Nevada Wolf Pack won’t surprise Oregon Ducks on Saturday
For the Nevada Appeal
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Jay Norvell and his Nevada Wolf Pack football team don’t want to be reminded that their next challenge is the Oregon Ducks.
“It really doesn’t matter who we play, whether it’s Purdue, Oregon or Weber State,” the Wolf Pack head coach said this week. “We have to prepare like they are nameless, faceless opponents and just do what we do well.”
“It’s really just about us,” Wolf Pack freshman quarterback Carson Strong said. “It’s not about them.”
The nameless, faceless Ducks are ranked No. 16 in the nation and will host the Wolf Pack on Saturday (4:30 p.m., Pac-12 Network) at Autzen Stadium. The Wolf Pack has lost its last five games in Eugene, Ore., and six overall to the Ducks, ever since a 13-6 win in the two teams’ first meeting in 1947 at Oregon.
“Everyone can be beat,” Wolf Pack sophomore safety Tyson Williams said.
The Wolf Pack will be a three-touchdown underdog this weekend. The Pack, though, was a 10-point underdog last Friday but emerged with a 34-31 victory over the Purdue Boilermakers at Mackay Stadium.
“We like the underdog mentality,” said Strong, who completed 30-of-51 passes for 295 yards and three touchdowns against Purdue in his first college start.
Oregon will come into Saturday’s game looking for its first victory of the season. The Ducks jumped out to a 21-6 lead last week against Auburn but lost 27-21 on a 26-yard touchdown pass with nine seconds remaining by Auburn freshman quarterback Bo Nix to wide receiver Seth Williams.
“We had our opportunities to close it out,” said second-year Oregon coach Mario Cristobal. “When you don’t, you look yourself in the mirror and you take it as a team, as coaches and players. We didn’t finish the game.”
The Ducks, which have won 14 consecutive home openers, will open their home schedule against Nevada this weekend. This year is also the first time the Ducks have started a season 0-1 since 2011. That year they beat the Wolf Pack 69-20 in their second game.
“We shouldn’t be intimidated by any team we play,” Norvell said.
The Wolf Pack has gone 5-17 against Pac-12 teams since it moved to Division I-A in 1992. The Pack dropped nine games in a row to Pac-12 teams from 1996-2003, with four of those losses coming against Oregon (1996, 1997, 1999, 2000 and 2003). The Wolf Pack, though, has won five of its last 13 games against the Pac-12, beating Washington in 2003, California in 2010 and 2012, Washington State in 2014 and Oregon State last year. The wins over Washington (2003) and Cal (2012) were on the road.
“I feel everybody has that chip on their shoulder,” said Williams, who had a team-high 12 tackles against Purdue. “We want to beat these guys.”
The Wolf Pack is hoping for its first 2-0 start to a season since 2014. The second victory that season was also against a Pac-12 team (Washington State).
The Pack, though, won’t sneak up on the Ducks. The first reason Oregon will likely be ready to play well this Saturday is that the Ducks were stunned by the loss to Auburn. The second reason is that the Pack’s victory over Purdue caught Oregon’s attention this week.
“I think we all recognize that Nevada is a really good football team,” said Cristobal, who led Oregon to a 9-4 record last year in his first full year as the program’s head coach.
Cristobal came away impressed with Strong after watching the Nevada-Purdue game film.
“The quarterback does not play like a freshman,” said Cristobal, a former Miami Hurricane offensive lineman.
“They (Nevada) are a tough team and they just had a comeback win so they will be riding high right now,” Oregon linebacker Troy Dye said. “We have to put our sorrows down and don’t give a damn. They (Nevada) don’t care about how we feel. They don’t care about our loss.”
The Ducks are led by senior quarterback Justin Herbert. The 6-foot-6 Herbert passed for 3,151 yards and 29 touchdowns last season and followed that up with 242 yards and a touchdown against Auburn.
“Offensively, they’re impressive,” Norvell said. “They have an excellent quarterback. He’s a pocket passer, a big, strong guy and very experienced. We have to pressure him. But he gives us some issues.”
The rebuilt Wolf Pack secondary allowed Purdue quarterback Elijah Sindelar to pass for 423 yards and four touchdowns last week. The Pack also only sacked Sindelar once despite 52 pass attempts.
“He’s going to be a challenge,” said Norvell of Herbert.
Williams said the Wolf Pack knows what the Oregon offense will throw at them. The Ducks struggled to run the ball against Oregon, gaining 90 yards on 33 carries. Purdue also ran for just 96 yards on 29 carries against the Pack.
“They don’t do too much on the offensive side,” Williams said. “They’re simple. But they’re fast.”
Oregon’s defense held Auburn’s Nix to just 13-of-31 passing for 177 yards. They also intercepted two Nix passes. Auburn, though, was able to run for 206 yards on 43 carries. The Pack had 109 yards on 25 carries last week.
“Each week presents a different challenge,” Norvell said. “They (Oregon) have a lot of speed. We’re going to have to do a great job in all three phases of the game.”
Oregon features a few familiar faces to Wolf Pack players, coaches and fans. Former long-time Wolf Pack assistants Jim Mastro (2000-10) and Ken Wilson (1989-2012) are now Ducks assistants. Mastro is in his second year coaching the Ducks’ running backs while Wilson is in his first year coaching the Ducks’ linebackers. Mastro and Wilson also coached at Washington State together from 2013-17 after departing Nevada. The Pack beat Mastro and Wilson in 2014 when the two coached for Washington State.
The Ducks also feature sophomore offensive lineman Penei Sewell, the brother of Wolf Pack senior linebacker Gabe Sewell.
“It’s going to be a big game for the Sewell family,” Norvell said.
The Sewells were on Norvell’s mind a lot this past off-season when Nephi Sewell, a sophomore safety, left the Wolf Pack after last season to join Utah. Gabe also put his name in the NCAA’s transfer portal this past off-season but later withdrew it. A fourth Sewell brother, Noah, is a highly recruited linebacker at Desert Hills High in St. George, Utah and is expected to join his brother Penei at Oregon.
“We know he’ll be ready for that,” said Williams of the Gabe vs. Penei brother battle on Saturday. “It will be a little brotherly love but I know he (Gabe Sewell) will bring it to him. I know that.”
“I don’t think it has hit me,” said Penei Sewell, when asked what it will be like to face his brother on Saturday. “But when we step on that field it will hit me. I’m sure I will see him a couple of times.”
The Wolf Pack is well aware that a victory over Purdue at home does not necessarily translate into a victory over Oregon on the road the very next week.
“You are only as good as your last practice,” Strong said. “We have to move on from our last game.”
“We have to have a short memory,” Williams said. “We know we can get so much better. We made a lot of mental mistakes (against Purdue). We can only go up from here.”
Oregon has a lot of experience against Mountain West teams and not all of it has been successful for the Ducks. The Ducks lost to Boise State in the 2017 Las Vegas Bowl and also lost to the Broncos in the regular season in 2008 and 2009. The rest of the Mountain West, though, has struggled against Oregon. Since 2005, the Ducks have beaten Fresno State four times, Wyoming twice and Utah State, San Jose State and Nevada once. Oregon will also meet Hawaii in 2020, 2023 and 2024, Fresno State in 2021 and Boise State in 2024, 2025 and 2026.
“These are the types of games why you play college football,” Norvell said. “It’s why you come to Nevada.”