Nevada football grades: The defense saves the day

Elijah Cooks
Elijah Cooks hauls in a touchdown pass, one of his two in a win over Air Force. (Nick Beaton/Nevada athletics)

Grades from Nevada’s 28-25 victory over Air Force on Saturday afternoon at Falcon Stadium.


C- — Simply put, the defense won this game. Yes, the Wolf Pack offense scored 28 points, but that seems like the bare minimum it could have exited with. The Nevada defense gave the offense the ball on the Air Force 1- and 28-yard line and neither time did the offense score. It turned it over both times. It yielded a 99-yard pick-six on the possession in which it got the ball on the 1 and immediately fumbled on the possession in which it got the ball on the 28. That being said, quarterback Ty Gangi, playing with an obvious leg injury, completed 24-of-33 passes for 259 yards and four touchdowns, each of at least 23 yards (two to Elijah Cooks, one to McLane Mannix, one to Brendan O’Leary-Orange). The Wolf Pack also rushed for 177 yards, gaining 5.2 yards per attempt. Those are all good numbers but a myriad of penalties – Nevada was flagged 13 times for 103 yards – kept the Wolf Pack from putting this game out of reach early (it should have been up 28-0 at halftime but instead was up 21-7, which allowed Air Force to put some heavy pressure on the Pack late in the game). Nevada hit on some crucial explosive plays, but this was not the offense’s best effort against an Air Force defense that is really poor, especially against the pass.


A — The Wolf Pack had been torched by Air Force in the past, allowing point totals of 48, 45, 45 and 42 in the first four meetings between these teams (all since 2012). It allowed just 16 on Saturday (Air Force had a defensive touchdown and safety to account for the other nine points). In the first half, Nevada held Air Force to 24 yards on 26 plays with just two first downs. The Falcons got some traction in the second half after a quarterback change but finished with only 250 yards. Nevada had allowed yardage totals of 600, 591, 471 and 453 to Air Force in the previous matchups, so this was the defense’s best effort against the Falcons by far. The Wolf Pack held the triple-option to 154 rushing yards and bottled up Air Force’s run game so much the Falcons threw the ball three straight times after getting to the Pack 11-yard line with 1:30 left needing a touchdown to win. Nevada got that necessary stop to basically seal the win, and it also had two big turnovers to give the offense the ball in prime scoring position, although the Wolf Pack didn’t cash those in. This was a great effort from the much-maligned defensive unit.

Special teams

C — It was a nondescript game from the special teams. Punter Quinton Conaway had a good afternoon, averaging 43.5 yards per attempt on four punts. The Wolf Pack averaged only 14.5 yards on two kick returns and fair caught all five of Charlie Scott’s punts (he averaged 44.2 yards per attempt). The coverage units were solid. Kicker Ramiz Ahmed did miss his only field-goal attempt – a 51-yarder, which could have proven crucial – but he made all four of his extra points. There were no big mistakes or big plays from the special teams, which was probably fine after the team melted down in last week’s loss at Toledo.


B — Wolf Pack head coach Jay Norvell got his first road win at Nevada after entering the game 0-8 away from Mackay Stadium. The deserves an above-average grade in itself, especially since the Wolf Pack was a 3.5-point underdog at kickoff. The defensive staff in particular deserves major kudos. Nevada has gone up against the triple-option with woeful results many times in the past, but the defense was on point in this one. Nevada did not show great discipline with those 13 penalties, with several false starts on offense (many from true freshman OL Aaron Frost, who switched from defense to offense two weeks ago, so it’s somewhat understandable). Here’s a fun fact for you: Nevada is 4-1 when it commits more penalties than its opponent under Norvell and 2-10 when it doesn’t commit more penalties. That doesn’t make a lot of sense, but a win is a win and winning in Colorado Springs is not easy. Kuods to the Wolf Pack for opening Mountain West play with a victory for the first time since 2014 and for snaring its first road win since the 2016 season finale at UNLV.

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