-yard touchdown pass that sent the game into overtime. And he started the Pack comeback with an unbelievable 18-yard touchdown run that few quarterbacks in the country could even dream of making. Kaepernick completed 19-of-35 passes for 259 yard and rushed 10 times for 45 yards. He’s had better nights according to the numbers. But this is the night he will remember for the rest of his life.
RUNNING BACK: A+
You could argue that this was Vai Taua’s greatest game in his remarkable Wolf Pack career.
Like Kaepernick, he’s had much bigger nights on the stat sheet. But his 131 yards on 32 grueling carries against one of the toughest run defenses in the nation on Friday has to be Taua’s shining moment.
If you want to know what the phrase “Nevada Back” actually means, watch a film of Taua against Boise. He ran for 4.1 yards a carry against a defense that was allowing opponents just 2.2 yards a carry all year. Taua, who also caught two key passes for 24 yards, carried the ball nearly three dozen times against a tough, physical defense and he got back to at least the line of scrimmage on 29 of them, never losing more than a yard on any carry.
Taua’s 5-yard TD run right before the half was huge. It gave the Pack hope and showed everyone that the Pack could compete against this Bronco defense. With the game, the season and the careers of all of the seniors on the line in the second half, Taua was at his best, carrying the ball 23 times for 105 yards.
OFFENSIVE LINE: A+
Nobody in the country does what they do better than this Wolf Pack offensive line.
The Wolf Pack put the biggest game in the history of the program squarely on their broad backs, told them to go out and win the game and that’s exactly what they did.
The Pack ran the ball 52 times for 269 yards and three touchdowns. Nobody does that against Boise State. Kaepernick threw the ball 35 times and was sacked just twice, both in the first half. Neither one of those sacks came in the second half when Kaepernick had to throw 22 passes to pull off the upset.
The Wolf Pack has had a lot of great receivers down through the years turn in amazing performances. None of them, though, ever had a bigger, more meaningful night than Rishard Matthews on Friday night.
Matthews shredded the Boise secondary (in particular senior cornerback Brandyn Thompson) all night long. He caught 10 passes for 172 yards and hauled in one of the most clutch catches in school history on his 7-yard touchdown in the left corner of the end zone with 13 seconds to play in regulation.
Matthews also turned in one of the more remarkable runs in school history on an end-round for a 44-yard touchdown, turning a possible busted play into one of the more memorable plays in Pack football history. Tight end Virgil Green caught just one pass but his blocking was instrumental in the victory.
DEFENSIVE LINE: C+
Ryan Coulson had the game of his career with 10 tackles, one for a loss and also forced a fumble. Coulson, a senior, will go down in Pack history as one of the most underrated Pack defensive linemen in history. Dontay Moch gets all of the credit (and deservedly so) but Moch was able to do what he did in his career in large part because Coulson did most of the dirty work the last two years.
Boise did a very nice job of taking Moch out of the game on Friday. They seemed determined not to let Moch get to quarterback Kellen Moore and they succeeded. Moch had just two assisted tackles, though he was in on a sack with Coulson. Brett Roy had four tackles.
James-Michael Johnson had six tackles, two for a loss and forced a fumble. Kevin Grimes also had six tackles and Albert Rosette came off the bench to get three stops. Marlon Johnson had three tackles. But, again, it was a tough night for the Pack linebackers as Boise running back Doug Martin ran for 152 yards on 24 carries and also caught three passes for 78 yards, including a 79-yard touchdown on a screen pass late in the fourth quarter.
The Wolf Pack secondary needs to send an early Christmas present to Boise kicker Kyle Brotzman for missing an easy chip-shot field goal at the end of regulation. The Pack secondary nearly gave the game away, allowing Boise receiver Titus Young to get deep for a 53-yard catch down the middle to the Pack 9-yard line with two seconds to play. There is simply no excuse for allowing a receiver to get behind you at that moment in the game.
Until that play, though, the Pack secondary did a decent job of not allowing Young and Austin Pettis to get behind them. Young did catch a 26-yard touchdown in the second quarter but credit Moore for making a perfect throw rather than poor coverage by the Pack. Young and Pettis combined for 11 catches for 194 yards and one touchdown. They’ve had much bigger nights against other teams. The secondary, though, also has to take some of the blame for Martin’s 79-yard catch and run late in the fourth quarter. Somebody needed to step up and make a tackle on that play.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A-
The Wolf Pack won this game for a lot of reasons. But a huge reason was that red-shirt freshman kicker Anthony Martinez outplayed Boise senior kicker Brotzman with the game on the line. Martinez’s 34-yard field goal in overtime won the game.
Martinez, who stands all of 5-foot-6, also nailed a 23-yarder under pressure to tie the game at 24-24 with five minutes to play after getting a 35-yarder blocked in the third quarter.
Whenever a field goal gets blocked, well, it’s not a perfect night for the special teams.
It wasn’t a perfect night for the Pack coaches despite the perfect outcome. Once again, the Pack came out flat and a little jittery against Boise State, falling behind 24-7. And head coach Chris Ault played it close to the vest early in the game electing to punt twice in the first half on 4th-and-short. He wouldn’t have punted in those situations against San Jose State and Utah State. Against Boise State, though, it looked like he was going conservative at a time when Boise’s offense was threatening to put the game away. It also must be noted that the Pack somehow allowed 20 seconds to slip off the clock in the final seconds of regulation as everyone on the field and on the Pack sideline simply stood there doing nothing. That simply cannot happen.
And, to be honest, the defense really didn’t play all that well all night long. Boise had 498 yards of offense and averaged 8.1 yards on each one of their 61 plays.
How Boise only scored 31 points will forever be a mystery especially since the Pack didn’t even force one turnover. But this was just the Pack’s night, a dozen years of frustration ending in one magical evening on a wild set of circumstances that really can’t be explained. Anytime a team comes back from 17 points down in the second half, you have to give the coaching staff tremendous credit for not panicking, for sticking to the game plan and for motivating a bunch of kids to stay the course. The offensive game plan was as good as it gets. The Pack stuck to their guns, giving Taua the ball repeatedly.
The Pack coaches also recognized the game’s biggest mismatch (Matthews on Thompson in single coverage all night long) and exploited it from the opening kickoff. Ault also out-tricked the master of tricks (Boise head coach Chris Petersen) with four running plays by receivers, one of which (Matthews’ 44-yard TD run) that might have been the play of the game. Ault called a brilliant game on offense.