Nevada beats New Mexico State
Appeal Sports Writer
RENO – For the second straight week, it was Nevada’s defense to the rescue.
The Wolf Pack offense turned the ball over four times, but the defense forced five turnovers leading to 28 points and registered five sacks en route to an easy 48-21 win over New Mexico State in a Western Athletic Conference game Saturday afternoon at Mackay Stadium.
Nevada improved to 5-3 overall and evened its WAC record at 2-2. With four games left, Nevada is one win away from becoming bowl eligible, and it will be favored in three of those four games.
“I thought the defense played well,” Nevada coach Chris Ault said after the game. “There is no question the defense has been putting some great pressure on the quarterbacks in the last couple of weeks. The best pass defense is a good defensive pass rush.
“I thought the defense did a great job of giving the offense some very short fields, and the defense is playing with great confidence.”
Nevada’s offense had four short scoring drives – 30, 50, 45 and 53 yards respectively.
Nevada’s job on defense was made quite a bit easier when NMSU quarterback Chase Holbrook, who came into the game throwing for more than 419 yards per game, was knocked out of the game in the second quarter after a second-quarter scramble. It appeared to be a late hit by Engstrom, and it also appeared that Holbrook may have been speared, too, though no penalty was called.
Holbrook iced his lower back for the rest of the half, but only played four downs in the third quarter before leaving the field. The Aggies, with true freshman walk-on Alex Gibson at quarterback, gained only 71 yards after Holbrook left the game. Holbrook had hurt his hand and then ribs before the hit by Engstrom.
“He bruised his right hand in the first series, came off and then took a heck of a shot on the interception (by Jon Amaya),” NMSU coach Hal Mumme said. “But the big injury came when he got speared in the back on the scramble. He had a helmet-sized bruise on his back. He was down in my opinion. I think he’ll be back next week.
“Having him (Gibson) in the game limited us to three or four plays besides the run game. We were limited. We tried to do some things, but threw two picks.”
Even with Holbrook in there, the Aggies had some problems getting into the end zone. The Aggies either turned the ball over or lost it on downs at least four times in Nevada territory. NMSU also missed a 37-yard first-quarter field goal.
“We knew coming into the game that the defense was going to have to win the game,” linebacker Josh Mauga said. “We knew as a defense that we had to step it up and force turnovers to get the ball back to the offense.”
Despite the defense’s strong effort, Nevada got off to a slow start despite recovering a game-opening onside kick at the NMSU 46.
Jeff Rowe, who missed the San Jose State game with a hamstring injury, threw one up for grabs on the fourth play of the game. Tonny Glynn picked off the pass that appeared to be intended for tight end Anthony Pudewell at the NMSU 24.
After going three and out and watching the Aggies take a 7-0 lead on Holbrook’s 67-yard TD pass to A.J. Harris, the Pack offense finally got back on the field.
Nevada recorded two quick first downs, but on third-and-12 from his own 49, Rowe’s pass, again intended for Pudewell, was intercepted by Dante Floyd at the NMSU 30.
All in all, an ugly first quarter for the Pack, who managed just 43 yards on 13 snaps.
“I was real rusty, especially in the first quarter,” admitted Rowe. “I threw a couple of bad balls, but my reads were all right. The first quarter kind of bothered me; it is still bothering me now.
“The first one there was a miscommunication. We ran four verticals, and I thought the receiver was going to go underneath the linebacker. The second one was underthrown.”
Rowe finally got untracked in the second quarter, leading Nevada on three scoring drives for a 28-7 lead.
The first scoring drive was the most impressive. Robert Hubbard (28-114) carried six times for 33 yards, including gains of 10 and 11 to start the possession. Rowe went 3-for-3 for 35 yards on the drive, and he capped the possession with a 6-yard scoring run on a bootleg around right end. Brett Jaekle’s PAT made it 7-all with 9:18 left.
Nevada was in the end zone 63 seconds later when Chris Nwoko coughed up the ball after a hit by Mauga. Engstrom scooped it up at the 19 and rumbled in for the score. Jaekle’s kick made it 14-7 with 8:15 left in the half.
New Mexico State got a quick first down on its next possession, but on third-and-17 from his own 26, Holbrook was hit as he threw, and Jon Amaya picked it off at the NMSU 45 and returned it 15 yards to the 30.
On second down, Rowe and redshirt freshman Arthur King hooked up for a 19-yard gain down to the NMSU 10. Three plays later, Spencer, who was lined up wide right took a hand off from Rowe and scored around left end thanks to a nice block by Dominic Green on Ka’ua Adolpho. The PAT made it 21-7 with 4:32 left in the half.
Holbrook got hurt four plays into the next possession. Gibson came in and moved the team to the Pack 45, but he fumbled a snap and Mauga recovered at midfield with less than a minute left.
Four plays later, Rowe found Mike McCoy open in the end zone with an 8-yard scoring pass with 3.3 left in the half. Jaekle’s PAT made it 28-7.
“Jeff’s first two passes were good reads,” Ault said. “He was a little out of sync. He played well in the second quarter.”
Ault held Rowe out the rest of the way, choosing to rest him with a three-touchdown lead.
It didn’t matter.
Both Travis Moore and Nick Graziano each threw a scoring pass in the second half. Moore completed 3 of 8 for 36 yards and a 9-yard scoring pass to Spencer which made it 35-7. He left on the following series after Tim McManigal picked off a pass and returned it 60 yards for a score to make it 35-14 with 6:11 left in the third quarter. Ault said that Moore re-injured his ribs , a result of a hit last week against San Jose State.
After Joey Garcia picked off a Gibson pass and returned it to the Aggies’ 45, Graziano directed a four-play scoring drive capped by a 16-yard pass to Mike McCoy, who now has nine TDs on just 19 catches. Jaekle’s PAT made it 42-7.
Graziano was extremely impressive, completing 7 of 9 passes for 69 yards, and scrambling once for 31 yards.
“Nick came in and did a real nice job,” Ault said. “I’m excited I’ll be able to see the film and evaluate his performance. Nick is a competitor and was very well prepared. He should have had more time (last week). After Travis got hurt, I should have kept him in there for a couple of series’.”
After sitting out last year as a true freshman, Graziano has been anxious to get some meaningful snaps.
“It was great to get some experience in there. It was nice to get over a quarter of action and be able to run a lot of the offense. It’s a great relief to finally get some snaps and take part in a Wolf Pack victory.
“Going in after we had a lead and going in behind Jeff and Travis after preparing all week helped. Jeff is the guy.”