Wolf Pack grades: Nevada gets 9 A’s, 1 B- for San Diego State win
Grading the Nevada Wolf Pack’s 26-21 victory over the San Diego State Aztecs on Saturday at Mackay Stadium.
Carson Strong saw his streak of passing for 300 or more yards end at six games in a row. He was also intercepted for the second game in a row after being picked off just once over the previous nine games dating back to the middle of last season. The savvy sophomore, though, did complete 31-of-46 for 288 yards and two scores and, once again, was the Wolf Pack offense. Strong has now tossed at least one touchdown pass in 10 consecutive games and at least two in all five games this season. His 50-yard scoring strike to Romeo Doubs gave the Pack a 23-21 lead early in the third quarter and proved to be the game-winning play. Keeping Strong healthy is the key to this entire Pack season.
RUNNING BACKS: B-
The Wolf Pack’s running game continues to be the garnish on the Wolf Pack’s offensive plate. It looks good but it doesn’t really add much to the meal. The Pack had just 88 yards on the ground on just 23 carries (3.8 a carry) and nearly half of that production (36 yards) came on just two carries. Toa Taua was solid with 52 yards on 13 carries and certainly deserved more carries, especially when the Pack was trying to protect its five-point lead in the fourth quarter. Devonte Lee, though, had 25 yards (seven carries) with 24 coming on one attempt. Running the ball is never easy against the Aztecs and the Pack simply seemed afraid to even try most of the game.
Where would the Wolf Pack be this year without Romeo Doubs and the rest of the Wolf Pack Touchdown Club? Doubs caught a crucial 50-yard touchdown pass from Strong and finished with 133 yards on five catches. He has now caught at least five passes for 117 or more yards and at least one touchdown in all five games this year. And Doubs had a lot of help against the Aztecs. Cole Turner and Justin Lockhart each caught eight passes. Turner’s eight catches went for 50 yards and one (2 yards out) gave the Pack a 16-14 lead. Lockhart’s eight grabs went for 45 yards. Five of Lockhart’s eight catches came in the first quarter as the Pack wanted to show the Aztecs that Doubs isn’t their only threat. Melquan Stovall also caught three passes and had a 4-yard run.
OFFENSIVE LINE: A
The Wolf Pack did not allow a sack. That is a reason to throw a parade down Virginia Street. How significant is this momentous occasion? Well, the Wolf Pack had allowed an alarming total of 35 sacks over its previous 13 games going into the San Diego State game. The last time the Pack did not allow a sack was Sept. 21, 2019 against UTEP and that was because the Pack attempted just 22 passes that game. In the three games before the UTEP game last year the Pack allowed a total of 10 sacks. Strong tossed 46 passes against the Aztecs and never was sacked. That is why we are overlooking the offensive line’s four false start penalties (three by freshman Jacob Gardner) here.
DEFENSIVE LINE: A+
Dom Peterson put his name in the hat for the Mountain West’s Defensive Player of the Year against the Aztecs. The junior was brilliant with two sacks and one other tackle for a loss and was named the Defensive Player of the Week. Peterson had four tackles and all four were game-changers. Sam Hammond also had a solid day with three tackles, one early in the fourth quarter for a loss. Kam Toomer also contributed big time with seven tackles, one for a loss, and also recovered an Aztec fumble. The Pack defensive line played so well that the Aztecs, for some reason, elected to throw three passes over four plays despite being inside the 5-yard line with a minute to play.
Lawson Hall is turning into one of the best linebackers in the Mountain West. The senior was outstanding against the Aztecs with nine tackles (19 in the last two games) and was in on two tackles behind the line of scrimmage. He dropped Aztec running back Chance Bell for a pivotal 1-yard loss on second down from the 4-yard line with about a minute to go. Trevor Price teamed with Peterson to stop Bell after a short 3-yard gain on a 3rd-and-12 pass late in the third quarter. Lamin Touray stopped Jordan Byrd for no gain early in the fourth quarter. The Wolf Pack’s front seven on defense won this game.
The Wolf Pack faced its third (in five games this season) backup quarterback in San Diego State’s Lucas Johnson. Johnson also had to battle a nagging hamstring injury all game on top of it. But the Pack secondary did its job once again just the same, holding the Aztecs to just 14 completions for 184 yards through the air. The Pack never seemed threatened in the least by the Aztec passing game, allowing the front seven to concentrate on the run. Safety Tyson Williams, as usual, was all over the field with five tackles. Mikael Bradford had five tackles and knocked down a pass. Berdale Robbins had three tackles and batted away two passes. Jordan Lee teamed with Hall to stop Chance Bell for a 2-yard loss late in the first quarter. Christian Swint was in on four tackles.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A+
Brandon Talton made four-of-five field goals with his only miss coming from 51 yards out with five minutes to play. The miss ended his streak of 18 successful field goals in a row. Doubs also finally broke free on a couple of punt returns, picking up 29 and 25 yards on two returns. Punter Julian Diaz also returned to the lineup and was outstanding. The best punter in the Mountain West averaged an eye-opening 55.2 on five punts. All five of his punts were for 50 yards or more with a long of 63 and four dropped inside the 20. Diaz’s 63-yarder trapped the Aztecs at their own 2-yard line in the fourth quarter. He was named the conference’s special teams Player of the Week.
The San Diego State Aztecs simply bring out the best in the Wolf Pack coaching staff. When the Pack plays the Aztecs the Pack defense looks overly prepared and the offense takes what the defense gives them. The Pack also makes sound decisions (no going for it on fourth down, for example). The Wolf Pack has now won three games in a row against the Aztecs, all by five points or less. All three have been clearly coaching victories. A lot of things have broken the Pack’s way over the first five games (they could easily be 2-3 instead of 5-0) but this coaching staff, better than any staff in the Mountain West this year, is keeping this team healthy, prepared and hungry.
The Wolf Pack, as has become their custom, fell behind 14-6 early and 21-16 by halftime and then simply dominated the second half. They overcame their own mistakes against the Aztecs and took advantage of some questionable calls by the officials that hurt the Aztecs. Yes, Strong found Doubs for a 50-yard touchdown that gave the Pack the lead for good. But this game was won down in the dirt, fist to fist, jaw to jaw with grit, fight and pluck. This team clearly smells a Mountain West championship.