Nevada defense to be tested | NevadaAppeal.com

Nevada defense to be tested

RENO – Nevada’s inexperienced defense has been in the pressure cooker almost every week this season, but the biggest test is coming Saturday night (9:05 p.m.) in Hawai’i.

That’s when the Wolf Pack will try to contain Timmy Chang and the wide-open Rainbow Warriors’ run-and-gun offense. The other four weeks have been a pop quiz compared to the problems Hawai’i offers. Trying to contain Hawai’i’s offense is like passing the bar exam on the first try.

Last year Nevada shocked Hawai’i 24-14 on a cold November day, and Barry Sacks, who coached offense last year at Nevada, hopes his young charges can duplicate that effort against Chang and Chad Owens, Hawai’i’s two big playmakers. Chang is 1,175 yards away from being the top passer in NCAA history.

“Obviously, we’ll take a little bit of something out of everything, including last year’s game,” said Sacks, whose defense is ranked second in the Western Athletic Conference (334 yards a game). “I cant say enough about the guy (Timmy Chang). He’s a great quarterback. He throws the ball well and can see the whole field. We have to figure out a way to slow him down.

“He (Owens) is as good of a receiver as we’ll see. His yards-after-catch is good. It will take a great defensive effort to respond to all situations.”

There is at least one defender – sophomore cornerback Paul Pratt who is eager to face the challenge.

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“That’s what’s exciting about this game, getting to prepare for a passing team,” said Pratt, who played in last year’s upset. “That’s what you play for. It’s going to be a good challenge. He (Owens) is a great route runner, who knows how to get open. He’s a great receiver. We’ll have to keep an eye on him.

“We ran a lot of different coverages last year, but it is more of what the defensive line did. They got a lot of pressure on him and made it easier for the defensive backs. It’s hard to throw under a lot of pressure.”

Chang, who has completed 94 of 159 passes for 1,043 yards and eight scores, has yet to throw an interception this season. He has thrown 159 passes without an interception.

When you mention to Sacks that his young defense might be a year away from being good, he shakes his head.

“The clock is ticking away,” Sacks said. “This defense’s arrival is right now.”

Sacks is trying to be upbeat; confident. He needs his young defense, which has five starters playing a No. 1 role for the first time, to play even better than it has the past five weeks.

When you look at the defensive stats through the first five weeks, your first inclination is that Nevada’s young defense, led by redshirt freshman Jeremy Engstrom, defensive tackle Chris Barry, Pratt and outside linebacker Jamaal Jackson, hasn’t played very

well.

The unit has allowed 26.6 points per game (133 overall) which doesn’t look good on paper. Numbers do lie, however. On further review, Nevada’s defense has been much more consistent than the offense. Nearly half of the points allowed, 61, have come when teams have taken over after a turnover or special teams mistake at midfield or in Wolf Pack territory.

Four of those nine scores came last week against in-state rival UNLV. The Rebels scored 24 points, three touchdowns and a field goal, off Nevada mistakes. UNLV started four of the scoring drives at the Nevada 16 (field goal), 40 (touchdown), 5 (touchdown) and 16 (touchdown). Against Louisiana Tech and San Diego State, special teams or offensive errors led to 10 points in each of those games.

Jackson said that the Wolf Pack still need to be able to shut the opposition down even when they have their backs to the wall.

“That’s our job to stop the ball, no matter what the situation is,” Jackson said. “We have to step up and get the ball back.”

Dave Fipp, Nevada’s co-defensive coordinator, agreed.

“I don’t know about that on-paper stuff,” Fipp said. “All I know is we have to play better when we get backed up. Right now we aren’t at that stage. Guys are continuing to work hard, and hopefully we can add that to our repertoire. Our focus is trying to get better everyday and win football games.”

Jackson is all about results, not excuses. Even though the defense has been banged up with injuries to the front four, he won’t use that as reason for a sub-par performance.

“If you’re in there, you have to know your assignments,” he said. “We’ve had to fill in spots (with young guys), but they have to get their jobs done.”

Jackson was asked to grade the unit’s play, and he paused for several minutes and really couldn’t come up with an answer.

“That’s a hard one,” Jackson said. “I think we’ve done all right effort-wise.”

And, anybody that knows defense, knows its about effort and desire.

Contact Darrell Moody at dmoody@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1281.