Joe Santoro: Nevada Wolf Pack quarterback picture gets a little more clear | NevadaAppeal.com

Joe Santoro: Nevada Wolf Pack quarterback picture gets a little more clear

Joe Santoro
For the Nevada Appeal
Joe Santoro

The Nevada Wolf Pack’s quarterback situation became a bit clearer this past week. Senior Cristian Solano, believed to be competing with junior Malik Henry and freshman Carson Strong for the Pack’s starting quarterback job, injured his right (throwing) hand in practice and is expected to miss at least a month of the season. That leaves the Wolf Pack with four quarterbacks (Henry, Strong and freshmen Austin Kirksey and Hamish McClure) as candidates to start the season opener Aug. 30 at Mackay Stadium against Purdue. Kirksey is a true freshman and McClure, the son of Pack offensive line coach Angus McClure, played in four games (and threw four passes) for Sacramento State last season (Division I-AA) before redshirting. Neither one is expected to play much this season, if at all. That leaves Henry and Strong as the odds-on favorites to start against Purdue. If it is Henry or Strong (or both) behind center against Purdue, it will be the first Pack quarterback since Mo Jones at Oregon State in 1998 to start a game without a single pass of experience in Division I-A. That experiment resulted in a 48-6 Pack loss.

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It would seem that Henry has a slight edge now to start against Purdue. Henry is older and more experienced, having played a season (2017) for Independence (Kansas) Community College. Strong, who played in one game last year as a freshman before redshirting, hasn’t played regularly since his junior year in high school (2016 at Wood High in Vacaville, Calif.). Tossing a freshman in against Purdue in Week One and Oregon in Week Two might be too much to ask.

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Chris Ault started sophomore Nick Graziano in the 2007 opener over freshman Colin Kaepernick and he started senior Tyler Lantrip over freshman Cody Fajardo in the 2011 opener simply because Graziano and Lantrip had slightly more experience. Kaepernick and Fajardo eventually took over as the full-time starters in 2007 and 2011 and kept the job through their senior years. But Ault preserved his freshmen’s confidence in difficult early matchups in 2007 (at Nebraska and Northwestern) and 2011 (at Oregon, Texas Tech and Boise State), saving both seasons. Current Pack coach Jay Norvell might do the same this year with Henry over Strong. If a freshman fails to start the year, his freshman year might be destroyed. A more experienced quarterback is more liable to mentally survive early-season struggles against tough opponents. Henry, though, might never give up the job.

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The Wolf Pack, no matter who starts at quarterback, has a fighting chance to beat Purdue in the season opener. Don’t forget that the Pack went to West Lafayette, Ind., and nearly beat the Boilermakers in 2016. The Pack, with quarterback Tyler Stewart, lost 24-14 but did lead 14-3 at one point (forcing four Purdue turnovers) on a pair of Stewart touchdown passes to Hasaan Henderson and James Butler. Moving the game to Mackay Stadium and equipping the Pack with a legitimate passing offense (the Air Raid) could be enough for the Pack to steal a victory.

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If you still believe that the baseballs in the major and minor leagues aren’t more lively this year, well, you haven’t been to Greater Nevada Field. The Reno Aces, with a month still remaining in the regular season, have already hit a team-record 205 home runs this season. Kevin Cron has already hit 31 home runs (in just 62 games), one off the team record of 32 by Christian Walker in 2017. Three teams in the Pacific Coast League have already hit 200 or more homers this year (El Paso, Las Vegas and Reno) and five more have hit 174 or more. Just two teams from 2000 through last year hit 200 or more in a year.

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Just two Aces (Walker in 2017 and Kyle Jensen with 30 in 2016) hit 30 or more homers in a season before this year since the franchise moved to Reno in 2009. Yasmany Tomas needs just one more homer to join Cron in the 30-homer club this year. The Aces, who recently scored 62 runs in four games against Omaha at Greater Nevada Field, have had four seasons (2009, 2012-14) when not one single player hit as many as 20 homers in a year. They’ve turned the baseball into a missile this year.

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The supercharged baseball (this year Triple-A is using major league baseballs) have made for some wild games at Greater Nevada Field this year. The Aces beat Omaha 23-8 in one game last week and also beat Tacoma 25-8 back in May. And then there was the 14-13 Aces win when Andrew Aplin’s grand slam capped a nine-run rally in the bottom of the ninth in late April. The Aces have also scored 20 runs in a win at Las Vegas this year and allowed 21 in a loss at Sacramento. A lot of pitchers’ careers will end this year because of this baseball. Then again, it’s not baseball. But it is fun to watch.

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The velocity that the baseball is coming off the bat this year has to be a factor in the major and minor leagues installing additional protective netting past the dugouts in order to protect its fans. The Chicago White Sox were the first to install nets all the way to the left and right field foul poles this year and other teams have announced they will also add netting. The Aces, which only have a net about a third of the way over each dugout, need to do the same (especially since seats in minor league parks are much closer to the field than in the major leagues). Additional netting at least past the first and third base bags is the minimum the Aces should add in order to protect its fans.

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The San Francisco Giants seemed to be stuck in limbo at the major league trading deadline July 31. The Giants, who have gone 1-6 (through Wednesday’s games) since the deadline passed, seemed to not know whether they were competing for a playoff spot or not. The Giants traded away pitchers Drew Pomeranz, Ray Black and Mark Melancon and acquired second baseman Scooter Gennett. That is the type of long-range plan that can keep you out of the playoffs for at least a decade.