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Murray's Mailbag: What the heck happened to Nevada at Oregon?

Kelton Moore
Kelton Moore carries the ball during Nevada's loss at Oregon. (Julian Del Gaudio/NSN)

Oregon is better than Nevada in football. That's what we've learned over the years. Three of the Wolf Pack's six largest margins of defeat during the school's FBS era (since 1992) have come at Oregon, including the biggest two. Nevada's 77-6 loss to the Ducks on Saturday was the most lopsided in Nevada's FBS tenure, so what do we take from that game? Let's get to your questions in this week's edition of the Monday Mailbag. 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).

The five worst losses by margin of defeat in Nevada football history are:

1. 75 points to Cal in 1915 (Cal 81, Nevada 6)

2. 72 points to Cal in 1920 (Cal 79, Nevada 7)

3. 71 points to Oregon in 2019 (Oregon 77, Nevada 6)

4. 66 points to USC in 1929 (USC 66, Nevada 0)

5. 62 points to Oregon in 1999 (Oregon 72, Nevada 10)

So this is the third-most lopsided defeat in school history and the largest in nearly a century. Other notable lopsided losses include a 55-point defeat to Florida State in 2013 (the year the Seminoles won the national title), a 53-point loss to Boise State in 2003 (the final game of the Chris Tormey era), a 52-point loss to Missouri in 2008 (when Gary Pinkel ran up the score because Chris Ault fired Tormey, his buddy) and a 49-point loss at Oregon in 2011 (the first game post-Colin Kaepernick).

On the flip side, Nevada's largest margin of victory was a 132-0 win over Pacific in 1919.

1920, which also marked the year of the first U.S. election in which women had the right to vote. Also in 1920, the first commercially-licensed radio station began broadcasting live results of the presidential election. We get our news a little quicker these days. Most importantly, 1920 also marked the year the Eskimo Pie was invented. That was a huge advancement for our society, too.

I did not have Nevada losing by 71 points, but I did write before the game, "I wouldn’t be surprised if Oregon put up 60 points" in my three keys preview. Oregon is really good and things can snowball quickly if you make mistakes, and Nevada made a lot of them against the Ducks. All three units for the Wolf Pack (offense, defense and special teams) broke down, and coach Jay Norvell basically said today his team was not ready for that atmosphere and that stage. So on a scale from 1 (least shocked) to 10 (most shocked), I'd put myself at a 5. This was always a possibility. Look at Nevada's 2011 and 1999 games at Oregon. This has happened before.

My TV hack to watch the game was a one-week free trial of Fubo, which has the Pac-12 Network. Nice service, but no ESPN.

As for what went wrong: What went right? Nevada lost the turnover battle, 4-1. It went 3-of-17 on third downs and ranks 122nd out of 130 FBS teams in third-down conversion percentage after finishing 122nd out of 129 teams last year. That's an issue. The Wolf Pack's pass defense, which was a concern entering the season, also was carved up. Nevada's 412.5 passing yards allowed per game is second worst in the nation. The Wolf Pack's offensive line has struggled in the run game, and Oregon actually brought some pressure this game whereas Purdue didn't blitz very often. Oregon's edge in speed, especially on defense, showed up big in the game. Basically everything went wrong.

All and all, it was a bad performance. But Nevada is 1-1 after playing Purdue and Oregon, which it would have taken prior to the season, so not all is lost. It won't play a team as talented as Purdue and Oregon for the rest of the season. The defeat to the Ducks, however, did a number of the Wolf Pack's Football Power Index (FPI on ESPN). Prior to the game, Nevada was projected to go 6.6-5.5. After it, Nevada is projected to go 4.8-7.2. I'll take the over on that since Nevada has some games on the schedule it should win like Weber State, UTEP and New Mexico, but securing that Purdue victory looks even more important in terms of Nevada reaching the six wins for bowl eligibility.

This has largely been my feeling. Splitting with Purdue and Oregon is a good result, even if the latest taste in Nevada's mouth is a poor one given the beatdown it just took. The Wolf Pack is very fortunate to be 1-1 given Purdue dominated Nevada for three quarters. Overall, the Wolf Pack can still accomplish its main goals of beating UNLV, winning the MW West Division and getting to a bowl. But lots of improvements are necessary. The MW West Division is totally winnable with Fresno State starting the season 0-2, albeit against two solid Power 5 opponents. The Hawaii home game looks more difficult as does the road game at Wyoming. Getting to six wins is no cinch. Beating Weber State on Saturday is mandatory as it beating UTEP the following week. That's an FCS opponent and the worst FBS team in the nation. You have to go 2-0 there and then you're sitting at a solid 3-1 heading into conference play.

Nevada defensive lineman Dom Peterson had this to say on the topic of "giving up" when asked about Oregon making a statement versus Nevada: "I guess they lost to Auburn and they had to prove to the people that they're still a championship-contending team. I'm just mad that it was us. I feel like we could have done way better. I personally believe we gave up at half, which is something I've never seen from our team ever from last year to now. I was more disappointed than anything that we gave up because I know we could do better." I think that second quarter took the heart out of Nevada. The Wolf Pack was down 7-6 with less than nine minutes to go until halftime before Oregon went on a 28-0 run from the 8:28 mark of the second quarter to intermission, dropping the Wolf Pack into a 35-6 hole. It was over at that point.

As for running it up, Norvell said Oregon rubbed our nose in it, but when asked if he thought the Ducks were running up the score he said, "It's our job to stop them, so I didn't feel that way. I felt like they were trying to score and we have to do a good job of stopping them." Peterson added: "Guys need to get a little more fire in them now. It happened. It's over with now. But still keep it in the back of your head. Don't just forget about it. Yeah, we're forgetting about it, but it needs to stay there. We need to remember how they were doing us in the fourth quarter, how they were dancing on us and acting like clowns out there. It's something I'll never forget and now I don't want nobody to ever do us like that, especially at Mackay."

I personally don't think Oregon ran up the score. The Ducks's starting quarterback, Justin Herbet, threw his last pass attempt with 10 minutes, 12 seconds remaining in the third quarter. He basically played one half. Yes, Oregon went for it on fourth-and-short three times on its penultimate possession, but the alternative was kicking a field goal in that situation, which would give the appearance of trying to get cheap points. At least the Ducks gave Nevada a chance to stop them with those four-down attempts. And Oregon was playing its freshmen with the NCAA's new rule of playing freshmen four games while retaining the redshirt year. If you sign on for a $650,000 check to play a power-conference team, things like this can happen.

FBS teams get 85 scholarship players. To my knowledge, none of Nevada's 85 scholarship players had a scholarship offer from Oregon. So, yes, the talent gulf is massive. So is the budget. Oregon's football budget is $27,716,622, which is almost three times that of Nevada. That being said, a 77-6 loss is embarrassing. It should never get to that point, especially with Oregon pulling its starting quarterback early in the third quarter. San Jose State played at Oregon last year and only lost 35-22. The point spread was 24 points, not 71. That's not the true talent gap between the schools, and if they played again it'd be a lot closer. Nevada just made a lot of mistakes Oregon took advantage of.

I don't believe a ton in momentum from a team perspective, but whatever positive momentum toward increased attendance gains with the comeback win over Purdue was likely lost in the lopsided defeat to Oregon. As for the players, the confidence will come back if they go out and beat Weber State handily. I'm sure the confidence was dinged a little. But it wasn't destroyed. There could be a number of fans, however, who were going to the Weber State game after the Purdue loss that aren't doing so now. The fan base is pretty fickle.

The clear weakness of the defense is the secondary, so teams would be foolish not to try and expose that. With that said, a number of Nevada's opponents for the rest of the season are run-first teams, including New Mexico, San Diego State, Weber State, Wyoming, UNLV and Fresno State. Those teams might have a little more difficulty getting to Nevada's secondary, but the youth back there has shown up early in the season. The Mountain West opener against pass-first Hawaii, which has beaten two Pac-12 teams already, will be interesting. You could see 60 pass attempts from the Rainbow Warriors in that one.

1. Don't turn the ball over

2. Fix the pass defense

3. Get better on third down

Brandon Talton is legit. The Wolf Pack kicker made two more field goals and is 4-of-4 this season. I guess there's that.

But, seriously, Jay Norvell said Nevada needed a wake-up call and should send Oregon a "Thank You" card for giving one to the Wolf Pack. Maybe the team will respond in a positive way after that rout.

At least nobody got seriously hurt is the big takeaway for me. And the players got play in one of college football's loudest and coolest environments. Plus, the athletic department got $650,000 for playing the game. But there aren't a lot of positive takeaways since the game was so lopsided. Watching the game, I was actually thinking how crazy it was that Nevada was apparently at that level in 2010 when the Wolf Pack finished 11th in the nation in the final AP Top 25 poll. It's hard to believe Nevada put together a team of that caliber, although the Wolf Pack only played one really good team that season in Boise State, which was still a Group of 5 school. But that 2010 Nevada team was loaded with future NFL players (13 in all), so it very well could have been one of the 10 best teams in the nation. I wonder how that version of the Wolf Pack would have fared against Oregon, which is one of the five most talented teams in the nation. That roster is a great collection of players.

I agree there won't be any park-strolling Saturday at Mackay Stadium. Weber State is a solid team that finished last season ranked third in the FCS poll and opened this year in the top 10. The Wildcats' defense is better than its offense, so the Wolf Pack's Air Pistol will be tested. Weber State has made it to the FCS playoffs three straight years and reached the quarterfinals last season. Weber State hasn't beaten any FBS teams in recent times, but the last time these teams played was 1993, a 47-30 Wildcats win when Weber State was an FCS school and Nevada an FBS program. The Wolf Pack should win by double-digits, but Weber State is good enough it could upset Nevada.

Nevada has lost to an FCS school three times since joining the FBS in 1992. They were:

* 1992 against Weber State (the wildcats went 6-5 overall and 4-3 in the Big Sky)

* 1993 against Weber State (the Wildcats went 7-4 overall and 3-4 in the Big Sky)

* 1994 against Boise State (the Broncos went 13-2 with a FCS title game appearance)

* 2017 against Idaho State (the Bengals went 4-7 overall and 2-6 in the Big Sky)

Nevada nearly lost to FCS Southern Utah in 2003, winning by one point on a blocked extra point. It also was pushed to overtime by Cal Poly in 2016. So it hasn't always been smooth sailing against FCS opponents.

Yeah, he took some big hits and was wincing after a lot of plays, but he practiced Monday and is good to go. Nevada took him out before the end of the game to save him from the savagery. On non-designed runs, he'll have to slide a little earlier than he has been so he doesn't take unnecessary big hits.

Walk-on quarterback Hamish McClure was not eligible until last Friday since he was a transfer from Sac State to Nevada, which usually requires a sit-out season. But McClure got a waiver to play this season (probably because he was transferring to the school he dad coaches for) and was indeed on the field against Oregon after Nevada pulled Carson Strong. Malik Henry didn't make the trip because of strep throat, and Cristian Solano is coming back from a broken hand and Nevada didn't want to test it with the outcome decided. So it was McClure or true freshman Austin Kirksey left as options, and Nevada went with McClure. With Henry and Solano likely to be ready to go against Weber State, I don't think we'll see McClure again this season unless injuries strike.

Nothing major. Among the banged-up players are LB Maliek Broady, who was in a boot during Monday's practice; LS Karson Thomas; and Taua, but there wasn't anything major. I think it just got to the point of diminishing returns where playing your frontline guys with the game out of hand didn't make a lot of sense.

Charter flights cost anywhere from $55,000 to $150,000 depending on the location and distance. Additionally, the hotel stay usually costs $15,000, with about half of that being food guarantees. So the trip probably cost around $70,000 given the proximity of the contest. That'd be a net of around $580,000. Nevada has a lot more money-rich games coming up, including $1.45 million to play at Penn State in 2020, $1 million to play at Kansas State in 2021, $1.5 million to play at Iowa in 2022 and $1.6 million to play at USC in 2023. This Oregon game was a little weird since it was originally part of a two-for-one series, although Nevada canceled the home game that was supposed to be played in 2013. Still, $580,000 is a good net. That money goes to the entire athletic department rather than simply to the football program and is necessary to try and balance the budget.

They have to schedule those games. Nevada's big-money games from 2020-2023 will make the school a combined $5.55 million. The Wolf Pack needs that money to try and break even financially. That's a huge chunk of money. The key is finding winnable games while making $1 million like Nevada did with Northwestern in 2017 and Vanderbilt in 2018. The 2021 game at Kansas State seems winnable. The Penn State, Iowa and USC games not so much.

You really have to look at the recruiting classes. Brian Polian's 2016 recruiting class included five defensive backs, but only two are still on the roster: Daniel Brown, a starting cornerback, and Daylon Johnson, a backup safety. Kevin Howell, Daq Irby and Marcus Lucas washed out quickly. Jay Norvell's first recruiting class (2017) included four defensive backs, but only one is still on the team (Berdale Robins, a backup cornerback). The other three were Nephi Sewell (who transferred last offseason) and junior-college products Vosean Crumbie and Brandon Brooks, who both lasted one season at Nevada.

So that's nine defensive backs in a two-year span that would be juniors and seniors on the roster this year and only three of those guys remain on the team, which led to the youth and required position changes to stock the secondary, which is of more importance in a 3-3-5 system than other schemes. Nevada has added eight more defensive backs in the 2018 and 2019 recruiting classes -- Jaden Dedman, Emany Johnson, Avery Carrington, Kieran Clark, Jayce Godley, Cam Stephens, Patrick Willis, Kacee Williams -- but they're young and largely not ready to play.

The hope for Nevada is that group matures and eventually becomes guys like Asauni Rufus and Dameon Baber over time, but this year could be rough as they learn on the job. It's also my belief building a good pass defense is much more difficult than building a good run defense in modern college football. Finally, Nevada could use a lot more pass rush to help that young secondary. The Wolf Pack has just two sacks, both by Dom Peterson, in 87 opponent passing attempts. Nevada misses Malik Reed and Korey Rush in that regard.

The Wolf Pack is averaging just 3.0 yards per carry so far this season. It all starts with The Union. If the offensive line isn't getting a push, and it hasn't against Purdue or Oregon, the running backs have little hope. The line must play better, and it will be facing easier competition for the rest of the season. Weber State has a really good defense, though. The Wildcats gave up just 130 rushing yards on 40 carries to San Diego State (that's 3.0 yards per carry). It held Cal Poly's triple-option to 164 yards on 38 carries (4.3 yards per attempt). I'll set the over/under rushing total for Nevada against Weber State at 135.5 yards. It won't be easy.

Nevada isn't making coaching or scheme changes after one bad game. Jeff Casteel is probably the best defensive coordinator in school history. It's either him or Tim DeRuyter. He did wonders with last year's defense, which was one of the three or four best Nevada has ever had. But Nevada lost six talented players off last year's team (Malik Reed, Korey Rush, Asauni Rufus, Dameon Baber, Nephi Sewell, Jomon Doston) and opened this season against two Power 5 teams with good offenses. This was somewhat predictable. The key will be improving over the season like last year. If that doesn't happen, then there are issues. And Nevada's offense needs to stop going three-and-out. That's wearing out the defense.

I wrote a column last November advocating for that, which you can read here. I don't think that will happen for two reasons: (a) the bowl payoffs are pretty rich (the Group of 5 earned $81.3 million from the College Football Playoff in 2017); and (b) the Group of 5 doesn't want to make itself the JV conference. In 2016, AAC commissioner Mike Aresco said of a potential Group of 5 playoff: “The answer is an emphatic no. We compete for national championships like anyone else in FBS, including the Power 5, and have no interest in any kind of separate championship.”

But I think a playoff system at the Group of 5 level would be great. The non-playoff teams could still go to other bowls, but a playoff system would create interest throughout the season and hopefully raise attendance, which is falling across the nation, especially in the Mountain West. UCF had back-to-back undefeated regular seasons and didn't get close to the College Football Playoff. It's just not going to happen with a four-team format. Group of 5 football teams go into the season knowing they can't win a national title, so why would their fans be as invested as they are in basketball, for example? Even Boise State has seen its season-ticket base fall by one-third over the last several years.

Again, I don't think it will happen because of money and prestige, and the Group of 5 athletic directors and commissioners have much more intel on the financial ramifications, but I do think a G5 playoff would be great for fans.

He probably would have had an NFL career, too, if he didn't break his ankle after stepping on a sprinkler head in practice in training camp in 1999 with the Browns. He was legit. I ranked him as the fourth-best quarterback in school history last year, so I think I have him pretty highly rated (only behind Colin Kaepernick, Stan Heath and Chris Vargas). Pretty cool achievement to be on the cover of a video game. Only time that's happened for a Nevada alum to my knowledge. I'd rather have that than an SI cover like Colin Kaepernick and Patty Sheehan got.

No players are signed. You're not allowed to sign until December. But three are committed:

* Spanish Springs High LB Jackson LaDuke to Oregon (kind of hard to argue with that now)

* Bishop Manogue LB Vai Kaho to Nevada

* Bishop Manogue OL Joey Wright to USC

The only other class of 2020 recruit who seems like an FBS-level player is Fallon's Elijah Jackson, who has offers from Nevada, Idaho and Idaho State.

I have not spoken to the NIAA about Dayton dropping football this season due to poor numbers, but the 2A athletic administrators have pushed against Dayton dropping a level, so that's probably it. Also, the Dust Devils' other sports are doing fine, so dropping only in football would be a little unusual. Dayton was good at football for a long time at the 3A level before the drop-off in 2015, so it's not simply a level of competition issue.

Joel Bitonio is the best former Wolf Pack player in the NFL and he's on the most hyped team, the Browns, which took a beating from the Titans in Week 1. So I'll go with Bitonio, followed by Malik Reed (Broncos), followed by Virgil Green (Chargers), followed by Austin Corbett (Browns). And that's the end of the list, which used to be double-digits deep. Nevada's NFL pipeline has really dried up over the last six or seven seasons after its peak in 2012. As for Bitonio, he currently has the 12th-best NFL career of a Nevada alum, per Pro Football Reference's advanced metrics, and I wouldn't be surprised if he ends up on top of that list by the time his career ends.

Colts? I believe the Colts could still win their division despite Andrew Luck retiring. I think most have written them off. But does it really matter? The Patriots are going to win the Super Bowl like they always do.

What a weird month it's been for Brown, who got frostbite on his feet in France, threatened to retire over his helmet, faked a hamstring injury, threatened to punch his general manager, who he called a "cracker," taped a private conversation with his head coach and put it on social media and successfully got himself released so he could play with the Patriots. Insane. I would guess he behaves well in New England in an attempt to get his $20 million 2020 option picked up, but the dude is crazy. There's no predicting him. He's also really good. Who else could do all of the above in one month and still get a $9 million guaranteed contract hours after he was released? He's fine as long as he doesn't kneel during the anthem. If he does that, he'll get blackballed.

I would not put it past the Patriots for helping to manipulate that situation.

No, I don't think he'd be more valuable in the slot, which is typically reserved for more shifty, quicker receivers. I like Elijah Cooks on the outside where he can get more one-on-one matchups and use his height advantage. Oregon did an excellent job on Cooks, holding him to one catch for 15 yards after Cooks had seven receptions for 60 yards and two touchdowns in the win over Purdue.

From Norvell: "We didn't do a very good job at the receiver position of getting open this last game. We got challenged in man coverage. Our route running has to be a lot better to help Carson (Strong) out, our protection needs to be better and then he has to be more accurate. He made some poor throws. He had some guys open and that's something he'll learn from as a younger player. He does a good job of seeing things and making adjustments." Oregon used the game plan I would have used if I was Purdue, for example. Press coverage with some blitzes to try and frazzle a young offensive lineman and young quarterback. Oregon has better personnel to do that since its secondary is elite, and Nevada didn't do a good job of getting open or protecting Strong against the Ducks. Nevada was "out-talented" in the receiver vs. secondary matchup.

Yes. I wrote a little about that last week here where Norvell said: "We certainly can do some things with him that we probably wouldn't do with Carson. He's a good zone-read guy and all that kind of stuff. He adds a little bit of another dimension to our offense. Even when (Ty) Gangi was playing, we had some things for Solano." So I could see both playing now that Solano seems to be fully cleared.

No. That's damn near impossible for a Group of 5 player. If it's going to happen, it would be one that heavily weighs academics or off-the-field work. Unless Brandon Talton keeps making all of his kicks. Then he could win the Lou Groza Award.

I have not played fantasy football the last two seasons. If I did play this year, maybe I go with "Cobra Kyler" because I like Karate Kid and I love Murrays. My fantasy baseball team, however, is steam-rolling to first place and the $550 prize that comes with it.

Big news: The Nevada basketball team's season opener is only 57 days away. And the loss "hurt" Nevada more, although I don't think it was a gigantic loss since nobody expected the Wolf Pack to win. Purdue isn't going to any marquee bowl. The Boilermakers will be in a dog fight to get the six wins required to make it to a bowl.

Looks like three this week, including the following:

Sure.

It depends on the mood of the tiger. If a tiger is relaxed, its tail loosely hangs, so it would be soft. If a tiger is provoked, it shows in the tail with rapid movement from side to side and by holding it low with occasional intense twitches. It would not be so soft in those situations. Also, in traditional Chinese medicine, tiger tails were used to treat skin conditions and rheumatism, so we've come pretty far with modern medicine.

I'm answering questions on what a tiger tail feels like. Of course it doesn't have to be football related.

Hurricane Dorian is estimated to cost insurance companies up to $3 billion in the Caribbean, although most of that damage was in the Bahamas. The Virgin Islands were largely spared major damage, so the Paradise Jam should go on as expected, although that is a minor concern given what just happened to the Bahamas, which was devastating in nature.

Nope.

Way less watchable. It's all home runs, walks and strikeouts, and while that might help win ball games, it makes watching games more boring. We need more baseballs put in play, more action. The Dodgers-Giants were playing yesterday, but I instead watched NFL and the U.S. Open tennis final because it's more enjoyable. Baseball is slllooooooowwww. The same is happening with the NBA. It's all 3-pointers or shots at the basket due to analytics. I miss the mid-range game. I don't blame teams for doing whatever it takes to win, but the rules needs to change to make the game faster and more enjoyable. The average MLB game actually has more action than the average NFL game (18 minutes to 11 minutes, per this study), but it doesn't seem like it.

Since Vin Scully is retired, Dan Shulman is my favorite. Gary Thorne is still good. Joe Davis with the Dodgers is solid. And Ryan Radtke should be an MLB play-by-play guy. It's criminal he's not.

I appear to like him more than the Diamondbacks do. Arizona seems wed to playing Christian Walker, who has had a solid season, but really hasn't been good since his hot April. From May on, Walker has slashed .249/.338/.436 for a .774 OPS over 106 games. That's not good for a 28-year-old hit-first first baseman. Arizona has pushed its way into playoff contention, so Cron likely won't get much playing time this month. He could be offseason trade bait. He's likely a DH at the big-league level. I'm curious if he can walk enough and get to his immense power enough at the big-league level to be an impact player because he's going to strike out a lot. I do think Arizona will keep him. I'm just not sure they'll ever give him a season as a starter to see what he can do in the bigs. With the Triple-A using the juiced ball this season, it's hard to read completely into anybody's stats at that level.

Q: Why shouldn’t you play soccer in the jungle?

A: There are too many cheetahs.

or

Q: Why did the soccer ball quit the team?

A: It was tired of being kicked around.

Not that I am aware of, but Douglas High's campus isn't that far away from the Carson River, and where standing water exists mosquitoes exist. So I'd blame it on the river.

It's becoming unruly. You're probably talking five hours per Mailbag. A look at today's schedule.

7 a.m.-9 a.m.: Work on the Mailbag from home

9:30 a.m.: Drop son off at school

9:45-11 a.m.: Watch Nevada football practice

11 a.m.-12:30 p.m.: Nevada football press conference and taping a segment for NSN Daily

12:30-3 p.m.: Work on the Mailbag at work

3-3:45 p.m.: Edit Mailbag to avoid typos

4 p.m.: Pick up daughter at school

So it took between five and six hours today, and I always have a headache at the end. This Mailbag went 5,000-plus words. But the readers seem to like them, so I'll keep pumping them out. Anyway, time to go get my daughter at school, so see y'all next week!

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