Joe Santoro: No more Grab-bag Gangi for Wolf Pack | NevadaAppeal.com

Joe Santoro: No more Grab-bag Gangi for Wolf Pack

Joe Santoro

It's time for Ty Gangi to put the Pack on his back.

No more excuses. No more wait-and-see approach. No more learning curve. No more inconsistency. The time has come for Gangi to grab this Nevada Wolf Pack football season by the facemask and drag it into greatness and grandeur.

"Ty has to play well for us to win," agreed Wolf Pack coach Jay Norvell this week.

Gangi simply playing well, unfortunately, isn't enough for this Wolf Pack team. This Wolf Pack team, with its part-time defense, needs Gangi the Great to step on the field each and every Saturday.

What the Pack got instead in Nashville this past Saturday during a 41-10 loss to Vanderbilt was Grab-bag Gangi. You know, the rollercoaster quarterback with the 6-10 career record as a starter who offers for your viewing pleasure and cover-your-eyes agony some good, some bad, some awesome and some awful. With Grab-bag Gangi, you never know what you're going to get from game to game, quarter to quarter, drive to drive, pass to pass.

The rest of this Wolf Pack team isn't talented enough, not physical enough, not experienced enough and, at times, not focused enough to overcome Grab-bag Gangi. It craves Gangi the Great on every single play. You can beat Portland State with Grab-bag Gangi. You lose by 31 to a SEC doormat on the road with Grab-bag Gangi.

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"We only had three big plays on offense," said Norvell of the vanilla attack the Pack displayed at Vanderbilt. "That's not a formula we can win with."

The Pack offense, unfortunately, gave a performance on Saturday that likely inspired a half dozen or so sad country songs in Nashville by early Sunday morning.

The Pack needed Gangi the Great. It, instead, got Grab-bag Gangi.

The senior quarterback completed 22-of-39 passes for 216 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. That's not great. But it also wasn't awful. Norvell also didn't do Gangi any favors by not lifting him from the game in the final three-plus minutes down 34-10 and then 41-10. In those final two drives — the perfect time to play an inexperienced backup quarterback and to protect your senior quarterback from further ugliness — Gangi was 0-for-5 with an interception.

Norvell was careful not to put all of the blame for the shaky offense on his quarterback.

"Every area of our offense needs to be tightened up," Norvell said.

So true. And that includes the play-calling. How many times can you send a freshman running back (Toa Taua and Devonte Lee) into the teeth of a SEC defense? The answer? A dozen. The Wolf Pack also had a wide receiver (Kaleb Fossum) suffer a sack. And the Pack also, for some reason, elected to go for it on fourth down in the third quarter, giving up a chance at a reasonable field goal (44 yards) that would have cut the deficit to two touchdowns.

"A lot of it was just little details that we need to correct," said Gangi of the offense's shortcomings last weekend. "Some of it was mental mistakes and just some missed assignments we need to correct."

All of those things — attention to detail, mental mistakes, missed assignments — should be a thing of the past by now with this offense and this quarterback. Gangi, after all, is now a senior. He's been a starter since the final month of the 2016 season. He spent all of last year in this offense. He should have hit the ground running and throwing this year.

And that's exactly what did happen in the season opener against Portland State. Gangi passed for 342 yards and three touchdowns in the 72-19 victory. He was, for the most part, Gangi the Great. Yes, Grab-bag Gangi did show up on occasion (there was an interception and nine other incompletions in just 26 attempts) but it was the type of performance that suggested 2018 was going to be special.

The game at Vanderbilt could have been extra special. An amazing opportunity against a beatable team. A SEC team. The Pack and Gangi could have sent shockwaves throughout the Mountain West.

The defense made some big plays, Gangi and the offense had a nice drive right before the half and the Pack trailed just 17-10. But in the third quarter Gangi tossed an interception. Fossum fumbled a punt return and the defense refused to make a play. Norvell and the Pack offensive coaches predictably started to gamble on fourth down (tell me if you've seen that before) and, well, it got ugly real quick.

Norvell didn't come out and blame Gangi specifically for the offense's problems (just 250 total yards and one touchdown) but he did suggest the moment in Nashville might have been a bit too big for his quarterback.

"We had guys open and for one reason or another we were a little quick with Ty," Norvell said. "Or we had a little bit of pressure and he felt he had to throw a little quicker. Our timing just wasn't good."

Again, that sort of thing (timing, coolness under pressure) was supposed to be a thing of the past with a senior quarterback. This was supposed to be the year we saw the Norvell offense blossom and take shape.

It's still a work in progress.

For Norvell to become a successful college head coach, he needs his quarterback to carry the team. He needs his quarterback to make everyone around him better. He needs his quarterback to win the game.

Gangi didn't lose the game on Saturday. But he was the only one in silver and blue who could win it. And that didn't happen.

That day, though, will happen. We all just need to be patient. It might happen this Saturday at Mackay Stadium against Oregon State, an opponent that shouldn't force Gangi to throw a little quicker than he should. Gangi will be confident and cool under pressure playing at Mackay.

Gangi, we're confident, can truly be great. We believe that because we've seen it.

The first time we were shown the greatness of Gangi, he came off the bench for an injured Tyler Stewart in 2016 and passed for 300 yards and a touchdown against Wyoming. He passed for 301 yards and three scores against New Mexico on the road the following week in his first career start in 2016. The same year he scored on a 6-yard run to stun Utah State 38-37 with five seconds left in the game. The week after that he went for 193 yards through the air and 99 yards on the ground to beat UNLV in Las Vegas.

Last year he threw for 428 yards and four touchdowns against Colorado State, 232 yards and three touchdowns against San Jose State, 414 yards and three touchdowns at San Diego State and another 266 and two touchdowns against UNLV. And that was in his first season — a season in which he had to endure a two-game benching — in a new offense when nobody knew what they were doing.

So, you see, Gangi the Great does exist. And now that it's his senior year, well, we expect that greatness each and every week. Maybe that's unfair. Maybe not. A quarterback's senior year, after all, is when all of the hard work, the coaching, the blood, sweat and tears comes together. It's when the magic happens. Go ask Colin Kaepernick in 2010, Mike Maxwell in 1995, Chris Vargas in 1993, Eric Beavers in 1986, Jeff Rowe in 2006, John Dutton in 1997, Stan Heath in 1948.

That sort of magic is in Gangi. We've seen it. We'll see it again.

"Ty is made of the right stuff," Norvell said. "He's a confident guy."

Norvell went on to talk about his team in a general sense but he also could have been talking about Gangi the Great versus Grab-bag Gangi.

"I show our team about 12 (film) clips on Monday," Norevell said. "We show them one good play, two bad plays and one ugly play."

The good, the bad, the ugly. That's Grab-bag Gangi right there.

"One of the qualities you have to have to be a good player is you have to allow yourself to be coached," Norvell said. "You have to have thick skin and to be able to take correction. You have to be able to learn from your mistakes."

The Wolf Pack formula for success is a simple one. The quarterback must be special. The quarterback must be explosive. The quarterback must be the most confident player on the field. The quarterback must be the smartest player on the field. The quarterback must be the most well-coached player on the field. The quarterback must grab his teammates by the facemask and drag them into greatness and grandeur.

"We have to be dynamic offensively," Norvell said. "We have to score points. Ty has to play well for us to win and none of those factors were in play (at Vanderbilt)."

It's Gangi's time. It's his senior year. This is his team. His offense. His receivers. It's time for him to put the Pack on his back.