There was no quit in the Nevada Wolf Pack in its season opener against Purdue as the team stormed out of a 17-point second-half hole to upset the Boilermakers on a game-winning field goal as time expired.
But in Nevada's 77-6 loss last week at Oregon, the third-most lopsided defeat in school history? At least one prominent member of the team thinks Nevada gave up, that being sophomore defensive lineman Dom Peterson, one of the defense's vocal and emotional leaders.
“I feel like we could have done way better,” Peterson said of the 71-point loss. “I personally think we gave up at half, which is something I've never seen from our team ever from last year to now. I was more disappointed than anything in the fact that we gave up because I know we can do better.”
The Wolf Pack will look to return to the win column Saturday when it hosts Weber State, which is an FCS school but one that could pose a threat to the Wolf Pack. The Wildcats are ranked sixth in the FCS and have reached the playoffs three straight seasons. As Nevada's defense looks to reach the level it played at late last season when the unit was the strength of the team, Peterson said effort will be key.
Nevada’s defense lost its senior leadership in the offseason, with players like Korey Rush, Malik Reed, Asauni Rufus and Dameon Baber departing, and is looking for guys who will set the tone for this year’s group.
“Last year, Korey would work so hard that it’d make me want to work,” Peterson said. “In film, you’d notice it. You’d notice how hard Korey was working and you would notice how lackadaisical I was working to the point I was getting called out because it was obvious on film and would show up. We need more guys running around and having more energy out there. Malik had energy at all times. He was hitting everybody all the time. He was hitting the scout players all the time.
"Asauni was hitting everybody hard. Dame was running hard to the ball. We just had guys who wouldn’t say a lot, but you’d see them on film and it would make you look dumb if you weren’t running to the ball. That’s the type of effort we’re trying to get here. We’re trying to get to the point where everyone should be running to the ball and it should look bad on film if you’re not running to the ball. It should look like a loaf. That’s our plan for the year, and I’m sticking with that.”
Prior to the Oregon game, Nevada head coach Jay Norvell said he didn’t think the atmosphere playing in front fo 50,000 fans would impact his team. After the lopsided loss, he conceded he was wrong, admitting some of his players were not ready for that big of a stage, which resulted in numerous mistakes.
“You have to have played in those kind of environments and have confidence in those kinds of environments,” Norvell said. “I look at a program like Boise that has had success on the road in big venues. As a program, they believe they can win in those kinds of situations and they understand the mental approach you have to take. We have some guys in some critical positions who have never been in that situation before, and that’s what we’re working towards. We want to be the kind of program that feels confident in those types of venues and know what we have to do to win in those types of games.
“We’re talented enough to be able to compete against a team like (Oregon) if we have the right mindset and we play without making mistakes. You don’t really give yourself a chance when you make the mental mistakes we made in that game.”
Nevada started the game well and trailed 7-6 more than 20 minutes into the action. But it was blitzed late in the second quarter and never responded. This week, Norvell has stressed the importance of “mental intensity” to his team, of focusing for a full 60 minutes and pushing through the finish line.
“It takes a lot of maturity,” Norvell said. “It takes a lot of mental intensity to compete for four quarters against a very good football team. You can’t give up a play. That’s a different mindset. That’s a mature mindset, that’s a mindset of a mature competitor who has had those types of experiences before and we just have some kids who haven’t (had those experiences). That’s the reality of it. As much as I feel comfortable in those games and a lot of our coaches do, we still have some 18-year-old and 19-year-old guys playing in key positions who have to be prepared in those types of circumstances.”
The atmosphere and challenge this Saturday will be markedly different. Versus Weber State, the Wolf Pack will be playing in front of a home crowd maybe one-third the size and will have nothing but downside as a near double-digit favorite over an FCS team. The Wildcats haven’t beaten an FBS team since 1993 when it topped Nevada for the second straight season. But Weber State played another Mountain West foe, San Diego State, within six points in its 2019 season opener and should give Nevada a fight.
“They’re coming in and they want to win and think they’re going to win,” Nevada offensive lineman Jake Nelson said. “We have to respect them and play to the best of our abilities.”
Sports columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @MurrayNSN.