Joe Santoro: Nevada Wolf Pack short on fans and explosions | NevadaAppeal.com

Joe Santoro: Nevada Wolf Pack short on fans and explosions

Joe Santoro
For the Nevada Appeal

Northern Nevada is still having a difficult time warming up to the Nevada Wolf Pack football program. The Wolf Pack attracted just 34,318 fans for its first two home games combined this year against Purdue and Weber State. It is the second lowest attendance total for the first two games of a season at Mackay since the Wolf Pack moved to Division I-A in 1992. Just the 2004 team, which was coming off four demoralizing seasons under coach Chris Tormey, attracted smaller crowds for its first two games (33,831 for Sacramento State and Buffalo).

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The crowd of 20,144 for the Purdue game is the Pack’s lowest at home for a Power Five opponent since Northwestern enticed 16,176 through the gates in 2006. The 14,171 for the Weber State game is the lowest at Mackay for a Football Championship Subdivision opponent (Division I-AA) since the Pack moved to I-A in 1992. You have to go back to the Wolf Pack’s final game in I-AA, a playoff game against Youngstown State to close out the 1991 season, to find a lower attendance at Mackay for a Division I-AA opponent (13,476).

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Is there hope for the Pack attendance this season with just four home games remaining? The final game of the year against UNLV will likely draw the biggest crowd of the year, possibly around 25,000 if the Pack keeps winning, though Pack fans will have to endure looking at the Fremont Cannon painted red for the entire afternoon. The other three games, against Hawaii (Sept. 28), San Jose State (Oct. 12) and New Mexico (Nov. 2), well, there should be plenty of tickets available.

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The Wolf Pack’s offense has lost its explosiveness. The Pack is averaging just 19.7 points a game, down from 31.1 a year ago. Part of the reason for the lack of production is because the Pack has played two Power Five opponents (Purdue, Oregon) and a Division I-AA team (Weber State) that might have one of the best defenses the Pack will see all year. But another reason is that the Wolf Pack has lost its firepower in the passing game. Freshman quarterback Carson Strong is completing a lot of passes (73) but they aren’t going anywhere. The Pack is averaging just 5.6 yards for each pass attempt and just 9.1 for each completion, down from 7.4 (per attempt) and 12.3 (per completion) from last year.

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The Wolf Pack passing game, which dropped exploding bombs on opponents last year from all over the field with senior quarterback Ty Gangi is simply waving sparklers at opponents this year with Strong. Running backs this year have grabbed 29 percent of the Pack’s completions, up from 15 percent last year. The wide receivers are also not stretching the field this year. The Pack’s top five wideout targets (Kaleb Fossum, Elijah Cooks, Dominic Christian, Romeo Doubs, Ben Putman) have averaged just 10.8 yards per catch. Last year the top five wideout targets (Fossum, McLane Mannix, Doubs, Brendan O‘Leary-Orange) averaged 13.7 yards a catch. Expect this year’s numbers to expand as Strong matures.

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Losing Mannix, who transferred to Texas Tech after last year, was a huge loss for the Pack. He averaged 17.5 yards on each of his 50 catches a year ago at Nevada and scored seven touchdowns. This year at Texas Tech he is averaging 13.7 yards on 10 catches and has scored twice. He caught four passes last week against Arizona for 78 yards (19.5 per catch) with an 8-yard touchdown.

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This week’s Mountain West football predictions: Nevada over UTEP (38-14), Boise State over Air Force (28-17), Tulsa over Wyoming (24-21), New Mexico over New Mexico State (38-17), Hawaii over Central Arkansas (42-14), Arkansas over San Jose State (31-14), Fresno State over Sacramento State (35-10), Utah State over San Diego State (28-14), Toledo over Colorado State (24-17).