Nevada holds the line – and the ball
Appeal Sports Writer
RENO – Gone are the Air Ault days when quarterbacks would throw 40 or 50 passes a game and pass for more than 300 yards.
Since Chris Ault returned to the sidelines two-plus years ago, the focus has been on controlling the ball via the run and playing better defense.
It’s been a recipe for success. After going 5-7 two years ago, the Pack went 9-3 last year and currently are 7-3 heading into Saturday’s game at Louisiana Tech. No matter what happens the last two weekends, the Pack will be going to their second consecutive bowl game.
Ault couldn’t do what he wanted offensively without having a productive offensive line.
In 2005, Nevada, led by running backs B.J. Mitchell and Robert Hubbard, averaged 4.5 a carry and led the nation in time of possession at 33 minutes 12 seconds. The numbers this year aren’t too far off – 4.4 a carry with Hubbard, Luke Lippincott and Brandon Fragger doing the bulk of the work. Nevada has held the ball for 32-minutes 11-seconds this second, good for a No. 11 ranking nationally.
What makes this year’s numbers even more impressive is that Nevada has three starters playing new positions. Dominic Green and Charles Manu were moved from guard and tackle, replacing Tony Moll and Adam Kiefer, respectively. Greg Hall was inserted into the vacant guard slot. The only starters playing the same positions they played last year are senior center Jimmy Wadhams and senior guard Barrett Reznick.
Nevada averages more than 130 yards a game, and that hasn’t surprised Wadhams in the slightest.
“Not really,” he said. “We worked our butts off in the weightroom; all of us. This is about what we expected. We’ve been running hard all season. I still think we need to get better.
“Last year we had the best offensive line play since I’d been here, and this year’s group is playing well, too. We’re all pretty similar. (Adam) Kiefer called me and said that we looked like five guards out there because we’re all about the same size and have the same athleticism. I think this is a tough group.”
And cohesive. What this group lacks in star power and individual talent, it makes up for in chemistry. These guys go together like mustard goes on a hot dog.
It’s different than last year’s group,” Nevada assistant coach Chris Klenakis said. “There isn’t as much separation between the top guy and the low guy like there was last year. This is a group that really works well together. We don’t have an NFL draft choice (Moll) this year. It’s a cohesive group. They play well together.
“There isn’t one dominant guy. You are only as good as the unit is going to be. We need to get better with both our run and pass.”
This also is a different type of group personality wise. Last year’s group was a little more businesslike probably because Moll and Kiefer set the pace.
“This year’s group is a little more laid back,” Reznick said. “We joke around a little more out there, but both are tough groups.”
“Overall we have definitely improved. We’re a lot more cohesive than we were at the start of the season.”
Wadhams said a big key to the line’s success has been the play of Green and Manu learning to play tackle, which means playing in a lot of open space.
“We are versatile,” Klenakis said. “We expect all of our linemen to be able to play any position on the offensive front.”
Klenakis said the team has improved in recent weeks. The Pack have held the ball for more than 30 minutes in each of the last four games – 30:33 against Utah State, 37:52 against Idaho, 32:55 against New Mexico State and 38:54 against San Jose State.
Those are impressive numbers, and simply put, if your opponents don’t have the ball, they can’t score. Nevada’s offense has done an excellent job keeping the defense fresh.
Notes: Chad Hartley, assistant sports information director at Nevada, said that more than 18,000 tickets have been distributed thus far, including more than 3,000 to Boise State fans for the game against the Broncos. There are also 3,500 student tickets available for purchase. Hartley said that Boise State fans have been calling the Nevada ticket office inquiring about more tickets, and he is urging fans to act swiftly if they want to see the game in person… BSU running back Ian Johnson, the recipient of a feature story in ESPN The Magazine, is not being allowed to give any feature interviews until after the season.