Nevada football beat Wyoming, 37-34, in its season opener on Saturday at Mackay Stadium. The Wolf Pack improved to 1-0 on the season, winning its opener for the third time in four seasons under head coach Jay Norvell. Here is a Monday review of the game and a look-ahead to Nevada's next opponent, UNLV.
Just the facts
Nevada started the game strong, although it didn't necessarily show on the scoreboard despite a dominant first half. The Wolf Pack led 14-6 at intermission, although it had two touchdowns taken off the board (on an offside call on a punt return and a personal foul on offensive lineman Aaron Frost after a touchdown pass). Toss in the fact Nevada didn't score any points after having first-and-goal from the 1-yard line (three straight runs up the middle and an incomplete pass) and lost two crucial fumbles, and what could have been a three-touchdown lead was only an eight-point lead. It almost came back to bite the Wolf Pack, which built a 28-6 gap late in the third quarter and appeared to be on cruise control before Wyoming's offense roared to life behind backup quarterback Levi Williams (starter Sean Chambers was carted off the field with an ankle injury on the first possession) and Nevada's offense bogged down. The Cowboys tied the game at 28 before a Nevada field goal. Wyoming answered with a field goal after having the ball on its 1-yard line with 90 seconds remaining to push things into overtime where Nevada held Wyoming to a field goal before Carson Strong hit Romeo Doubs on a 9-yard touchdown pass to seal the season-opening win.
This was a crucial win for Nevada considering Wyoming was one of the most difficult teams on the Wolf Pack's schedule, and losing a 22-point second-half lead in its season opener would have been hugely deflating. The Wolf Pack largely dominated the game, with the offense looking especially good for the first game out. This is truly what the Air Raid offense should look like, a vast improvement over what the Wolf Pack was doing offensively last season. As we wrote last week, Nevada needed to get back to its old offensive standard, posting 35-plus points per game, and the Wolf Pack did just that with 36 points. Strong was phenomenal, Doubs and Cole Turner played great, true freshman left tackle Jacob Gardner didn't look like a true freshman, two other true freshmen scored in their debuts (Tory Horton, Avery Morrow) and Nevada's offense looked excellent for three quarters despite not having running back Toa Taua. The fourth quarter wasn't pretty, on offense or defense, but Nevada made the big plays in overtime. Yes, the Wolf Pack must clean up how it closes games (and Wyoming losing Chambers early was a huge break), but in this pandemic-soaked season nobody is going to ask how you won, just if you won. And Nevada did just that.
Strong passed the 400-yard mark for the second straight game, setting personal bests for yards (420), touchdowns (four), completions (39) and quarterback rating (168.2). He was in control from the start, completing 9-of-12 for 80 yards and a touchdown in the first quarter and 12-of-15 for 173 yards and a touchdown in the second quarter. Strong has the longest streak of consecutive passes without an interception among active college quarterbacks, and he made few mistakes in this game. Strong did lose a fumble on a sack and threw what appeared to be an interception in the third quarter on a play reviewed by the refs and inexplicably called incomplete despite the ball never hitting the ground. But even that was a 50-50 ball thrown to Doubs, who usually wins those battles. Strong showed all of his upside in this game with minimal downside mistakes. Strong, who threw for 402 yards in the bowl loss against Ohio, is the first Wolf Pack quarterback to throw from 400-plus yards in back-to-back games since Zack Threadgill did so in October 2002, passing for 410 against BYU and 408 against Rice.
Turner entered his junior season with six receptions for 88 yards and one touchdown in his career. He finished the game with seven receptions for 119 yards and two touchdowns, all career highs, obviously. The 6-foot-6 pass-catching target moved from receiver to tight end before the start of the season and was dynamic coming out of the slot. You could finger Doubs here, too, considering he caught 12 passes for 117 yards and the game-winning touchdown, although Wolf Pack fans expect that out of Doubs. Turner's breakout game came out of almost nowhere, and he gives the Wolf Pack another weapon in the passing game. He took advantage of the first-half suspension to Elijah Cooks and his ensuing game-ending injury in the second half. Doubs and Turner are the first Wolf Pack players to record 100 yard receiving in the same game since Aug. 31, 2018 when Kaleb Fossum and McLane Mannix put up 139 and 132 yards, respectively, against FCS school Portland State.
While Sam Hammond had the best overall game of Nevada's defenders (he had seven tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and a pass breakup as the Wolf Pack line played well), we must give this award to Berdale Robins for his acrobatic interception with the game tied at 28 with less than six minutes to play. The Wolf Pack was reeling at that moment, having given up 22 unanswered points, and needed a big play from its defense to jolt an offense that was slowing down. That's when Robins snared an interception that bobbled around before he secured it just before it hit the ground. It gave the Wolf Pack the ball inside the Wyoming 10-yard line, and although Nevada had to settle for a field goal, it put the team in great position to secure the win. It was the second straight season Robins recorded a pick against Wyoming and the fourth of his career.
4 of 7 - Four of Nevada's last seven home games have been decided with a scoring play on the last play of the game. That includes two walk-off field goals from Brandon Talton (56 yards against Purdue and 40 yards against San Jose State) and two walk-off winners in overtime (UNLV in last year's regular-season finale and Nevada in this year's season opener). That's a rather unprecedented confluence of close home games. While there were only 250 fans in attendance for this one, Wolf Pack fans have certainly got their money's worth in terms of drama.
The Wolf Pack heads to Las Vegas for the first college football game at Allegiant Stadium when Nevada plays rival UNLV in a game that was moved from the last week of the regular season to the second week of the season when the MW reshuffled its schedule. UNLV coach Marcus Arroyo made his debut last Saturday, and it wasn't pretty. The Rebels lost to San Diego State, 34-6, and accumulated just 186 yards of total offense while using three quarterbacks. At stake: the Fremont Cannon, which UNLV has won as underdogs the last two seasons.
Sports columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @ByChrisMurray.