Nevada to face another tough offensive challenge
Appeal Sports Writer
RENO – For the second time in three games, Nevada’s defense finds itself facing one of the top quarterbacks and offenses in the nation.
Chase Holbrook, who has passed for 2,870 yards and 21 touchdowns, leads New Mexico State (2-5, 0-3) into Mackay Stadium to face Nevada (4-3, 1-2) today at 1:05 in a key Western Athletic Conference football game.
This is a dangerous game for Nevada. The Aggies haven’t beaten a Division I opponent since 2004, but with Holbrook at the controls they have improved immensely. Their scoring average is up by 17-plus points a game, they are averaging 175-plus yards more throwing the ball and they are gaining 171 yards per game more than in 2005.
“Chase is a great player,” NMSU coach Hal Mumme said. “He and the receivers are having nice years, and the offensive line is a lot better. He’s a great Warrior. (Melila) Purcell knocked him out for four or five plays. Everybody thought he was hurt. We looked up and there he was taking us for a touchdown.”
Nevada coach Chris Ault said it would be tough to compare and contrast Holbrook with Hawai’i’s Colt Brennan, who led the Warriors past Nevada 41-34 on Oct. 7. He is impressed by Holbrook from what he’s seen on film and TV.
“I need to see him play a game (live),” Ault said. “It would be difficult right now. Colt is in his second year in that system. Obviously he knows it. Holbrook is still learning the system, but he’s a nice player. He can really throw the ball, and he gets it out of there quickly.
“It’s grass basketball. That’s what we call it. Their (New Mexico State) receivers are going to get their catches. We have to make them pay the price when they do.” Ault stressed the need to eliminate yards after the catch.
The Aggies have a solid quartet of receivers in Chris Williams (52-851-7), A.J. Harris (43-430-3), Derek Dubois (36-505-5) and Jeremiah Williams (32-242-2) plus tight end Nick Cleaver (30-411-3).
“Chris Williams is unbelievable,” said Barry Sacks, Nevada’s co-defensive coordinator. “He’s a player. He’s fast and he’s good.
“We have to mix up our coverages and pass-rush schemes. If we sit in one (coverage or blitz package) thing, he’ll tear us to shreds.”
Nevada no doubt will be in its nickel (five DBs) and dime (six DBs) most of the game. The Aggies will be without running back Justine Buries (knee), who has played only two games, for the rest of the season. Jeremiah Williams and Chris Nwoko will replace him.
Ault said that Nevada will have to play the run against the Aggies, but not as hard as it did against Hawai’i.
“They (the Aggies) don’t have a 275-pound running back,” Ault said, referring to the Warriors’ Nate Ilaoa, who burned Nevada both running and catching the ball.
Nevada’s defense is coming off one of its best defensive performance of the season. The Pack defense, led by Ezra Butler, Josh Mauga, Joe Garcia and J.J. Milan, allowed only 239 total yards and seven points against San Jose State.
NMSU coach Hal Mumme is impressed with Nevada’s defense.
“They give you a lot of different looks and they run to the ball well,” Mumme said. “(Ezra) Butler plays real hard.”
Mumme knows his defense, which surrenders 32 points a game, will have to be at its best.
“Their offense is unique,” Mumme said. “Practicing for it is tough. It’s not something the kids see all that much.
“(Robert) Hubbard takes advantage of their offense. He does a nice job running the ball. He’s a tough runner. It’s something we’ll have to contend with.”
Quarterback Jeff Rowe practiced the entire time Tuesday and Wednesday. It’s still not 100 percent that he will play. Rowe was cleared last week, but didn’t play against San Jose State. His back-up, Travis Moore, completed 20 of 28 passes in the 23-7 victory.
Notes: Nevada takes an eight-game home winning streak into the game and leads the all-time series 8-1 … Nevada, thanks to the efforts of Hubbard and freshman Brandon Fragger, is ranked second in the WAC in rushing offense and 35th nationally … Nevada is ranked first in turnover margin at 1.14, which is seventh in the country. The Pack is a plus-8 … Holbrook has taken some hits in recent weeks. The NMSU offensive line has allowed 26 sacks thus far, the highest number in the WAC.
• Contact Darrell Moody at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by calling (775) 881-1281
NEW MEXICO STATE (2-5, 0-3) AT NEVADA (4-3, 1-2)
When: Today, 1:05 p.m.
Where: Mackay Stadium
TV: ESPN Game Plan (Pay Per View)
Radio: ESPN Radio 630 AM
The Pick: Nevada 42, New Mexico State 33