The Wolf Pack football team held its weekly press conference today. Here were the dozen most interesting quotes to come from the session as Nevada licked its wounds from a 63-44 loss to Toledo and prepared for its Mountain West opener at Air Force at 1 p.m. Saturday on ESPNews. You can also read my Monday Mailbag here.
“We’re looking at our freshmen and we have six freshmen on offense who will play as true freshmen and we have about five on defense that are going to play as true freshmen this year, and that may grow as we move forward.” – Coach Jay Norvell
An NCAA rule established this season allows teams to play players up to four games without burning a season of eligibility. Nevada has used its true freshmen liberally in non-conference play and will continue to do so. By Norvell's count, Nevada will continue to play 11 true freshmen and wipe out a year of their eligibility. They are RB Toa Taua, RB Devonte Lee, WR Romeo Doubs, WR Cole Turner, TE Crishaun Lappin and OL Aaron Forst on offense and DB Jaden Dedman, DB JoJuan Claiborne, DB Jordan Lee, LB Josiah Bradley and LB James Fotofili on defense.
“I told our players and coaches we’re going to have to play these wild kinds of games and find a way to win. Sometimes it’s just getting off the field one more time on defense or getting a tip and getting a turnover or maybe it’s taking advantage offensively and making a big play.” – Norvell
The Wolf Pack is averaging 40.75 points per game while allowing 39.5 points per game, which is pretty much what we expected this season. It also means Nevada will play a lot of games that come down to the final possession or two. This week’s game at Air Force should fit into that category, so it should come down to one or two plays late in the contest that swings things.
“The reality is we have to score over half of our possessions. That’s the way it’s going to be all through this conference. We have four or five teams in the league averaging 40 points per game. Right now, we’re scoring 40 a game and giving up 39. That’s not very big of a margin for error for us.” – Norvell
That doesn’t seem like a coach who is super confident in his defense. But
“I don’t think the character of our defense was how we played in this last game and we have to get this out of our system and get back to work and play the kind of defense we’re capable of playing. If we show consistent week to week improvement, I think we can be one of the better teams in this league.” – Norvell
Now there’s some more confidence in what that defense can become.
“These road games are important. This is a game that we really need to have for our goals this season. We need to go on the road and win. We’re not afraid to openly talk about that. It’s a big challenge. We have a sense of urgency about preparing and getting ready for this team. We took a much better mindset on the road this week, but we really have to dial in now and step up our focus for an in-conference opponent. These games mean more to us, so we really have to get our attention on these guys and really prepare for them this week.” – Norvell
Norvell is going to get asked about his team being winless on the road during his tenure until Nevada snaps that streak. Right now, the Wolf Pack is 0-8 away from Mackay Stadium under his leadership. Nevada’s four road games this MW season are against Air Force, Hawaii, San Jose State and UNLV. It should win at least one of those. Nevada also is 1-15 in its last 16 road games overall.
“(Nephi Sewell) hasn’t been cleared to play yet, but we’re hoping we’re going to get more positive news on him. We’re going to take a look at Daiyan Henley. We’re moving Daiyan to defense and he’s going to play some safety. We’ve been pretty creative about moving people and giving them an opportunity.” – Norvell
X-rays on Sewell’s injured right arm were negative, so that’s good news, but it doesn’t look like he’ll play this week. Instead, Henley, who has four catches for 62 yards this season and who caught eight passes for 103 yards and three touchdowns last year, will jump over to defense. As for Nevada WR Brendan O’Leary-Orange, who missed the Toledo game after being taken off the field against Oregon State on a stretcher, he’s improving but not cleared to play yet. “We’re hoping as the week moves along, he’ll be more involved in what we’re doing,” Norvell said.
“He’s really talented. He has a real spark to him. He’s good at reading the holes and hitting them hard. On the one 60-yarder, I turned around and didn’t even see him hit the hole he hit it so fast. I’m really impressed with him as a freshman and coming out making the plays he’s made so far. I’m excited having him in the backfield and being balanced overall.” – QB Ty Gangi on true freshman RB Toa Taua
As we've discussed, Toa Taua is very good. Expect him to get many more carries as the season progresses. In the loss to Toledo, he ran for 170 yards and three touchdowns on just 15 carries.
“It just means there’s a smaller margin for error for what we’re doing on offense. There will be a couple of plays in the game that really will effective the outcome and you don’t really know when those plays will happen. It’s about details and focusing every time we get the ball and really taking advantage, especially this week because of the limited possessions we’ll get.” – Gangi
The Wolf Pack quarterback was asked about the shootouts his team has been playing in so far. When you score 44 points and still lose by 19 that has to be disheartening to some degree. As Gangi said, Nevada has little margin for error offensively, especially against Air Force where it will only get the ball eight or nine times all game.
“It’s a battle every time you get to play a triple-option opponent. I know we played one two years ago in Cal Poly in our first game. It was tough to play that triple-option team the first time and even last year with Air Force it was a grind, it was a battle. They’re going to come out ready to play, they’re going to be physical, so you have to be ready to play.” – LB Malik Reed
Nevada has not fared well against Air Force over the years. It is 1-3 against the Falcons and has allowed point totals of 48, 45, 45 and 42. The Wolf Pack gets another crack at the triple-option Saturday.
“That’s the test of a good team or a great team being on the road and being able to play away from your crowd and going into somebody else’s house and getting a win. It’s tough, but it shows maturity in your group and how prepared you are and ready for the game.” – Reed
Even the players are getting asked about the inability to win road games in recent years.
“What happened before conference doesn’t really matter anymore. We have to focus on what’s going on now. It’s 0-0 right now and we’re trying to come up with a conference championship.” - Taua
Nevada is taking a “fresh slate” approach to the start of MW play, which only really works if you start your fresh slate with a victory. Otherwise, it’s just more of the same. This is a huge game for Nevada on a variety of fronts.
“Knowing our guys, I think we have a good shot of taking it this year. We’re young, but we’re smart. I feel like these guys are ready and we’re looking forward to it.” – Toa
The “it” in taking it is the MW title. That quest begins Saturday.
Columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @MurrayNSN.