Joe Santoro: Aztecs better score because Nevada certainly will | NevadaAppeal.com
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Joe Santoro: Aztecs better score because Nevada certainly will

By Joe Santoro For the Nevada Appeal
Nevada wide receiver Romeo Doubs (7) catches a pass for a touchdown over New Mexico cornerback Donte Martin (8) during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020, in Las Vegas.
AP Photo/John Locher

We are about to find out just how good the Nevada Wolf Pack football team is this season. The Wolf Pack is 4-0 right now but the first four weeks were nothing but a glorified scrimmage in near-empty stadiums, a mere opportunity for Carson Strong to stretch out his right arm and Romeo Doubs to stretch out his hamstrings. It’s easy to win, after all, when you are the only team on the field with an offense designed after 1962. The same thing will be true this Saturday afternoon (12:30 p.m.) when the smash-mouth San Diego State Aztecs come to Mackay Stadium. The only thing the Aztecs like to throw around are opposing quarterbacks and running backs to the ground. Can a three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust offense straight out of Vince Lombardi’s playbook beat a video game, lightning bolt air show like the Wolf Pack? Unless the Aztecs turn into a 12-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust machine the Pack should win something along the lines of 35-24.

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San Diego State, it’s no secret, would like a half dozen or so 12-play drives that eat up about six minutes each. The Aztecs want to keep Strong, Doubs and the rest of the Wolf Pack Fun Bunch off the field as much as possible. The Pack, after all, can’t score from the bench. But while that philosophy works well in theory, the Aztecs better make sure they score touchdowns at the end of those 12-play drives. That’s because the Pack will score. The Pack always scores. A lot. And, yes, while the Pack can’t score from the bench, it can definitely score from anywhere on the field. If Vince Lombardi had Romeo Doubs he would have thrown the ball, too.

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Doubs just might be the most explosive wide receiver in Wolf Pack history. And that is saying a whole lot for a school that has produced the likes of Trevor Insley, Nate Burleson, Tommy Kalmanir, Bryan Reeves, Tony Logan, Alex Van Dyke, Marko Mitchell, Chris Singleton, McLane Mannix and others. He’s fast, extremely athletic, confident and seemingly always open. And his quarterback is always looking for him. Doubs has eight touchdown catches in four games and might break the Pack single-season record of 17 by Reeves in 1993, even in this COVID-shortened season. Doubs has three TD catches in each of the last two games (Van Dyke did the same in 1995) and, well, if he hits the touchdown three-peat again this Saturday on national television (CBS) against the Aztecs, chances are he’ll be catching TDs in the NFL in 2021.

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Doubs might already have the inside track on the prestigious Fred Bikletnikoff Award, given to the nation’s top FBS receiver. Biletnikoff, after all, is buddy-buddy with Pack head coach Jay Norvell. We know that because Biletnikoff always mentions in his press conferences that he has talked to the former Oakland Raider wide receiver on the phone. And it can’t be a coincidence that Doubs was just added to the Biletnikoff Watch List this week. A Wolf Pack player has never won the award since its first year in 1994 likely because Biletnikoff wasn’t buddies with Chris Ault, Jeff Tisdel, Chris Tormey or Brian Polian. But a Pack pass catcher should have won it three times. Alex Van Dyke caught 129 passes for 1,854 yards and 16 touchdowns in 1995, easily outperforming Biletnikoff winner Terry Glenn of Ohio State (64-1,411-17). Trevor Insley hauled in 134 passes for 2,060 yards and 13 touchdowns in 1999 (winner Troy Walters of Stanford had 74-1,456-10) and Nate Burleson caught 138 passes for 1,629 yards and 12 scores in 2002 (Michigan State’s Charles Rogers won with 68-1,351-13).

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Saturday’s game at Mackay will be all about the Wolf Pack’s offensive and defensive lines. You don’t beat the Aztecs with sleight of hand. You also don’t want to stand toe-to-toe with them and slug it out in the middle of the ring but you better learn how to take and give a punch now and then. The Pack offensive line, which has allowed a dozen sacks already, needs to give Strong time to throw deep to Doubs and Cole Turner. And it would be nice if the Pack running backs pick up a positive yard or two now and then. But it’s not necessary. Pack back Toa Taua, after all, has done absolutely nothing in two career games against the Aztecs, gaining 26 yards on 25 carries. The Pack has gained just 91 yards on the ground in 51 carries the last two years against the Aztecs. But they won both games just the same. That’s because it’s not 1962 anymore. You don’t have to run to win every week anymore unless, of course, you don’t have a quarterback, like the smash-mouth Aztecs.

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The Mountain West could not have scheduled this goofy football season any better. The first four weeks were filled with meaningless, glorified scrimmage blowouts, separating the haves from the don’t-have-a-clue teams. The final four weeks will be a playoff marathon leading up to the Mountain West title game Dec. 19. The games to pay attention to are San Diego State at Nevada and San Jose State at Fresno State this Saturday, San Diego State at Fresno State and San Jose State at Boise on Nov. 28, Fresno State at Nevada on Dec. 5 and Nevada at San Jose State on Dec. 11.

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The Mountain West season, though, is turning into a survival-of-the-fittest test. Just getting to the field seems to be the biggest challenge each week. Two more league games (Utah State at Wyoming and UNLV at Colorado State) were either canceled or postponed this week, leaving the number of Mountain West games this season wiped out or postponed to six. That means that just four teams (Nevada, Fresno State, San Jose State and Hawaii) will play the maximum number of games (eight) this regular season. Air Force will play just five regular season league games. “You can’t assume anything this year,” Norvell has said on more than one occasion this year. So true. We assumed that colleges and universities wouldn’t ask their students to play football during a pandemic. But we were wrong about that, too.

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Wolf Pack guard Jalen Harris was taken with the 59th pick (out of 60) in the NBA draft Wednesday night by the Toronto Raptors. The Raptors must have watched a lot of Mountain West games last season because they also grabbed San Diego State guard Malachi Flynn with the 29th pick. Maybe the Raptors are looking for another Kawhi Leonard (San Diego State). Flynn and Harris won’t be another Leonard but they were the two most dominating players in the conference a year ago. Harris won’t likely see a lot of playing time in Toronto this year (if ever) since the Raptors are loaded at guard with Kyle Lowry, Fred Van Vleet, top pick Flynn as well as ex-UNLV star Patrick McCaw and ex-UCLA Bruin (Steve Alford was his coach) Norman Powell.

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Harris is certainly a unique Wolf Pack draft pick. He is the first player in Pack history to get drafted after playing just one season at Nevada. He is also the first Division I transfer (Louisiana Tech) to get drafted out of Nevada. Harris is also the lowest Pack pick (No. 59 overall) since the NBA draft was reduced to two rounds in 1989. Harris joins Armon Johnson (2010), Nick Fazekas and Ramon Sessions (both 2007) and Johnny High and Edgar Jones (both 1979) as second-round picks, though High (24th overall) would have been a first-round pick if taken in the current 30-team NBA. Getting drafted looks good on a resume but Harris will still likely spend the bulk of this season in the G-League.