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Wolf Pack grades: Pour one out for the special teams

Devonte Lee
Devonte Lee races toward the end zone during Nevada's win over San Diego State. (Nick Aberle/Nevada Athletics)

Grades from Nevada’s 28-24 win over San Diego State on Saturday night at Mackay Stadium.

Offense

C — The Wolf Pack offense did enough to help the team score its biggest win in years, although it was far from prolific. Nevada averaged just 2.7 yards per carry (on 23 attempts) and completed only 23-of-43 passes, those going for 235 yards and two touchdowns. The Wolf Pack’s 297 total yards were its second fewest of the season behind the 250 it posted against Vanderbilt (it even had more, 327, in the 21-3 loss to Fresno State earlier this season). But, Nevada took advantage of opportune field position. The Wolf Pack offense scored on five possessions. Three of those drives started at midfield or in SDSU territory and one more started on the Nevada 47. Only once did the Wolf Pack drive the length of the field to score. The biggest positive was the Wolf Pack not turning the ball over even once. That was huge. But Nevada’s offense also failed to put the game away late, not recording a first down via an offensive play in its final three possessions (and four of its last five). Ultimately, the offense did enough to help record the win – it was a solid 8-of-20 on third/fourth downs – but it didn’t move the ball with regularity against SDSU.

Defense

B+ — Things didn’t look great early as SDSU marched down the field on its first two possessions, scoring touchdowns on both drives, which went a combined 20 plays for 155 yards. But the Pack largely stymied SDSU thereafter. Hausia Sekona drew a holding flag in the end zone to record a safety and open the scoring for Nevada, which was huge – the Wolf Pack was down 14-0 at the time – and Nevada’s pass rush was strong throughout the night as run-first SDSU opted to throw the ball 41 times to 36 runs. The Aztecs scored four times (a total of 24 points) on their first seven possessions, but were held scoreless over its final seven possessions (and didn’t record a point in the second half). SDSU did averaged 4.8 yards per attempt (it probably should have run the ball more often), but Ryan Agnew completed less than half of his passes (20-of-41) after a hot start. Agnew did set career highs in passing yards (283) and passing touchdowns (three) and Nevada wasn’t great on third downs (SDSU completed 8-of-17), but the bottom line is the Wolf Pack got the big stops in the second half that were required to win the game. Nevada, which allowed 456 total yards, also forced one turnover, a fumble that ended a scoring chance late in the first half.

Special teams

A — All facets chipped in for this win, but the special teams was the biggest contributor for the victory. So much so I requested punter Quinton Conaway for the press conference after the game (that’s the first time I’ve requested a punter for the post-game press conference). He earned it. Conaway punted the ball nine times and averaged a career-best 51.1 yards per attempt, including a long of 68. More importantly, he drilled four punts inside the 20. One put SDSU at the 2-yard line, which led to a safety, and his final punt pinned the Aztecs at their 1-yard line, which required the team to drive 99 yards in less than a minute to win the game (it was unable to do so). A Conaway punt also was muffed by Jordan Byrd and recovered by Nevada’s Jomon Doston, which gave the Wolf Pack offense the ball at the SDSU 17 (that resulted in a field goal). The Wolf Pack put McLane Mannix on punt-return duties – finally – and he had a 21-yard return to set up another field goal. Ramiz Ahmed made both of his field-goal attempts (from 32 and 34 yards), although he did miss an extra point, knocking this grade from an A+ to simply an A. The bottom line is the Wolf Pack special teams was the decisive factor in this victory.

Coaching

A- — Nevada head coach Jay Norvell keeps hitting milestone. Win over a Power 5 school. Road win. Now back-to-back wins for the first time in his tenure. And a first victory over a top-tier Mountain West program. The Wolf Pack defense made some key adjustments after the SDSU offense came out throwing the ball more often than anybody expected. Nevada’s offense probably leaned on the wildcat too much, and the passing game never truly found a rhythm, especially on deep balls. It also was unable to get slot receivers Kaleb Fossum and Mannix going as they combined for just three catches (eight below their season average). But, the Wolf Pack hung in there despite playing its ninth game in nine weeks and was able to rebound from an early 14-point hole. That resolve was key. Norvell and the Wolf Pack staff has this team believing in itself and has taken Nevada a long way from where it was last season when it got rolled by the Aztecs.

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