The Nevada football team improved its points per game and yards per game last season, although it’s fair to say the Wolf Pack still has a lot of room to grow on that side of the ball.
In 2018, Nevada averaged 31.1 points per game (up 2.9 from the season prior) and 430.8 yards per game (up 33.2 from the season prior). But the Wolf Pack’s turnovers column rose from 21 to 28 (the third most in the FBS) while it converted just 32.4 percent of its third downs, eighth worst in the FBS. So, some good and some bad from 2018.
Nevada returns six starters from its 2018 offense but must replace its best two offensive players in quarterback Ty Gangi, who graduated, and wide receiver McLane Mannix, who transferred. Let’s take an early look at the Wolf Pack’s 2019 offense. (We’ll take a look at Nevada’s 2019 defense tomorrow).
Key departures: Ty Gangi
Key returners: Cristian Solano, Carson Strong, Griffin Dahn, Kaymen Cureton
Key additions: Austin Kirksey, Malik Henry
In short: The Wolf Pack loses Gangi, a three-year starter, so the shoes to fill are large. Gangi was a little turnover prone but he also made a lot of big plays and was a great locker room leader who teammates loved and followed. He threw for 3,331 yards and 24 touchdowns in 2018. Solano and Cureton have both started games (neither went well) and Nevada is really high on Strong, who redshirted as a freshman this season. Kirksey, a true freshman, and Henry, a former blue-chip prospect who started college at Florida State, both join the fray for spring ball. There are plenty of guys with a shot at this.
Confidence level: 4 (out of 10) – There’s always some uncertainty when you replace a productive multi-year starter like Gangi. It feels like the race will be between Solano, a senior who was the backup this year, and Strong, the freshman, but others will be in the mix. Strong has a high ceiling, but you’d probably have to live with some freshman mistakes. (I'd live with them). Either way, Nevada’s expectations at this position are high given its history of great quarterback play.
Key departures: None
Key returners: Toa Taua, Kelton Moore, Devonte Lee, Jaxson Kincaide
Key additions: None
In short: No key departures and no key additions (the Wolf Pack didn’t add a running back in its 2018 class, the only position it didn’t add scholarships). It will be the same group as last season, which isn’t a bad thing given the talent the Pack has here. Taua was the 2018 MW freshman of the year after rushing for 816 yards and six touchdowns; Moore added 413 and four scores; Lee 177 yards and six scores; and Kincaide 121 yards and four scores (two receiving). The four horsemen won’t change in 2019.
Confidence level: 8 (out of 10) – The only thing to be sorted out here is the pecking order. Nevada did not lean heavily on one back in particular. Taua had the most carries with 156, which was 51 percent of the rushing attempts from this position. That’s a pretty low mark for your lead back, but Norvell likes spreading his attempts around. Will Nevada continue to go that route or lean more heavily on the dynamic Taua in 2019?
Key departures: McLane Mannix
Key returners: Kaleb Fossum, Romeo Doubs, Elijah Cooks, Brendan O’Leary-Orange, Ben Putman, Cole Turner, Dominic Christian
Key additions: Melquan Stovall, Justin Lockhart
In short: Had Mannix not transferred to Texas Tech after the year, the Wolf Pack would have returned its entire receiving corps. But he did leave, which thins the group and robs it of its biggest star. Nevada has a proven slot guy in Fossum and high-end ceilings with outside receivers like Doubs, Cooks, O’Leary-Orange and Turner, who are tall and athletic. Doubs is the one to watch next year as he could blossom into Nevada’s first 1,000-yard receiver since Rishard Matthews in 2011. Putman had a great Arizona Bowl and will be on scholarship in 2019. He doesn’t feel like a one-hit wonder. He should make an impact next year.
Confidence level: 6 (out of 10) – There’s good talent here, but the depth is a concern, especially if injuries strike. For a normal offense, the depth would be fine, but with the Air Raid (or Air Pistol, as they’re calling it now), you really need double-digit receivers you can trust. Nevada has about half that number, although the combo of Fossum, Doubs, Cooks and O’Leary-Orange is among the MW’s best.
Key departures: Trae Carter-Wells, Trevion Armstrong
Key returners: Reagan Roberson, Crishaun Lappin, Kori Collons
Key additions: Henry Ikahihifo
In short: Carter-Wells has been an unsung hero the last couple of seasons, so his departure is significant. Armstrong, a converted tight end, transferred to North Carolina Central, so he’s gone, too. Roberson is a quality player who caught the game-winning touchdown pass in the Arizona Bowl. The staff is high on Lappin, who played as a true freshman in 2018. The guy to watch here is Ikahihifo, a highly touted 2019 prospect who the Pack expects to play a big role this season. The rest of this group is made up of blocking backs. The 6-2, 255-pound Ikahihifo could become a crucial passing weapon.
Confidence level: 5 (out of 10) – Despite running the Air Raid, Nevada uses its fullback a lot, so this is an important position. It’s a solid group that could become more than that if Ikahihifo is ready to produce.
Key departures: Sean Krepsz, Anthony Palomares, Kalei Meyer
Key returners: Jake Nelson, Nate Brown, Jermaine Ledbetter, Aaron Frost, Miles Beach, Moses Landis, Nathan Edwards
Key additions: Blake Baughman, Trey Price, Cole Watts, Zac Welch
In short: The Wolf Pack loses three starters (all on the interior of the line) in Krepsz, Palomares and Meyer. The team’s two starting tackles – Nelson and Brown, each of whom started all 13 games last season – are back, which is nice, but the Wolf Pack will have to rebuild its line with plenty of unproven players. Landis, a JC transfer who missed last year due to injury, should step in at one of the tackle positions, pushing Brown to guard. Price, a JC transfer joining the team this year, is expected to play a big role. But there are lots of question marks here, especially at center.
Confidence level: 4 (out of 10) – Nevada has gotten good work out of its line the last two years despite questionable personnel. Coach Angus McClure will get the 2019 line to play well, but Nevada really needs to get back to the Union’s standard from 2005-12. Those were some special groups.
Key departures: Ramiz Ahmed
Key returners: Spencer Pettit
Key additions: None
In short: Ahmed has an excellent 2018, especially considering his humble past (he made the team via a student tryout early in the 2017 season). Ahmed was really good on kickoffs and made 15-of-20 field goals while nailing 40-of-44 extra points. He only missed two field goals inside the 50. Usually when you lose a kicker that good there’s uncertainty. Not for Nevada, which returns Pettit, the team’s starting kicker in 2017 (and for a portion of 2016). In his career, Pettit is 15-of-20 on field goals and 58-of-60 on extra points.
Confidence level: 7 (out of 10) – Pettit is a reliable kicker, although he doesn’t have the leg strength of Ahmed, which will impact kickoffs. Nevada also must find a backup in case of injury.
Sports columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @MurrayNSN.