Nevada rolls past Utah State
Appeal Sports Writer
RENO – Two goal line stands, three interceptions and only 207 yards allowed. It was another vintage performance by the Nevada defense.
Nevada’s defense recorded the first shutout since 1998, blanking Utah State 42-0 before a crowd of 8,584 Saturday afternoon at Mackay Stadium.
Nevada improved to 7-3 overall and 4-2 in the Weztern Athletic Conference. Utah State dropped to 1-9 overall and 1-5 in WAC play.
“First of all, it felt nice to get a shutout,” said Nevada cornerback Joe Garcia, who contributed an interception and a sack. “We’ve come close a couple of times. We hadn’t had one since I’ve been here.”
“The defense played extremely well all game long,” Nevada coach Chris Ault said. “I’m very pleased with the defense. They know the challenge is there. You have to win with defense.”
Nevada allowed a field goal to UNLV and one touchdown each to Idaho and San Jose State this season. In 10 games this season, Nevada has held opponents to one score or less. That’s a pretty impressive stat for any resume. It’s quite a change from the old days when the Pack were known more for their offense.
“Since I’ve been here, this is the best experience I’ve had playing for this defense,” said fifth-year senior J.J. Milan, who recorded four tackles, two behind the line. “The group we have is so solid. It feel like everybody is together.
“I felt like we were getting to them a lot on the run and pass. They could move every once in a while, but they couldn’t move it consistently. I think the cold affected them a little bit.”
Part of that can be attributed to the weather, and part to the Pack defense. It snowed for approximately 20 minutes in the second quarter, and both Utah State’s Riley Nelson and Nevada’s Jeff Rowe said they had trouble gripping the ball. Nelson completed just 6 of 15 for a season-low 45 yards.
“When you’re in that situation, you have to rise up and overcome, and we didn’t do that,” Nelson said. “We missed on some key situations.”
Most notably the Aggies’ first offensive possession after a Raymond Sanders 81-yard kickoff return set up Rowe’s 4-yard TD pass to Robert Hubbard.
The Aggies drove from their own 46 to the Nevada 1 thanks to a questionable pass interference penalty on Paul Pratt, a 25-yard run by Antraun McDaniel (14 carries, 78 yards) and Nelson’s 30-yard pass to Kevin Robinson for a first down at the 5.
After Jimmy Bohm lumbered down to the 1 on first down, Nevada took control. Bohm was stopped for no gain, Pratt tipped away a potential TD pass on third down and Marcus Cross was stacked up for no gain by Milan and Jason DeMars.
“To allow a home team a stop on the goal like that will definitely give them serious momentum,” Nelson said. “We felt like we were still in it at the half, but we just couldn’t do anything in the second half. We have no one else to blame but ourselves.”
Nevada relied on the running from Luke Lippincott, who rushed for a career-high 144 yards and two scores, for its next touchdown.
The Pack drove 81 yards on 13 plays, and Lippincott, who played most of the game in relief of Robert Hubbard (ankle), carried eight times for 52 yards, including a 5-yard TD run.
Utah State managed only two first downs in the third quarter, and Nevada’s offense really got untracked.
Rowe (12-for-19, 140 yards) completed a 20-yard pass to Caleb Spencer for a first down at the Nevada 46. On the next play, Rowe dropped back and found lanky Marko Mitchell running free at about the Utah State 30. Mitchell cut toward the right sideline and made it down to the 1 before going out of bounds to complete the 53-yard play.
Lippincott, who scored two times for the second consecutive week, scored on the next play to make it 21-0 with 9:45 left.
“It was like ‘here we go again’,” USU coach Brent Guy said. “I thought we’d gotten over that. We didn’t do anything to fight back. I didn’t think we fought back very hard.”
Utah State went three and out on its next two possessions, and Nevada scored both times, and both scoring drives were short-field situations.
The first drive was simple after Jackson only got off an 18-yard punt, giving the Pack a first down at the USU 36.
After a small gain by Lippincott, Rowe completed a 13-yard pass down to the 22. The Pack should have scored on the next play, but Spencer dropped a pass near the goal line. After another misfire, this time to Darlington, Rowe completed a 4-yard pass to Lippincott down to the 18.
Ault bypassed the field goal, instead going for it on fourth-and-6, and he looked like a genius.
Rowe dropped back, and was forced out of the pocket. He managed to evade four tacklers and scored. The PAT made it 28-0 with 5:26 remaining.
On its next possession, Nevada started at its own 46. Lippincott ran twice for 23 yards down to the Utah State 22. Rowe found Spencer for nine yards and Lippincott carried for seven yards down to the USU 6.
On the next play, Rowe faked a handoff to Lippincott, who seemed to draw most of the Aggies’ defense to him. Rowe had kept the ball and skirted around left end for his second score of the game and a 35-0 lead.
“Jeff played extremely well in the third quarter,” Ault said. “He threw the nice play-action pass (to Mitchell). We were hoping the weather would subside, and that’s what happened.”
“I thought Rowe did a really nice job,” Guy said. “We did create some plays to sack him a couple of times, and there were some times when guys weren’t blocked but he still scrambled around and made plays.”
And, Rowe wants the Pack to continue making plays.
“We’re 7-3 now,” Rowe said. “That sounds a lot better than 3-3, but 9-3 sounds a lot better than 7-3. We’re going to focus on the last three (Louisiana Tech, Boise State and a bowl game).
“You won’t see any dropoff out of us. The coaches won’t allow us to drop off. We’ve got two big (regular-season) games left. I don’t think we’ve ever won at Louisiana Tech. It’s a big time coming up.”
“We’re ready to go,” said the sophomore running back. “We’re just trying to run the table now and win the rest of our games. We think we are actually a better team than our record is. We’re just trying to prove that to everyone and show that we are champions and definitely should be in a bowl game.”
No doubt the Pack made believers out of Utah State.