Nevada Wolf Pack can show what it learned | NevadaAppeal.com

Nevada Wolf Pack can show what it learned

Joe Santoro
Special to the Nevada Appeal

Oregon State's Artavis Pierce carries the ball against Southern Utah on Saturday in Corvallis, Ore. The Beavers will visit Nevada this Saturday.

The Nevada Wolf Pack isn't going to allow a 41-10 loss at Vanderbilt last Saturday to put a damper on its entire season.

"I'm disappointed but I'm not discouraged," Wolf Pack coach Jay Norvell said of the one-sided loss at Nashville last weekend. "All of the things that happened in that game are correctable. And the great thing about it is that we kind of get a do-over this week."

The Wolf Pack (1-1) will get a chance to show what it learned from its loss at Vanderbilt against the Oregon State Beavers (1-1) on Saturday (4 p.m.) at Mackay Stadium.

"We get a chance to correct those errors of last week," Norvell said.

The Wolf Pack has endured a rollercoaster first two weeks of the season. The Pack piled up 636 yards in a 72-19 victory over Portland State to open the season at home and then managed just 250 yards in 31-point loss at Vanderbilt a week later.

The 62-point drop in production is the Pack's biggest one-week decline since a 79-point drop in 1948 (79-13 win over Oklahoma City followed by a 14-0 loss to Santa Clara). The Pack's one-week drop in yards of 386 is its biggest since a 428-yard drop in 2010 (844 against Idaho followed by 416 against Fresno State).

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"We didn't respond well offensively (against Vanderbilt)," Norvell said. "We had too many mental errors and mental mistakes on basic things we work on every day. We just didn't handle the physicality of the game very well. You could say it was a SEC team, say it was hot (84 degrees at kickoff with high humidity) but we didn't do basic things. If we use proper technique we can manage those types of teams and we can play with them."

Oregon State of the Pac-12 certainly might be more manageable for the Wolf Pack than Vanderbilt of the Southeastern Conference. The Beavers, after all, have lost 20 games in a row on the road and have lost 30-of-37 games overall over the last three-plus years (1-11 last year). Oregon State hasn't beaten a Division I-A (Football Bowl Subdivision) school since it beat Oregon in the final game of the 2016 season, 34-24. The Beavers are 9-42 against FBS teams since the middle of the 2013 season.

"A win (at Nevada) would be a huge deal," Oregon State quarterback Conor Blount said this week. "Doing that outside of Reser Stadium (Oregon State's home field) is something we haven't done in a while. It would be a huge boost."

Both Nevada and Oregon State will be looking for a boost on Saturday.

"Winning this week would be huge," Pack quarterback Ty Gangi said. "It would really give us momentum. I really want to beat a Power Five team."

The Wolf Pack's last victory over a team from a Power Five Conference was Sept. 5, 2014 when it beat Washington State of the Pac-12 24-13 at Mackay Stadium. "I think it would be a great shot in the arm for our confidence (to beat a Pac-12 team)," Norvell said. "It's certainly a game if we play well, if we execute, we have a great opportunity to win."

Neither team has beaten a FBS team this season so far. Oregon State's lone victory (after a season-opening 77-31 loss at Ohio State) was over Southern Utah of the Big Sky Conference, 48-25 last week. Portland State, the Pack's lone victim, is also from the Big Sky.

The Beavers, though, were encouraged by what took place against Ohio State, despite the 46-point loss. Blount was 12-of-19 through the air for 169 yards and two touchdowns and running back Artavis Pierce ran for 168 yards and two touchdowns. "When you can go out and put 31 points on a defense like that, I think it says there is a bright future here," Blount said.

Pierce, though, won't play against the Wolf Pack because of an elbow injury suffered against Southern Utah. Oregon State wide receiver Trevon Bradford, who has caught nine passes for 151 yards and three touchdowns, also might not play against the Pack because of a shoulder injury.

Blount is also expected to share time at quarterback with Jake Luton. Luton, who beat out Blount for the starting job this summer, suffered a concussion on the Beavers' first drive of the game against Ohio State. He did play last week against Southern Utah and has completed 5-of-10 passes this year for 88 yards. The 6-foot-1 Blount, a former walk-on, is 27-of-41 this year for 395 yards and three scores.

"A lot of people, when I came here, never expected me to step on the field," Blount said.

Luton, like the Pack's Gangi, is a former Ventura College quarterback. The 6-foot-7, 230-pound Luton was a backup quarterback at Idaho in 2015 (383 yards, one touchdown, four interceptions) and then played at Ventura (junior) College in 2016, throwing for 3,551 yards and 40 touchdowns. Gangi passed for 2,288 yards and 21 scores at Ventura in 2015. Luton then played just four games last year at Oregon State, passing for 304 yards against Colorado State in the season opener, before suffering a spine fracture.

"I think we have two quarterbacks we can move the ball with," Oregon State head coach Jonathan Smith said. "Both guys have really done some good things."

Smith, in his first year as the Beavers' head coach, played quarterback in Oregon State's 28-13 victory over the Wolf Pack at Mackay Stadium in 1999. He also has coached four other times at Mackay Stadium as an assistant coach at Idaho in 2005, 2007 and 2009 and Boise State in 2013.

"This (Mackay) is a tough place to play," Smith said. "Nevada is always a tough spot. This is going to be a challenge. This place can get rocking. They have some players. They can score points. We are going to need our A game to win."

Freshman Jermar Jefferson, who ran for 238 yards and four touchdowns against Southern Utah, is expected to take over for the injured Pierce as the Beavers' top back on Saturday.

"They have quite a few playmakers who can make a lot of big plays," Wolf Pack safety Asauni Rufus said. "They run their system pretty well. They do a good job with their RPO (run pass option) game."

"It's hard to predict what they are going to do," Wolf Pack safety Nephi Sewell said. "They have a balanced team."

Norvell would like to see his Wolf Pack reestablish its run game. The Pack had just 34 yards on the ground against Vanderbilt on 24 carries. "We have to play better up front," Norvell said. "We have to do a better job running the ball. Our run sets up our passing game. We have things we want to do in the run game and we want to play off those things in the pass game."

Oregon State's defense has struggled to stop the run. Ohio State ran for 375 yards and five touchdowns (7.1 yards a carry) against the Beavers. Southern Utah also had success running through Oregon State, picking up 148 yards and a touchdown (3.9 a carry) on the ground.

"These guys (the Wolf Pack) are not Ohio State," Smith said. "But they are going to be a test for us. We've got our hands full."

"I think we're the underdog (against Nevada)," Blount said.