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Murray's Mailbag: How does Malik Henry's emergence alter Nevada's season?

MalikHenry
Malik Henry played well against San Jose State and will be tested even more this week at Utah State. (Kyle Pulek/Nevada athletics)

Lots of questions this week, so let's go. Thanks, as always, for the inquiries.

(Note: If you're not seeing the tweets, it's probably because you're not using Google Chrome. Use Google Chrome).

I imagine Nevada will judge the starting quarterback on a game-by-game basis. Malik Henry did more than enough to earn a second start. It was actually pretty similar in overall quality to the game Cristian Solano put up against UTEP against an equally low-level defense (the Spartans' defense is better than the Miners' defense but still not good). I don't think the win over San Jose State makes Henry the starter for the rest of the season, but if he can maintain the level of play we saw against the Spartans when the opposition get more difficult, he'll keep the job. Nevada's next game is against Utah State, which ranks 22nd in ESPN's defensive metrics (SJSU is 106th). That will give us a little more intel on Henry and his grasp on the job. I get the feeling Jay Norvell wants to let him run with the gig for the rest of the season, but that will be determined by his play.

I thought he played well. He made two big mistakes and wasn't super accurate early in the game, but he extended plays with his legs, he was excellent on third down and he played well with the game on the line in the fourth quarter. And he did that without basically playing the last two seasons, so I imagine there was some early rust. He responded to his turnovers well and didn't let that adversity drag him down, which had been an issue in the past. Norvell was complimentary of Henry's ability to read the defense and relay that information to the coaches. As noted above, we need to see him against better competition, but he showed that NFL-caliber arm and the ability to improvise. It was a good start. He must keep building on it as the schedule ratchets up.

As for Robins, his size holds him back a little (5-9/180). I don't blame Nevada for starting seniors Daniel Brown and EJ Muhammad at cornerback. It's really between Robins and Jaden Dedman for that third cornerback spot. Both guys are undersized. Both will probably be starting next season unless Muhammad gets a sixth year of eligibility after his shoulder injury last season (he should get that year back).

Henry will start. And despite Norvell really liking Henry, I would guess Carson Strong does get another start this season.

Norvell has made the decision to play the quarterback who he believes gives the team the best chance of winning that day's game, which he believes is Henry at this stage (it was Strong going into the Hawaii game). Until Nevada is eliminated from winning the West Division title, I agree with that decision. There's a decent chance a 5-3 team wins the West this season, so I wouldn't be playing for the future at this stage in the year.

I'd probably give them all Bs in their first starts. Carson Strong, Cristian Solano and Malik Henry all played well in their debuts this season (albeit all against teams that rank in the bottom 35 in the nation in defensive efficiency). The issue has been sustaining that level of play for more than one game and against better defenses. Henry will get his crack on the road against Utah State. And, as noted above, I'd roll with the guy who gives Nevada the best chance of winning this season, which appears to be Henry given the state of Nevada's offensive line. If things change (Henry struggles or Nevada falls out of the title chase), then I'd turn it over to Strong if he is in fact "the future of the program," as Norvell said last week.

Yes, that's fair and is the way I'm thinking about things, although Purdue's defense is not good. The Boilermakers rank 94 in ESPN's defensive metrics (San Jose State is 106th and UTEP 129th). Oregon's defense is elite and Hawaii and Weber State both have decent FBS defenses. So Strong has faced a tougher slate. That's why I'm pumping the brakes on anointing Henry the full-time starter, but he certainly has the talent to get it done against higher-level opponents. He just has to go out there and do it and take the job. Nevada has been waiting for a quarterback to take the job and leave no doubt all season.

None, although Fresno State is not looking good this season. Ranking Nevada's road games from most winnable to least winnable looks like this:

1. Fresno State

2. Wyoming

3. San Diego State

4. Utah State

The matchups are somewhat favorable from a stylistic standpoint, but that looks like four losses unless Nevada's defense improves or the Wolf Pack has a great turnover game in one of these outings, which is possible. We saw that against Purdue.

1. I'll go with Carson Strong, although Henry has the chance to earn the gig over the final six weeks of the season.

2. Twice? It's hard to end the season in the Top 25. Alford did it three times in six seasons at New Mexico, but repeating that success at Nevada won't be easy. He won six MW titles in six seasons, after all. These days, coaches are judged by NCAA Tournament wins. Can Alford get to a Sweet 16, which he wasn't able to do with the Lobos? That's the big question.

It's always the most important game of the season to Wolf Pack fans, but I think it will be extra important this year because there's a good chance bowl eligibility will be on the line. If that's the case, I wonder if Nevada can draw 20,000 for the contest. Losing at home to UNLV is not good. Brian Polian did it twice and that damaged his tenure. Norvell is 1-1 against UNLV, but that win did come at home.

I don't know the scholarship count, but if one is available I would advocate for giving your starting quarterback a scholarship as long as he is doing all of the right things in the classroom.

It's still early in his career, but he's been amazing, hitting all 12 of his field-goal attempts (that's the second-most makes in the nation this season without a miss behind Washington's kicker, who is 14-of-14). Most impressive is his confidence with the game on the line. Both of his walk-off winners (from 56 and 40 yards) have been right through the middle. That said, he's not the best Nevada kicker ever yet. That's Tony Zendejas, who logged 11 NFL seasons (149 games). Things were a little different back then, however. Zendejas made 73.8 percent of his field goals. That was good back in the day, but would have ranked 32nd in the NFL last season. So Talton will have to be even better to have an NFL career.

I will ask Talton about his testicles (on your behalf, of course) the next time I see him.

I see what you did there. You spelled JOE KELLY's name by putting capitalize letters throughout the question. Very smart. As for Talton, he has to be the favorite. No other kicker is perfect this year with two walk-offs, although it's probably not a great sign only one non-Power 5 kicker has won the award since 2002, that being Tulane's Cairo Santos in 2012. Tulane's Seth Marler also won it in 2001. Who knew Tulane was the cradle of kickers? First thing it first, though. Talton hasn't been on any of the Lou Groza watch lists to this point of the season, so he'll have to get on there first.

For Heisman: Tua Tagovailoa if Alabama beats LSU and Joe Burrow if LSU beats Alabama.

As for Talton, I expect him to make some midseason All-American teams, so if he can keep up this form, I do think he'll be an All-American by season's ends. But if he misses a couple of kicks, he'll be dinged more than a Power 5 player. He has two walk-off game-winners, and one got good media run. That's hard for any other kicker to match, which is a huge boost.

My Monday review, including game MVP, is here.

It's a solid staff. Given how Nevada funds its program, winning six or seven games a season is kind of overachieving even if it doesn't excite the fan base. It's not easy to win at Nevada, which is why nobody other that Chris Ault (and Joe Aiken in the 1940s) has done it with regularity. The question is whether Norvell and staff can have a conference championship/Top 25 kind of season. You need one of those every five or six years to keep people interested. That's what Ault did in his third tenure, winning WAC titles in 2005 and 2010. Since that 2010 season, here are the Mountain West teams that have finished a season in the final Top 25:

* Boise State (five times), Fresno State (three), Utah State (twice), San Jose State (once), Colorado State (once) and San Diego State (once)

That's half the league. And then you can add Wyoming and Air Force playing for a MW title in that time span. It's certainly possible for Nevada to join that list. Will it happen under Norvell? It really depends on whether Nevada can find and develop a special quarterback. If SJSU can have a Top 25 season, Nevada can, too. Is this the staff to get it done? Only time will tell.

He has NFL talent, but I can say that about a lot of Wolf Pack players who don't make it to the league. Doubs was dealing with an injury earlier this season, so he's gotten off to a slow start, but he had a big game against San Jose State (five catches for 146 yards and one touchdown). I would not be shocked if he made it to the NFL. He has the skills and smarts to make that happen. But it's a long road from potential NFL player to actual NFL player.

The cure is playing teams that can't throw the ball. Fortunately for the Wolf Pack, that's going to be the case moving forward. Nevada has six games left. Here are the national ranks (out of 130 teams) of those teams in passing efficiency: 71, 74, 87, 118, 121 and 126. Nevada is going to face run-first teams for the rest of the season, which will help because the Wolf Pack ranks 30th in the nation in run defense and 121st in pass efficiency defense. Nevada isn't going to stop good passing attacks, but it's not facing any of those for the rest of the year.

Nevada has devoted a good chunk of numbers to the secondary in recent classes, so there should be improvement in future years, largely because the starting safety corps of Austin Arnold, Tyson Williams and Emany Johnson all return (Williams and Johnson are only sophomores). Asani Rufus and Dameon Baber struggled as young guys, too, and then peaked as seniors, so the hope for Nevada is this current cast of young players grows over time. But I don't think you'll see a top-50ish pass defense out of Nevada in the next few years.

Nevada can certainly get better defensively, but I don't see this being an above-average group by the end of the season. Again, the schedule will help. Per ESPN's FPI, the Wolf Pack has the MW's worst offense, but the three teams ranked ninth-11th in offense in the MW (UNLV, San Diego State and New Mexico) are still on the schedule and are run-first teams. Utah State ranks seventh among the MW teams in offensive efficiency, Fresno State fifth and Wyoming second. So outside of Wyoming, Nevada doesn't really play a good offense for the rest of the season, which will help.

It usually takes multiple NFL players to have a good secondary. Even last year, when Nevada's defense was excellent, the secondary was so-so (78th in pass efficiency defense). Nevada had multiple NFL defensive backs every year from 2009 to 2012 and ranked 118th, 39th, 22nd and 66th in pass efficiency defense in those years. Those are pretty good numbers outside of the first year when the secondary was young. So, basically you just need to get some NFL dudes in your secondary. Can Nevada do that again? Sure, but it's not easy.

Figuring out a rotation and getting used to playing in front of crowds. Alford said he opted for two exhibitions rather than one exhibition and one scrimmage because he wants to get his inexperienced players a chance to play in front of a crowd before the season opener against Utah, which is a quality opponent. I imagine he will tinker with different lineups to to see which guys fit together, although that isn't something you sort out in two exhibitions. That will take awhile to figure out.

Who passed on Alford? Arkansas? He's a good coach. The coaching will not be an issue this season. The lack of star players might be. Nevada has a bunch of good role players, but can it replace Caleb Martin, Jordan Caroline and Cody Martin? That's the big question. Those guys were dudes. There are a lot of ways the season can go. The Wolf Pack could muddle around-.500. It could win up to 22 or 23 games if everything breaks right. I liked the Alford hire. I'm not sure about a fully guaranteed 10-year deal. But that longevity allows Alford to build this thing long term. Fans shouldn't rush to judgment after one season. Nevada is not going to be as good this year as it was the last three. That's just not going to happen. But this team can make an NIT for sure.

Yes. Who else would it be? Steve Alford said he considers Lindsey Drew the best point guard in the Mountain West, which would make him the best point guard at Nevada. I'm sure he'll have to knock off some rust following Achilles surgery and surgery to both hips. But he should be a 12-point, six-rebound, six-assist per-game kind of guy this season.

The Wolf Pack only has 10 scholarship players this season, so 10 would be the deepest the team could go. I would guess it's a nine-player rotation (using the cutoff of a minimum of 10 minutes per game to be considered a "rotation" player). In his six seasons at New Mexico, Alford used big rotations: two seasons with a 10-man rotation, one with a nine-man rotation and three with eight-man rotations. That should be one major difference between Alford and Eric Musselman.

Alford has a 10-year contract, so I guess it could happen over the next decade. I would prefer to see Flea show up to Lindsey Drew's senior night game since the Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist used to go to his prep games at Fairfax High.

We have a lot of Malik Henry above, so you can reference that, but I think you'll only see Henry and Carson Strong from here on out, with Henry playing as long as he's performing at that average to above average range.

As for Hymes, it depends on minutes. I could see him giving Nevada a Trey Porter line this season (seven points, five rebounds, one block per game). It really comes down to his defense. He can do some things offensively, but will he defend and rebound at a high enough level to stay on the court for 20-plus minutes per game? Nevada certainty could use him given its lack of centers.

There's a two-part answer to this question.

(1) Eric Musselman stands alone when it comes to promoting his program and himself among college basketball coaches. He's exceptionally good at it, so expecting any other coach to match that is not realistic. Coaches are focused on winning games, as they should be. Musselman thought every day about trying to promote Nevada. It was unique.

(2) The Wolf Pack would prefer for basketball to be quite in program promotion during August, September and October so football can be the main focus. Musselman never acquiesced to that. The Wolf Pack wants its fans thinking about and supporting football at this time of the year. So Alford is being a team player. It's not like he doesn't want to promote his program.

Finally, Gardnerville over Minden. Duh.

I wasn't at that media day, so I never did any sleuthing around on that. It was pretty crazy at the time, although Nevada didn't win outright, so it made that vote look a little better.

As I wrote in my preview of his visit, Isaiah Richards is here from Sunday-Tuesday, so it's not over. When I spoke with Richards, he more or less made it known he wanted to take multiple visits before committing, so we'll see if Nevada can change that tune and get an oral pledge.

So you're telling me Kellen Moore isn't getting a NFL head job like everybody was telling me after Dallas beat three horrible teams to open the season? I'm shocked. I'm also fine with it. I have $20 riding on whether the Bills win more games this season than the Cowboys this season. I'm somehow winning that one right now.

The talent level at the position has had a steep decline since Chris Ault resigned following the 2012 season. The position has been coached up pretty well in recent years given the talent on the line, but, yes, the quality of player at the position needs to be upgraded. This year's struggles are a result of inexperience combined with a lack of upperclassmen depth, which required some position changes to fill the line. I'm of the belief it is harder to recruit offensive linemen than any position. It's also nearly impossible at the Group of 5 level to get instant-impact high school offensive linemen. The Wolf Pack has opted to go heavy on prep offensive linemen in recent years rather than look for a quick fix at the junior-college level. We'll see if that pays off down the road, but the line is the biggest issue with the offense, although it played well against San Jose State.

As for Bell, I was told it was an academic issue. He didn't land at any school. I would keep an eye on him joining the roster for the spring semester.

I wouldn't call is a culture issue (maybe a discipline one), but Nevada's penalties are up to 8.50 per game, which ranks 118th in the nation. The Wolf Pack was 60th in the nation last year at 5.92 penalties per game and 24th in the nation the year prior at 4.83 per game. Either way, we determined earlier this season penalties are good. Nevada is 8-3 when committing more penalties that its opponent under Norvell and 7-13 when it does not.

No. If Boise State keeps winning, it will keep moving up. That's just the way things work. There are only 12 perfect teams in the nation, and Boise State is one of them. If the Broncos win out, they'll be top seven or eight in the nation by the end of the year despite no signature wins.

I have not. It's pretty crazy Nevada is 4-2 with a minus-96 scoring margin. The teams below Nevada in scoring margin this season are a combined 9-41.

Yeah, there have been some struggles there this season, including against San Jose State. I don't get going for it on fourth-and-13 from the 39-yard line with 50 seconds left leading 24-3 because if you don't get it you give San Jose State a chance to score (as the Spartans did) and grab some momentum going into half. Also, Nevada was getting the ball to start the second half, so there isn't as much of a need to be aggressive there. That said, I don't think you're going to see a change in the aggressiveness because Nevada is about to be a massive underdog in some games (a 21.5-point underdog at Utah State this weekend), so the Wolf Pack will have to take some risks to pull out those games.

I think the ship has sailed on that one. All of the games can be found on TV/streaming services now and kids these days (adults these days, too) can't focus on one thing for that long. As exciting as the San Jose State-Nevada game was, it took 3 hours, 28 minutes to play, and the average football game has about 11 minutes of action. So you're talking about more than 3 hours of dead time. There's also been some confusion about tailgating among the student population (some think drinking at tailgates is illegal, which it is not), which has mucked up the issue. Our sister station, KRNV, had a story talking to students about attending games if you're interested.

I have Nevada at 5-6 heading into that game and UNLV at 4-7. It should be a thriller.

Heck no. It just shows how bad Vanderbilt is. Sanchez still has to make a bowl to save his job, which seems unlikely. UNLV is sitting at 2-4 and even if we assume the Rebels beat Colorado State and San Jose State (a big assumption), it would have to go 2-2 against Fresno State, San Diego State, Hawaii and Nevada to get to 6-6 and be bowl eligible (which wouldn't even guarantee a bowl spot). For Sanchez to keep his job, he'll have to make a bowl and beat Nevada. Then he can argue his team: (a) beat an SEC team on the road; (b) won the Fremont Cannon for the second straight season and third time in five years; (c) reached the postseason; and (d) have an exciting freshman quarterback who is a local. That'd be his case, but he's four wins away from that, four wins I doubt he gets.

Not unless it improves its overall level of play. San Jose State is improved, but it's still pretty bad (111th in ESPN's FPI; 115th in Football Outsiders; 130th in the Sagarin ratings). Nevada beat that team by a field goal at home while giving up 38 points. If Nevada stays at this level, 6-6 is the ceiling. If it improves, it could sneak out one road win and get to 7-5, which would clinch a bowl spot.

I'm assuming this is a reference to Bishop Manogue linebacker Vai Kaho, who is committed to Nevada but taking an official visit to Colorado. It's really important for Nevada to keep Kaho, who is the first Northern Nevada scholarship player to commit to the Wolf Pack in the Norvell era. You can't really blame Nevada for not getting guys who are going to Alabama (Ale Kaho), Michigan (Cade McNamara), USC (Joey Wright), Oregon (Jackson LaDuke), etc. But you'd like to keep the guys local who are going to Boise State (Ben Dooley), Fresno State (Peyton Dixon), etc. Some guys want to experience something new outside of their hometown ala Chris Carr (Boise State). But you have to keep some of these locals home. Northern Nevada is producing more FBS players than ever. Nevada has to retain the players who are getting Group of 5 offers/fringe Power 5 offers.

1. Blink-182

2. Taking Back Sunday

3. Yellowcard

4. Saves the Day

5. Green Day

6. Dashboard Confessional

7. The Used

8. Jimmy Eat World

9. Unwritten Law

10. At the Drive-In/Sparta

I played Screaming Infidelities on a loop after the Dodgers' Game 5 loss to the Nationals. "YOUR HAIR IS EVERYWHERE, JOE KELLY?!?!?"

In no particular order (and including all kinds of venues), Cameron Indoor Stadium, Fenway Park, Roland Garros, Centre Bell, Daytona International Speedway, Augusta National, Churchill Downs, Wembley Stadium, Lambeau Field and Madison Square Garden.

Packers. Aaron Rogers > Matthew Stafford.

The NFC North followed by the NFC West. The NFC is way more loaded than the AFC, so another Patriots Super Bowl berth appears like a lock. Yippee.

The Mighty Lizards are No. 1 in my book (and in your heart). You can't beat Wizard the Lizard.

I'd take the Brady cards. The dude has six Super Bowls and will probably win at least one more. Mahomes isn't winning six Super Bowl, so I imagine Brady's cards will be more valuable in the long run.

1. They all stay.

2. None of them go.

3. I do not fire Dave Roberts.

The team won 106 games this season and has averaged 98.3 wins per season in Roberts' four season. I don't agree with many of his bullpen moves the last three postseasons, and the handling of Game 5 against the Nationals was especially bad, but he's largely done fine. He didn't make Cody Bellinger or Corey Seager disappear in the playoffs. The talent is all there. The Dodgers just need to add Gerrit Cole and run it back.

Padres. They have a way better farm system and they are located in San Diego, which is American's finest season. The Angels have zero depth and have to deal with the Astros every season. Pick the Padres. (I'm also not sure Joe Maddon is that good of a manager. The Rays have been fine without him and the Cubs won the 2016 World Series in spite of him).

The Dodgers will win multiple titles in the 2020s. I have no doubt about that. There's too much talent on the major-league roster, and the farm system is ranked among the top three in baseball. Plus, it has tons of cash if it ever opts to buy some top-line free agents. The better question is whether the Giants can finish above-.500 before my 5-year-old son gets married. I'm not sure about that.

He's not getting fired ever. He's also not a pet, so he will not be on a leash.

When Joe Kelly took the mound, I told my wife that game was over and the Dodgers were going to lose. I also told her I thought Kenley Jansen might have been dead. That was the only explanation for Kelly over Jansen. So, you might say I did not like the fact Kelly got a second inning. I was shocked he pitched a 1-2-3 ninth. That was a miracle. You don't ask for back-to-back miracles.

Well, I've been both and it's been more painful to be a Dodgers fan only because I was in elementary school during the Bills' run and didn't know what the hell was going on. I think it's been more painful for the Dodgers because they've been the best team in baseball (or at least 1A with the Astros) in two of the last three seasons. In the Bills' four Super Bowls, it was the best team only once (that first year against the Giants). I can accept it a little more when you're clearly not as good as your opponent like the Bills were in their last three Super Bowl appearances.

* Denotes unnecessary shot at Giants.

Gabe Kapler, who just like Farhan Zaidi is a Dodgers leftover. I get it, though. Try and model your team after the best the National League has had to offer.

The Astros are the best team, but that doesn't mean much in the baseball playoffs. I'll take Houston over Washington in six games.

Looks like Mark Prior is the Dodgers' new pitching coach, so I don't see Maddux getting a job with the Dodgers, although I have to think he'd be a great pitching coach.

And, as noted above, I have the Astros winning it all, although I'll pull for the Nationals, just so I can say the Dodgers lost to the eventual champs (and should have beaten them). JOE KELLY?!?!?!

Soon. At least one title in the next five years. It's a lock.

It's very comfortable. I highly recommend.

I have not seen it yet. Ask again when I have. But it looks good.

Yes. I saw him play against Nevada ace Braden Shipley when both were juniors. ESPN's Keith Law was in attendance, so I interviewed him about Shipley for a story and watched the whole game. Shipley went 15th in that draft and Judge 32nd. Judge hit the ball hard all night against Shipley (and it was cold). He was 3-of-4 with three singles in a 5-3 Nevada win. Shipley allowed just one run in eight innings. I think Judge's size (he's 6-foot-7) was a big detractor. It's hard to hit with levers that long and a strike zone that huge. He's made it work, though.

Good question. Ask again next week when I have more time. As for now, I'll go:

1. Dodgers 2017

2. Dodgers 2019

3. Dodgers 2018

4. Dodgers 2016

5 . Dodgers 2015

See a theme?

They're not releasing him. He has $219 million left on his contract that runs through 2027. He'll win a World Series as a key part of the Yankees.

Me in the front and Del Gaudio in the back. And we're wearing a Pokey outfit from Gumby fame.

I wouldn't say the RGJ has given up. It's just unusual to have sports writers post four or five stories a day like I do. Most maybe do one a day. I write a lot. The RGJ is hiring a sports editor, though, so maybe some changes going on over there to add to the coverage.

I just wear the clothes my bosses lay on my bed when I go to sleep.

I got 70-plus questions this week, so I'm not wishing for any more on top of that. I like what the readers come up with every week, both sports and non-sports. It's always a surprise! See ya'll next week.

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