Nevada lost to Utah State, 36-10, on Saturday to fall to 4-3 on the season and 1-2 in the Mountain West. Here is a Monday review of the game and a look-ahead to Nevada's next opponent, Wyoming.
Just the facts
The Wolf Pack was out-played in all three facets in the loss in Logan, although Nevada's defense played well considering the circumstances (the offense kept going three-and-out and the defense was without four starters by the end of the game). Nevada had a strong first drive, eventually settling for a field goal, before the offense fell apart (11 straight series without a first down). Utah State didn't get much out of its offense in the first half, either, but had a kick return for a touchdown and a safety to take a 22-3 lead at intermission. After a scoreless third quarter, Utah State tacked on two more touchdowns to go ahead 36-3 before Nevada scored its lone touchdown on its final possession. The Wolf Pack has now been outscored by an average of 49.3 points per points in its three defeats. Nevada's record remains above-.500, but it has struggled with the better opponents on its schedule.
You know things are not going well when even Brandon Talton missed a field goal. The midseason All-American was 13-of-13 before pulling a 52-yarder late in the third quarter. The story, for me, however, was the quarterback play. Malik Henry struggled in his second start, which repeats a theme we've seen this season. All three of Nevada's quarterbacks who have started a game this season excelled in first start before struggling in their second exposure. Carson Strong carved up Purdue before being foiled by Oregon. Cristian Solano roasted UTEP before struggling against Hawaii. And now Henry excelled in a win over San Jose State before muddling through the loss at Utah State. (He was 17-of-38 for 213 yards with two interceptions and a QBR of 10.) It wasn't all his fault (the offensive line was bad), but coach Jay Norvell was non-committal after the game when asked who would start at Wyoming. While each of these three quarterbacks have show glimpses of great play in their debuts, none have sustained it their second time out to secure the job long term, which has left the position in a constant state of flux.
With senior cornerback Daniel Brown sidelined with a head injury, Berdale Robins got the start and played well. Robins had one interception and one fumble recovery and had a second interception (in the end zone) nullified by a questionable pass interference. "I thought Berdale played his heart out tonight," Norvall said after the game. "He had a big interception that he got a bad call on, but I thought he played super hard tonight. We had a lot of guys playing really hard defensively." Nevada's defense played much better than the 36 points allowed would indicate. For starters, nine of those points came when they weren't on the field, so the defense really gave up 25. The unit was helped by Utah State's inability to actually catch the ball, but Nevada held future-NFL quarterback Jordan Love to 13-of-31 passing for 169 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Robins, who also had three tackles, was a big part of that.
Nobody on offense played that well, but we'll give the honor to running back Toa Taua, who had 20 carries for 84 yards and scored Nevada's only touchdown. He averaged 4.2 yards per carry. The Wolf Pack's other 15 carries went for 29 yards. That's 1.9 yards per carry. That shows Taua was getting the most of his carries with minimal holes to run through. And while he didn't put up huge numbers, senior receiver Dominic Christian is having a nice season. After catching two balls for 42 yards, Christian has 17 receptions for 183 yards and one touchdown. He came into the season with six catches for 44 yards in his first four years at Nevada.
Maliek Broady, a senior linebacker, began the season as a starter, got banged up early, lost his starting gig to Lawson Hall and was shuffled down the depth chart. But with Lucas Weber out with injury and Gabriel Sewell being ejected for targeting, Broady got more playing time and took advantage of it. The Las Vegas native had five tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble in the most productive game of his career. Broady, who came to Nevada as a walk-on running back, also was credited with one carry for nine yards. Also kudos to Dominic Peterson, whose motor doesn't change whether Nevada is up three touchdowns or down three touchdowns, and the Wolf Pack has been down three touchdowns pretty often in its losses. Peterson had five tackles, including one sack, in the loss.
13/110 - I'm not sure how fun this is, but it is a fact. Nevada was whistled 13 times for 110 yards. Penalties have been an epidemic for the Wolf Pack this season. Nevada is averaging 9.14 penalties per game, which is the third most in the nation. Those are going for 75.14 yards per game, which are the eighth most in the nation. The offensive line has been especially penalty prone. In the Utah State loss, the Wolf Pack offensive line had eight penalties for 60 yards, with each flag seemingly coming after big plays to stall any offensive momentum.
The Wolf Pack returns to the road Saturday when it plays at Wyoming, which is 5-2 overall and 2-1 in the MW. The Cowboys are coming off a 23-10 win over New Mexico and are one of the best running teams in the nation. Wyoming has won 10 of its last 12 games dating to last season and are typically hard to beat at home (Laramie, Wyo., sits at 7,200 feet of elevation). A win would give Wyoming bowl eligibility. After being a 21-point underdog at Utah State, the Wolf Pack enters this week's game as a 13.5-point underdog.