NEVADA: Defense shines against struggling Lobos
Lahontan Valley News
RENO – All streaks come to an end.
Unfortunately for the Nevada Wolf Pack, they were 6 minutes, 38 seconds away from their second consecutive shutout.
However, the Wolf Pack blew away the visiting New Mexico Lobos, 49-7, on Saturday at Mackay Stadium.
While the Nevada offense struggled early – as it did last week against UNLV -the defense has played lights out.
The Wolf Pack’s forced two turnovers as it saw its shutout streak end at eight quarters, which dates back to the fourth quarter against Boise State on Oct. 1.
“We wanted the shutout, but a win is a win and I’ll take it,” Pack linebacker James-Michael Johnson said.
Nevada’s defense has forced 10 turnovers on the season including one interception and one fumble against New Mexico, although the Lobos recovered two of their own fumbles.
The Pack also partially blocked a punt and turned over New Mexico on downs to start the fourth quarter.
New Mexico only managed 257 total yards of offense and completed 11 of 29 passes for 89 yards. Johnson had a team-high nine tackles, while cornerback Khalid Wooten added six tackles and two forced fumbles.
“We came out and tried to go for the shutout,” Johnson added. “It’s a good win. We know what we can do.”
However, defensive tackle Brett Roy had a nation-best, six consecutive games with a sack, but was blanked against the Lobos.
Nevada, though, added a defensive touchdown when Wooten stripped Deon Long at the New Mexico 25 and Marlon Johnson scooped up the ball and rumbled in for the score.
The confidence of the unit has grown with each passing quarter, although it hasn’t hurt that the Pack beat up on the Lobos and UNLV – two of the worst teams in Division I – in consecutive weeks. The talent level will pick up with next week’s home game against Fresno State.
“We have all the confidence in the world right now,” Wooten said. “I feel like we can with another WAC (Western Athletic Conference) championship and bowl game.”
The Wolf Pack’s defense was locked in all day and it showed on the Lobos’ first possession of the second half.
Holbrook, operating out of the shotgun, looked left for a wide receiver screen, but Johnson jumped the route. Holbrook found his second option running deep downfield, but overthrew the receiver and into the waiting arms of Wooten, who return ed the interception 22 yards to the Wolf Pack’s 46.
“It was like a punt return,” he said. “He (Holbrook) just threw it up there, and I just turned around and just happened to be right there.”
On New Mexico’s next possession, Holbrook was benched in favor of Tarean Austin, who ended the shutout streak with a 17-yard run late in the fourth quarter.