Kaepernick makes a career out of four games against Fresno
For the Nevada Appeal
RENO – Grading the Nevada Wolf Pack football team after a 35-34 victory at Fresno State on Saturday night …
Colin Kaepernick showed once again why he is one of the greatest run-pass threats at quarterback in the history of college football. Kaepernick destroyed the Fresno State defense, running for 153 yards and two touchdowns. He also did some timely damage through the air, passing for 171 yards. But it was Kaepernick’s legs that separated the Pack from the Bulldogs in this game. His 47-yard touchdown run on the Pack’s first drive set the tone. His 19-yard TD gave the Pack a 28-24 lead in the third quarter. His 49-yard run should have led to another touchdown in the first half and his 18-yard run should have led to another score in the second half. It was his biggest day on the ground since he went for 148 against Cal in Week 3 and 161 versus Colorado State in Week 2. Forget his first interception since the Hawaii game. The ball should have been caught. Kaepernick played an incredible game in his final performance near his hometown of Turlock, Calif., finishing with 1,154 total yards (728 passing, 426 rushing) and 12 touchdowns (seven rushing, five passing) against Fresno State in just four career games. You can bet Fresno is glad they never have to face him again.
RUNNING BACK: B+
It was obvious all night long that Fresno State was determined not to allow Vai Taua to beat them. And you know what? Taua beat them. Taua’s 24-yard touchdown run with less than five minutes to play salvaged the victory. But this was not a vintage Taua game by any stretch of the imagination. The senior had just 65 yards on 20 punishing carries up until that final TD run. And that run was the work of the offensive line, which parted the Bulldogs like the red sea. Taua finished with a solid 89 yards on 21 carries and he did find the end zone three times (his first two TDs were 4 and 1 yards). But he’s definitely had better games in his career against the Bulldogs (263 yards in 2008 and 179 last year).
OFFENSIVE LINE: B+
This one was a grind. Kaepernick’s 153 yards inflated the final rushing totals (245 as a team) and Taua didn’t have much room to run all night (he got 44 of his 89 yards on just two carries). And there were a few penalties on the offensive line that hurt. Also, don’t forget the 4th-and-1 run from the Fresno 8-yard line when Taua had no room to run was held for no gain with 8:37 to play. That play could have won the game for the Bulldogs. But the offensive line regrouped and blew the Bulldogs out of the stadium on Taua’s winning TD four minutes later. When it came time to win the game, the offensive line made sure the Pack held the ball for nearly 11 minutes in the fourth quarter.
The numbers weren’t eye-opening (just 171 yards on 16 catches and no touchdowns) but nearly all 171 yards by the receivers were crucial to this victory. Malcolm Shepherd had a breakout game, catching a career-high seven passes for 68 yards. Shepherd caught three passes for three first downs on the Pack’s second scoring drive late in the first half and his 4-yard catch for another first down set up Taua’s game-winning touchdown. Brandon Wimberly had two huge catches (16 and 19 yards), setting up two Taua short touchdown runs in the final minute of the first half, turning a 17-7 Pack deficit into a 21-17 Pack lead at halftime, the most crucial stretch of the game. Rishard Mathews pulled in a 16-yard pass for a first down just three plays before Taua’s game-winner.
DEFENSIVE LINE: B+
When a team runs for 250 yards on you (Fresno’s Robbie Rouse had 217 yards), it’s not a perfect night for the defensive line. But forget the numbers. The Pack front four played a solid game. Zack Madonick and Ryan Coulson each had outstanding games. Madonick, a 6-foot-1 junior, had a career game with nine tackles after coming into the game with just 15 all season. When the Pack did slow down Rouse, Madonick was usually the reason. Coulson had six tackles and two sacks and recovered a crucial fumble late in the first half that led to a Pack score and a 21-17 Nevada halftime lead. Coulson’s first sack was crucial in this one-point game since it forced Fresno to try a 55-yard field goal (they missed) in the second quarter.
Again, it must be pointed out that Rouse went for 217 yards and three touchdowns. And it was no secret that Rouse was going to get the ball all night long. But the Pack linebackers (and defensive linemen) came up with just as many (if not more) big plays than Rouse did on this night. Middle linebacker James-Michael Johnson was extremely active with 11 tackles. Kevin Grimes, one of the unsung heroes of this Pack defense, had five tackles. Grimes trapped Rouse for a 2-yard loss in the second quarter to help force the Bulldogs to settle for a field goal. Brandon Marshall had seven tackles, his biggest coming on Fresno’s final drive when he stopped Rouse for a loss of a yard.
Fresno quarterback Ryan Colburn passed for 194 yards and two touchdowns. But he did the bulk of his damage on the first two drives of the game, completing 7-of-9 passes for 98 yards and one score. Over the final three quarters Colburn was just 9-of-17 for 96 yards.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B
The Wolf Pack did recover an on-side kick late in the first half and a Brad Langley punt went for just 15 yards after seemingly hitting a Pack player in the helmet, leading to a Fresno touchdown. But other than those two plays (the on-side kick didn’t lead to any points) the special teams had little impact on this game’s outcome.
Why bother with an onside kick near the end of the half, risking giving Fresno State good field position, after you had just taken a 21-17 lead with 16 seconds left? Also, the decision to let Taua run for a first down on 4th-and-1 at the Fresno 8-yard line with more than eight minutes to play (he didn’t get it) almost lost the game. Overall, coach Chris Ault called a nice game with a good balance (38 runs, 26 passes). The offense, though, never really found a good flow. But give Fresno’s defense credit. The Pack coaching staff, for the most part, did a nice job of keeping their troops focused on a night when there was a lot of adversity to overcome. This is a coaching staff that truly believes in its players and its game plan. And that faith paid off in the end. Taua gets stopped on 4th-and-1? No big deal. Just give him the ball on the next drive for a game-winning touchdown. That’s how faith in your players and your game plan pays off. The Pack had plenty of chances to get down on itself and lose hope on Saturday, especially on the road in front of nearly 40,000 fans. But this coaching staff wouldn’t allow it.