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Wolf Pack grades: High marks for Nevada after Wyoming

By Joe Santoro For the Nevada Appeal
Nevada quarterback Carson Strong (12) throws a touchdown pass against Wyoming State during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020, in Reno, Nev.
AP Photo/Lance Iversen

Grading the Nevada Wolf Pack’s 37-34 overtime victory over the Wyoming Cowboys on Saturday:

QUARTERBACK: A+

Carson Strong carried the Nevada Wolf Pack on Saturday. The sophomore quarterback had one of the best days for a quarterback in school history, completing 39-of-52 passes for 420 yards and four touchdowns. The 39 completions are the third most in Wolf Pack history behind Chris Vargas (43 against McNeese State in 1992) and Mike Maxwell (39 vs. UNLV in 1995). Over the second and third quarters Strong was 26-of-32 for 313 yards and two scores. Strong was brilliant and he did it on a day when the Pack had little production from the running game. He completed passes to nine receivers and did not throw a single interception. He has not been intercepted over his last 203 passes, the longest current streak in the nation.

RUNNING BACKS: C

Devonte Lee led the Pack backs with 65 yards on 18 carries but 29 of those yards came on one run. It must be noted that starting running back Toa Taua did not play but is expected to play this week at UNLV so we should see a big improvement in the Pack game very soon. The Pack didn’t put much emphasis on the run game against Wyoming (this won’t be the last time that happens) but when they did, it failed. Lee couldn’t get in the end zone on three consecutive runs from the 1-yard line late in the second quarter. He also fumbled the ball away after a catch. Avery Morrow, a true freshman from Seattle, had the most important run of the game, an 18-yard touchdown for a 21-6 lead in the third quarter. The running game had just 76 yards on 27 carries but that includes 26 yards that Strong lost on three sacks. The running backs, Lee and Morrow, combined to gain 96 yards on 21 carries but nearly half (47) of those yards came on just two runs.

RECEIVERS: A+

Elijah Cooks only caught two passes but one of those was a one-handed grab that will make NFL scouts drool next spring. Romeo Doubs hauled in 12 passes for 117 yards and the 9-yard game-winning touchdown in overtime. Cole Turner, a former wide receiver who now just might one of the most athletic tight ends in the country, caught seven passes for 119 yards and a pair of touchdowns. And freshman Tory Horton caught a 26-yard touchdown to open the scoring. Melquan Stoval chipped in with five catches and Justin Lockhart, a sophomore who caught just five passes all last year, had four against Wyoming.

OFFENSIVE LINE: B

The Pack offensive front had a solid game overall, keeping Strong in one piece as he tossed up 52 passes. But it was far from a perfect game for the Pack front. Strong was sacked three times and the running game only had brief moments of productivity. Three sacks over 52 passes isn’t an alarming total but, remember, the Pack passing game consists of quick, short passes for the most part. Center Tyler Orsini was called for a personal foul and left guard Jermaine Ledbetter had a false start. The biggest red flag was late in the second quarter when the Pack had first-and goal from the 1-yard line and couldn’t score on three running plays. The Pack had a 28-6 lead very late in the third quarter and couldn’t simply run the ball and kill clock. The offensive line was also playing a Wyoming team whose defensive line has been depleted by five players opting out of the season (because of COVID-19).

DEFENSIVE LINE: B

The best play the defensive line might have made all game long was when tackle Dom Peterson fell on Wyoming starting quarterback Sean Chambers on the third play of the game. Chambers left the game never to return and the Wyoming offense seemed out of sync the rest of the way. Defensive end Kam Toomer did have a sack but it was on the final play of the first half. Defensive end Sam Hammond played a solid game with seven tackles (2.5 for a loss). Six of Hammond’s tackles were on Wyoming running back Xazavian Vallady, who had 206 yards on the Pack last year in Wyoming’s 31-3 win. Peterson and Toomer also did a solid job keeping Valladay (87 yards, 22 carries) bottled up at times.

LINEBACKERS: B

Lamin Touray (seven tackles), Lawson Hall (six tackles and a sack) and Josiah Bradley (three tackles) played well at times. The front seven (defensive line, linebackers) did a nice job of making sure Valladay didn’t run wild. But Wyoming quarterback Levi Williams did break free for a pair of rushing touchdowns (8 and 21 yards) and Valladay did have 10 carries of five or more yards. Williams did have 40 yards rushing but 29 of those came on his two scoring runs. It was not difficult to figure out where the Wyoming offense was going most of the game, especially after Chambers got hurt. Wyoming had just 67 plays and Valladay had 22 carries, caught seven passes and was targeted 10 times.

SECONDARY: B

The play of the game for the Pack defense was turned in by cornerback Berdale Robbins, who made an acrobatic interception at the Wyoming 9-yard line with five minutes to play. Safety Tyson Williams also was solid with seven tackles until he was ejected from the game for targeting a Wyoming receiver in the third quarter. Emany Johnson also chipped in with a team-high eight tackles. Wyoming’s passing offense will certainly not be the most dangerous the Pack will see all year. So the Pack secondary played well and with confidence. Just 10 Wyoming passes were completed to wide receivers. But the secondary certainly didn’t dominate as much as it should have.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B

Punter Julian Diaz was outstanding, averaging 55.4 yards on five punts. He had a 76-yarder and dumped two inside the 20-yard line. Kicker Brandon Talton had an important 21-yard field goal for a 31-28 lead in the fourth quarter and made all three of his extra points. The Pack, though, got little production on its six kickoff returns (19.3 average on six returns) and there were three sloppy penalties on the kickoff return team.

COACHING: A+

The Wolf Pack offense was as advertised. We saw the Air Raid in all its glory. Strong and the wide receivers looked like they were in mid-season form and the Pack offense seemed to move the ball at will, even with the absence of Taua from the backfield. Forget those 31 points the defense allowed. The defense was very good in the first half and did come up with enough big plays to win the game. A couple of broken runs by Williams led to nearly half of Wyoming’s points. All in all, considering all of the challenges the team faced with COVID-19 and playing a home game with no fans in the stands, this was one of the best coaching jobs the Pack has had in the Jay Norvell era. The Pack was ready to play from the start and found a way to grind out the victory in the end.