Joe Santoro: Nevada Wolf Pack loses by taking Hawaii’s bait
Never was a story of more woe than this of Carson and his Romeo.
The Hawaii Rainbow Warriors made sure last Saturday night that the parting of a quarterback and his favorite wide receiver would be such sweet sorrow for the Nevada Wolf Pack.
The Wolf Pack’s stunning 24-21 loss to the Rainbow Warriors didn’t literally end in suicide unless, of course, you are talking about Nevada’s dearly departed perfect season. But, like the story of Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers, it certainly ended in a needless tragedy.
Hawaii handed Pack wide receiver Romeo Doubs a bottle of poison in the form of double coverage and supplied quarterback Carson Strong a sharp dagger in the form of seemingly wide open running lanes. And the ill-fated dynamic duo, with the help of their suddenly bewildered coaching staff, did the rest.
“Our game plan was to take ‘Doobs’ out of it,” said Hawaii head coach Todd Graham, unknowingly mispronouncing Doubs’ last name. “In doing that we knew they were going to have some running yards. But every time they ran the ball we thought it was a good thing.”
The Wolf Pack ran the ball a season-high 36 times. Strong threw exactly one pass toward Doubs. That was a lot of good stuff for the Rainbow Warriors.
Yes, sure, Graham doesn’t even know how to pronounce Romeo’s last name. But somehow he knew one important thing, that the Pack would willingly take the poison he offered and drain the life out of its own offense. The Pack sacrificed Doubs to the volcano gods and proceeded to produce a season-low 21 points, equaling its season low of 376 yards.
Hawaii was a struggling team that had lost three of its previous four games while allowing 34.5 points a game. So it’s not a surprise that they didn’t really believe their plan would work so well.
“We prepared for (Nevada’s) pass the whole week,” said Hawaii sophomore linebacker Darius Muasau, who had 14 tackles and a sack. “It was a surprise to us that they wanted to run the ball.”
Doubs’ one catch was for 10 yards and a first down at the Hawaii 48-yard line in the third quarter. It was the first pass thrown his way all game long. And it would be the last.
“I don’t know how many catches Seven (Doobs’ number) had,” said Graham, who knew exactly how many catches the Receiver Formerly Known as Doubs had. “He might have had one.”
Graham was a magician on Saturday. Can you cover a great receiver with mirrors? Well, the Rainbow Warriors did. The Pack acted as if all 11 Rainbow Warriors on defense were following Doubs around Aloha Stadium.
“It was a very complicated game plan,” said Graham, a career defensive coach. “Our guys are smart, very intelligent.”
It wasn’t all that complicated. The Rainbow Warriors had a cornerback in Doubs’ face all night and had a safety follow him around the field.
But Graham knew he had to do something. The Rainbow Warriors coach saw film of the Pack’s first five games and realized that Mr. “Doobs” was a destructive volcano about to erupt on Honolulu. He simply refused to allow that to happen to his young football team.
Graham singled out Hawaii cornerback Cortez Davis and safety Kai Kaneshiro for doing the heavy lifting against Doubs.
“Cortez Davis was masterful,” Graham said. “He played seven different techniques on ‘Doobs.’”
The Pack acted as if seven cornerbacks were in Doubs’ face on every play. The Pack had Strong, the best arm in the Mountain West, toss just 25 passes against Hawaii. Cole Turner saw nine of the passes come his way. Marquise Stoval had five targets. Another five Strong passes went to running backs Toa Taua and Devonte Lee. Even Jamaal Bell, Tory Horton and Will Barnard combined for five targets.
One of the best wide receivers on the west coast got one target. It was like going to a Beatles concert in the 1960s and having Ringo sing lead on every song.
That’s because Norvell and offensive coordinator Matt Mumme, who think running the ball is sort of like wearing your dad’s tuxedo to your own wedding, for some reason decided to take Graham’s bait and run the ball. The Pack’s 36-25 run-to-pass ratio was akin to Norvell and Mumme wearing Chris Ault’s 1970s and 80s tuxedo.
Keep in mind that the pass-happy Norvell and Mumme ran the ball just 128 times and threw it 219 times over the first five games. That sort of ratio won five games in a row. Doubs averaged seven catches, 156 yards and nearly two touchdowns over the Pack’s five victories to start the year. Graham’s defense, though, forced Doubs to look longingly at the end zone like a surfer stranded on an Oahu beach without his board.
“The goal was to win the game and we felt we had a plan,” Norvell said.
The Pack plan, apparently, was to forget Doubs was on the field. Norvell and Mumme were clearly out-coached by Graham and his staff. Graham stole their wallet out of their back pockets with his right hand while slipping a Hawaiian lei over their necks with his left hand. Some tourists simply lose their luggage on a flight to Hawaii. The Pack lost its identity.
“They were kind of forcing us to run the ball,” said Strong, who seemed lost without his Romeo on Saturday.
That should never happen to one of the best quarterback-receiver duos on the west coast. Norvell, though, refused to admit his former boss got the best of him.
“Even though Romeo didn’t catch a lot of balls, he was still eating up a lot of defense and giving other guys opportunities,” Norvell said.
Doubs ate up the Hawaii defense? From our perspective it looked the other way around. When Doubs eats up a defense, after all, he usually ends up in the end zone.
“Carson did the things we asked him to do,” Norvell said. “Romeo did what he was supposed to do in that game.”
You know who didn’t do what they were supposed to do? Of course you do.
“There’s some things we can do,” said Norvell of this week’s game plan against Fresno State on Saturday night at Mackay Stadium. “There were some things we could have probably done different (against Hawaii).”
Those things should have been done last Saturday in order to save a perfect season.
“They double-teamed Romeo every single time and dropped eight in coverage, sometime even nine people,” Strong said.
“They knew they couldn’t just line up in a basic defense or else they would be torn apart.”
Strong tore apart the first five defenses he saw this year for an average of 30 completions and 360 yards and had just 20 completions for 168 yards against Hawaii because he was told to hand the ball off 36 times. It’s almost impossible, after all, to have 30 completions in a game when you throw just 25 passes.
“It’s kind of like picking your poison (when defending Nevada),” Strong added. “They did not let us throw a bomb post to Romeo and the poison they chose was the run.
“They had a safety 20-30 yards over the top and they refused to allow us to throw the deep ball to (Doubs). Their corner was in his face, jamming him as hard as he could at the line of scrimmage. We just weren’t ready for that.”
They should have been ready. Strong and Doubs should have been allowed to test Hawaii’s defense instead of simply giving in to it.
That’s on Norvell and Mumme.
“We just have to find a way to get Romeo the ball,” Strong said. “He’s such a great player when he has the ball in his hands.”
Did the Wolf Pack find it difficult to get the ball in the hands of Nate Burleson when he was catching 138 passes in 2002? What about when Trevor Insley was catching 134 passes in 1999? Alex Van Dyke caught 227 passes over two seasons (1994 and 1995). Every defense knew Van Dyke, Insley and Burleson were going to get the ball. Double teams didn’t scare them. They scared the Pack to death on Saturday.
Doubs is as explosive and talented as any Pack receiver of the past. He should have been allowed to show his greatness on Saturday. Norvell and Mumme, though, settled for taking what the defense gave them.
“We’ve got to be able to adjust, no matter what teams throw at us,” Strong said.
It’s time the Pack takes what it wants.