Nevada football knocks off New Mexico, 21-10 | NevadaAppeal.com

Nevada football knocks off New Mexico, 21-10

Joe Santoro
Nevada wide receiver Elijah Cooks (1) makes the catch for a touchdown over New Mexico's Jerrick Reed II (9) in the second half of an NCAA college football game in Reno, Nev., Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019. (AP Photo/Tom R. Smedes)
AP | FR171463 AP

RENO — The Nevada Wolf Pack isn’t worried at this point in the season about piling up any style points.

“We didn’t play perfect by any means,” Wolf Pack coach Jay Norvell said after a 21-10 victory over the New Mexico Lobos Saturday night in front of a crowd of 15,631 at Mackay Stadium. “It wasn’t always pretty but a win is a win and we’ll take it and run.”

The Wolf Pack, now 5-4 overall and 2-3 in the Mountain West, snapped a two-game losing streak and moved within one victory of qualifying for a bowl game. New Mexico lost for the sixth time in a row and fell to 2-7, 0-5.

“We can build off this,” Norvell said. “I’m excited about the smiles I just saw in the locker room. It’s important that our kids feel good about playing football again because I don’t think they were the last couple weeks.”

The Wolf Pack didn’t pull away from the struggling Lobos until quarterback Carson Strong connected with wide receiver Elijah Cooks for a 20-yard touchdown pass and a 20-10 lead with just under six minutes to play.

“This is just one of those years where we have to just keep grinding, keep overcoming it, keep fighting and manufacture points and find ways to win,” Norvell said.

The Pack, now 4-1 at Mackay Stadium this season, did just that against the Lobos. The Pack certainly didn’t dominate the game, outgaining the Lobos just 369-346 and picking up just four more (21-17) first downs. But the Wolf Pack survived by not turning the ball over and controlling the ball on offense for 34:45.

“It just feels real good to go out there and execute and get the win,” said Strong, who completed 28-of-40 passes for 305 yards and two touchdowns. “We lost two in a row (at Utah State and Wyoming) and it just feels good to get back on track.”

Strong, now 3-3 as the Pack starter, had his best game since the season opener against Purdue when he passed for 295 yards and three touchdowns. His two touchdown passes against New Mexico were his first since that season-opening 34-31 win on Aug. 30. His 305 yards are his career high and the second most by a Pack quarterback this season behind Malik Henry’s 352 yards against San Jose State on Oct. 12.

“I felt real good out there,” Strong said. “Each time I go out there I feel like the game slows down just a little for me and I become more confident each time.”

Strong was 18-of-25 for 202 yards and a touchdown in the first half as the Pack struggled to find any room on the ground (59 yards on 18 carries). The freshman quarterback was 10-of-15 in the second half for 103 yards and one score. The Pack ground game, though, continued to struggle in the second half and had just 64 yards for the game on 34 carries. The Wolf Pack also had just seven first downs in the second half.

“We wanted to play clean tonight,” Norvell said. “We wanted to protect the ball. We wanted to be smart and not risk turnovers.”

“I missed a few throws that could have been big plays,” Strong said. “I need to be a lot better.”

Strong’s biggest throw of the night came on a 57-yard touchdown pass to Romeo Doubs and a 14-7 Wolf Pack lead just five minutes before halftime.

“That was a great throw by Carson and a great route by Romeo,” Norvell said.

It was also the Pack’s second longest scoring pass of the season behind just a 75-yarder from Henry to Doubs against San Jose State last month.

“Romeo is so fast,” Strong said, “fast enough to get out there and beat that safety over the top. He is so unbelievably fast that I just close my eyes and throw it up as high and as far as I can and just let him go get it.”

Doubs finished with 11 catches for 167 yards, though he had just two catches for 24 yards in the second half. The 11 catches are the most by a Pack player in a game since Kaleb Fossum caught 14 against Toledo last season.

“Romeo was just outstanding tonight,” Norvell said. “Carson did a great job of getting the ball to our playmakers.”

New Mexico went 90 yards on nine plays, scoring a touchdown on its first drive for a 7-0 lead with just under seven minutes to play in the first quarter. Lobos quarterback Tevaka Tuioti completed four passes for 67 yards on the drive and also had a 20-yard run. Ahmari Davis completed the drive with a 4-yard scoring run.

“We’re an aggressive defense so when we see a run we go for it,” Wolf Pack defensive tackle Dom Peterson said. “He was just throwing the ball over our heads.”

The Pack held the Lobos without a touchdown the rest of the game.

“They weren’t doing anything serious to us (on that first drive),” Peterson said. “We didn’t really have to make any adjustments. We just got back to the sidelines and knew we’d be all right.”

ew Mexico did cut the Pack lead to 14-10 on a 49-yard field goal by Andrew Shelley early in the third quarter. Shelley had missed a 53-yard attempt with two minutes to go in the first half. The Lobos also surprisingly did not attempt a short field goal, trailing 14-10, on a 4th-and-1 play from the Wolf Pack 11-yard line with just over five minutes to go in the third quarter. The Pack defense stopped Davis for no gain on the play.

“I feel that this is the type of defense we are,” said Peterson, who had two sacks. “We are a bend-but-not-break type of defense.”

The New Mexico game is the second this season that the Wolf Pack has allowed just one touchdown by the opposition. The first time was the 19-13 win over Weber State on Sept. 14.

“I’m proud of our defense,” Norvell said. “We didn’t give up any of those back-breaking big plays like we did the last couple weeks.”

The Wolf Pack is now 3-0-1 against New Mexico at home (4-3-1 overall) since the rivalry began in 1941. The 21 points by the Pack on Saturday is the fewest scored by a winning team (one game ended in a 0-0 tie) in the rivalry.

“Our preparation this week showed me that we were going to go get the W (the victory) in this game,” Peterson said. “I was saying it before we even took the field today, ‘We’re going to get the W.’”

The win over the Lobos avoided the Wolf Pack’s first three-game losing streak since the middle of the 2017 season. The Wolf Pack will shoot for its first winning streak since late September (wins over Weber State and UTEP) this Saturday night at San Diego State.

“We needed this win as a confidence booster,” Peterson said. “We needed it to get our rhythm back.”