Pack kickoff team has been special | NevadaAppeal.com

Pack kickoff team has been special

RENO – Through the first seven weeks, the best-kept secret in the Western Athletic Conference is Nevada’s kickoff coverage group.

Much has been written about Nevada’s inconsistent performances on offense, especially its inability to produce in the red zone, and the inexperienced defense which played its best game of the season last weekend against Rice.

Quietly, the Nevada kickoff coverage has soared to the top of the WAC stats, allowing just 16.65 a return. The mark puts Nevada 12th in the nation, a scant three yards per return behind nation-leading Penn State.

“That’s a good number,” said Barry Sacks, co-defensive coordinator, who along with the rest of the staff, works on special teams at the start of each practice. “We have a lot of guys that like being on it; that like going down there. It’s a no-name (for the most part) bunch of guys.”

Indeed. The unit is mostly made up of reserve linebackers and defensive backs. Guys like safety Donald Gupton, linebacker Scott Garrison, linebacker Kevin Porter, cornerback Shannon Sevor and cornerback Zach Walker. Safety Keone Kauo is one of the few starters on the unit.

“Our kickoff team with the exception of two returns has been outstanding,” Nevada head coach Chris Ault said. “We have a bunch of guys that sell out when they go down there. It’s an attitude thing. They’ve shown great attitude in covering kicks.”

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Between great coverage and Damon Fine’s kickoffs, the Wolf Pack have been able to keep opponents pinned down.

“Most football teams try to keep the return inside the 20-yard line,” Kauo said. “So far we’ve been meeting that goal.”

“Practice makes perfect,” Walker said. “We come out and work hard on it everyday. I don’t know if there are teams out there that work as hard as we do. Special teams can set the tone (of a game).”

The group did exactly that against Rice when Fine booted a high drop to the right side. The ball hung in the air for what seemed like an eternity, and Gupton lowered the boom on Rice return man Ed Bailey forcing a fumble which was recovered by Sevor.

Quarterback Jeff Rowe drove the Wolf Pack to another quick score to make it 14-0, forcing Rice to play in catch-up mode the rest of the game.

“That was a big hit,” Walker said. “That turned out to be 14 points on three snaps. That was big. He got the stats. He got the forced fumble and fumble recovery.”

Walker said there are no side bets between players on who will get the big hit – yet. He said that might come later once the Pack starts winning consistently.

Manpower on special teams varies by school. Some schools use their best, quickest athletes. Some use nonstarters. Nevada uses a combination of both. Kauo, in fact, loves to play on special teams.

“I look at it as another chance to get on the field and make a play; make something happen,” Kauo said. “You want to make a big play when you’re out there.

“The best thing about special teams is that you don’t have to be the best guy out there or fastest guy out there. The guys just go as hard as they can, and they have big hearts.”

A big heart is what the Wolf Pack showed last week when they snapped a three-game road losing streak.

(insert bullet) Center George Yarno (sprained foot) is not expected to play Saturday against Tulsa. His spot would be taken by Jimmy Wadhams, a former walk-on, who has started the last two games.

Tackle Harvey Dahl has a high ankle sprain, and his status is questionable, according to trainer Marc Paul. Dahl didn’t practice Monday.

John Tennert moved from tackle to guard and Kyle Robertson, a red shirt freshman, is getting some reps with the No. 1 offense. Ault is reluctant to play true freshman Dominic Green, who is listed as Dahl’s replacement on the depth chart. The coach wants to red shirt all of his true freshmen.

It appears that senior Shaun Tagatauli has moved ahead of Roosevelt Cooks in the ongoing battle for the starting Wolf linebacker spot, according to the depth chart released by the sports information staff on Wednesday.

Tagatauli finished with seven tackles against Rice compared to three for Cooks. Both would likely be on the field when Nevada uses its 3-4 alignment.

Contact Darrell Moody at dmoody@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1281.