Nevada defense shuts down Rice
RENO – The reports of Nevada’s demise were premature.
The Wolf Pack, thanks to a tremendous effort by their defense, snapped a three-game road losing streak with a 35-10 victory over Rice Saturday night at Mackay Stadium.
Nevada improved to 3-4 overall, 3-0 at home, en route to its first conference win in three attempts. The victory kept Nevada’s flickering postseason hopes alive. With five games left, Nevada needs four wins to get to a bowl-eligible seven wins.
“This was our best defensive game to date,” said Nevada head coach Chris Ault, whose defense held Rice 93 yards under its season rushing average of 361 per game. “It was a very physical week for us. We worked all five days and before the game (in Wolf Pack Park). Our defense shut them down pretty good.
“We beat a heckuva football team. That’s a good football team. They took apart Hawai’i. This was by far our most complete game.”
Ault won’t get any argument from Rice coach Ken Hatfield, who watched his team drop to 3-3 overall and 2-2 in conference. The Wolf Pack stopped Rice from sustaining drives, holding the Owls to 2-for-13 on third-down attempts.
“They did a better job than anybody else (stopping the option),” Hatfield said. “I thought they out-executed us a couple of times. We need to execute and play more efficiently. They did a good job on defense on keeping us from getting consistent first downs. You have to be able to stop a team’s best plays (QB keepers) and they did.”
Other than quarterback Joel Armstrong’s 13-yard scoring run late in the fourth quarter, and a field goal at the end of the first quarter, the deepest Rice penetration was the Nevada 21, and that was early in the fourth quarter. Simply put, the Wolf Pack met the challenge of Rice’s option offense and passed with flying colors.
“The coaches came up with a great scheme,” said linebacker Jeremy Engstrom, who finished with a team-high 11 tackles, four more than cornerback Paul Pratt, linebacker Shaun Tagatauli and defensive end J.J. Milan. “They said trust the scheme; don’t try to do anything more. Everybody knows Rice runs the ball, and we were excited to play this team. We played a complete defensive game.”
Nevada’s offense, thanks to the running and passing of Jeff Rowe (team-leading 75 yards on the ground and 168 in the air) and three touchdowns by B.J. Mitchell played an efficient game.
Nevada got off a tough start, as Rowe’s pass was picked off at the Rice 42 and returned down to the Nevada 30 by Matt Ginn.
The Owls failed to get a first down, however, as Rice quarterback Greg Henderson (86 yards rushing) was spilled for a two-yard loss on second down, and then Roderick Stallings deflected a pass at the goal line on third down. Brennan Landry, despite kicking with a strong wind at his back, missed a 47-yard field goal to the left.
“We had a chance right away and we were not able to move the ball,” Hatfield said. “When you get that close, you like to come away with something big.”
Nevada drove 70 yards on nine plays for the game’s first score, as Chance Kretschmer darted the final 17 yards. Damon Fine’s extra point made it 7-0 with 6:16 left.
The Wolf Pack converted a fourth down and a third down en route to the score. Rowe gained three yards on a fourth-and-1 play down to the Nevada 42. Three plays later, Rowe found Caleb Spencer for 21 yards down to the Rice 21 on a third-and-2 play. Kretschmer scored on the next play.
Nevada tried a high drop on the ensuing kickoff. Rice’s Ed Bailey came up to catch the ball and was pummeled by Donald Gupton. Shannon Sevor recovered the ball at the Rice 32.
“I told Barry Sacks (defensive coordinator) that if we had to kick off into the wind I wanted a high drop or a squib kick,” Ault said. “Barry told me they would kick the ball to the left side and that they would misplay it. It’s a tough kick to field, and Damon did a nice job.”
“We mishandled the kickoff,” Hatfield said. “We talked about fair-catching it. They took advantage of it.”
Rowe hooked up with Nichiren Flowers for 12 yards and a first down at the Rice 20. After Kretschmer was stopped for no gain, Rowe found Flowers (8 catches, 90 yards) on a jailbreak screen, and the Wolf Pack wide receiver stormed into the end zone. Fine’s PAT made it 14-0 with 5:06 remaining.
Fine booted the ensuing kickoff out of bounds, giving Rice excellent field position at its own 40, and the Owls didn’t waste it.
Rice, thanks to Henderson’s four carries for 25 yards, moved the ball to the Nevada 18. Bailey gained five to the 13, but J.J. Milan stormed through and belted Henderson for a three-yard loss back at the 16. Landry came on to kick a 34-yard field goal, slicing the lead to 14-3 at the end of the first quarter.
Nevada made it 3-for-4 in scoring chances on its next possession, driving 80 yards on 12 plays. Mitchell capped the drive with a 9-yard run, his first of three scores. Fine’s PAT made it 21-3. A 19-yard run by Kretschmer on a third-and-6 play gave Nevada a first down at the Rice 49. Rowe completed a 15-yard pass to Spencer for another first down at the Rice 34. After an incomplete pass, Rowe found Flowers for 12 yards to the 22. Mitchell scored four plays later.
The Wolf Pack had two more great opportunities to put more points on the board, but failed each time.
After a 13-yard punt into the wind, Nevada had great field position at the Rice 40. Nevada failed to get a first down and punted the ball away.
Nevada took over at the Rice 48 on its next possession. Rowe’s second-down pass went off Spencer’s hands and was picked off by Andray Downs at the 26.
After a scoreless third quarter, Nevada scored on its second possession of the final quarter, as Mitchell capped the seven-play 53-yard drive with his second TD, a 2-yard run. Rowe keyed the drive with two rushes for 36 yards, including a 22-yard effort on a third-and-7 play from the Rice 32.
Rice came back with an 80-yard scoring drive capped by Armstrong’s 13-yard run to make it 28-10. Nevada helped the cause by being whistled for two personal fouls on the drive.
The Wolf Pack completed the scoring with a 61-yard drive capped by Mitchell’s 7-yard run with nine seconds left in the game.
Contact Darrell Moody at email@example.com or 881-1281.