Nevada defense impressive in final scrimmage
Appeal Sports Writer
RENO – The Nevada Wolf Pack offense may have been running its “Pistol” formation, but it was the Pack defense which got off the better shots Saturday during the annual Silver and Blue scrimmage at Mackay Stadium.
Although no individual defensive statistics were available, Nevada’s defense, wearing blue, held the offense, wearing silver, to only two touchdowns out of 14 possessions and over 80 plays. Each possession started at the offense’s own 35-yard line.
“The defense had the best scrimmage,” said Wolf Pack coach Chris Ault. “They did some nice things. Until today I thought our defense wasn’t playing as well as it can. This was the best that our defense has looked. I expect it to be that way all the time. The defense finally got around the ball. Consistency – that’s what we need to get out of them.”
The defense, which held the offense to 20 first downs, didn’t give up its first touchdown until the sixth possession, when Elko’s Kyle Eklund, a senior, ran one in from a yard out on the drive’s 10th play.
The offense would score for the last time on its eighth possession, a 12-play drive culminated by redshirt freshman Nick Graziano, who plunged in on a fourth-and-1.
Playing with an injured thumb, Graziano attempted no passes and rushed for 10 yards on five carries. Senior Jeff Rowe got the lion’s share of action at quarterback, connecting on 16-of-23 passes, for 232 yards.
“The offense, regardless, started out very sluggish,” Ault said. “It picked it up as (the scrimmage) got going. That’s due to Jeff and his execution. Jeff’s had a great spring. He’s gotten better. He has a great feel for the offense. He’s going to have a fine year. Part of the reason is that he had a lot of reps.”
Rowe fumbled on a fourth-and-4 from the defense’s 28 on the first series and overthrew tight end Adam Bishop in the end zone on the second series. Rowe, who threw for 2,925 yards and 21 touchdowns as a junior, finished with 16 yards on four carries and threw no interceptions.
Junior Ryan Sollod, of Carslbad, Calif., had a solid day at quarterback, completing 10-of-17 passes for 129 yards.
Sophomore running back Luke Lippincott led the way on the ground, gaining 41 yards on 14 carries. Eklund finished with 23 yards on 13 attempts and was followed by Mark Seward, who had 22 yards on 10 carries. Spanish Springs High School graduate Mike Kanellis struggled, gaining 15 yards on nine attempts.
The offense had 56 running plays for 130 total yards as it sought to find a back to help fill the void created by the departure of 2005 Western Athletic Conference Player of the Year B.J. Mitchell, who gained 1,399 yards in his senior year.
“Lippincott is the guy we’re pushing,” Ault said. “We’re going to use Seward on short-yardage plays and as a blocking back. He showed signs of what we expect. Kanellis has been up and down. We need more from him. He has good speed. Eklund has been very productive for us all spring.”
Ault said he was optimistic about at least part of his offensive line.
“Dominic Green had an outstanding spring for us,” Ault said. “We’ve solved the tackle (position) question with Charles Manu.”
Senior wideout Caleb Spencer led all receivers with 78 yards on four receptions. Sophomore Mike McCoy (52 yards) and Jack Darlington (51 yards) also had four receptions, while redshirt freshman Arthur King Jr., of San Jose, caught three balls for 54 yards.
Douglas High School graduate Andy McIntosh had two receptions for 41 yards.
“Andy had a nice spring – and not only on special teams,” Ault said of the sophomore. “He will play next year. He’s a tough kid. He’ll get better and he’ll have a home in the extra receiver spot. He will contribute there.”
Fellow Douglas grad Luke Rippee saw some time in the safety position, getting in on a tackle in the offense’s first possession of the second half, but the play was called back for offensive holding.
Ault said Carson High graduate Nick Shine, a linebacker who redshirted last year, quit the team earlier in the spring for personal reasons.
Ault also said Fallon grad Joshua Mauga, who started last year at outside linebacker as a true freshman, has also had an outstanding spring in his new role in the inside backer position.
“Joshua has been one of our more consistent defensive players,” Ault said. “He’s making plays. He’s a natural.”
Nevada finished last season 9-3 overall and 7-1 in the WAC – good enough for a share of first place with Boise State – and also defeated Central Florida in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl. It will open its season Sept. 1 on the road against Fresno State, which it beat, 38-35, in its regular-season finale in Reno. The game will be televised on ESPN2.