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Murray's Mailbag: Recapping 'miracle' win over Purdue and upcoming clash with Oregon

Lucas Weber
Lucas Weber celebrates Nevada's thrilling win over Purdue last Friday. (Kyle Pulek/Nevada Sports Net)

Nevada football beat Purdue in its season opener as the Mountain West picked up four wins over Power 5 opponents in Week 0/1, so it's been a good start for the Wolf Pack and its conference. You had a lot of questions about that victory and Nevada's upcoming game against Oregon, so let's get to them. Thanks, as always, for the inquiries.

(Note: If you're not seeing the tweets, it's probably because you're not using Google Chrome. Use Google Chrome).

Are we talking about the quality of the team beat or the fashion in which the win came? Quality of team, no. Fashion in which the win came, perhaps yes.

In those rankings, Boise State in 2010 is No. 1. Weber State comeback in 1991 is No. 2. Boise State triple overtime win in 1990 to get to the FCS title game is No. 3. Fresno State win in 2005 is No. 4. You could put Purdue at No. 5, although I would not. The tie with Cal's Wonder Boys takes my No. 5 spot. The win at Cal to start the 2012 season is in there, too. But Friday's win certainly was thrilling and deserves to be in the top 10 somewhere. It could end up being the highlight of Nevada's entire 2019-20 athletics season.

If Nevada wins at Oregon, I don't think it will be ranked, but it will get votes. At that point, Oregon would be 0-2 so people might question how good Oregon is, and it's hard to go from getting zero votes (like Nevada did this week) to being ranked in one week's time. But it would put the Wolf Pack on track to get into the Top 25 since Nevada would then play Weber State, UTEP, Hawaii and San Jose State, so a 6-0 start would be reachable if Nevada upsets Oregon as a 22-point underdog.

Finally, I'll take spearmint if we're talking gum.

You can look at the win probability chart here. Purdue peaked at a 96.8 percent probability of winning, which is high, but I'm not sure that's miracle territory. Miracle is like a 1% liklihood of winning. The Weber State comeback was a miracle. Utah State in 2016 was a miracle. Boise State in 2010 was a miracle.

Another way to put this:

Was Nevada's win over the No. 3 team in the nation, a team that was 10-0, a team that had 15 future NFL players, a team that had won 24 straight games (and 36 of 37) and a team that was headed to the Rose Bowl better than a win over a Big Ten team that likely isn't going to a bowl game? No. Of course, the Boise State victory was more of a signature win. It's not even close. It's like comparing a seven-game series victory over the Dodgers (a great team) to the Giants (a team struggling to be average*).

As for the best Mountain West win over a Power 5 team last week, I'll go with Boise State over Florida State (more on that below). And NevadaTude drubs #NevadaGrit in a rout, although both are good.

* - Denotes unnecessary shot at the Giants

They're not even in the same realm. The Purdue victory is much closer to the Oregon State win last season than the Boise State win in 2010.

Now, this is a more reasonable question. The 2011 game against Louisiana Tech for a WAC title was one hell of a game (it didn't turn our well for Nevada). In 2012, the games against South Florida, San Diego State and Boise State were all riveting (Nevada lost all three, though). The 2014 games against Boise State and Colorado State were epics (both losses). The 2015 game against San Jose State and 2016 game against Utah State were incredible comeback victories (but against bad teams). And the 2018 Oregon State was a good one (against another bad team). I do believe Friday's game against Purdue was the best at Mackay Stadium since Boise State in 2010. A memory was made.

My list of MVPs from Nevada's win over Purdue.

1. K Brandon Talton (came out of nowhere to make three huge kicks, including the 56-yard game-winner)

2. QB Carson Strong (tremendous fourth-quarter play, especially for a freshman making his college debut)

3. DB Daniel Brown (two huge interceptions, doubling his total from his first three years at Nevada combined)

4. WR Elijah Cooks (made huge plays all night, including a pair of touchdown catches, one to tie the game)

5. P Quinton Conaway (the rugby punts worked!)

No, but that was the moment I noticed Spencer Pettit was not Nevada's kicker. It also showed Brandon Talton has icy nerves. It would have been very easy to get rattled and miss that kick.

"Strike this mother-bleeper out?"

I wrote a 1,300-word story explaining who he is. He does need a nickname, though. How about Brandon "Torpedo-Toe" Talton? Credit me if you use.

Only one of those two has never missed a college kick and has made the third-longest field goal in school history. Edge Torpedo-Toe Talton.

That is in reference to my story on season-ticket sales last week, which showed Nevada's season-ticket base fell for the sixth straight season, dipping from 8,580 last year to 7,877 this year. I don't have a firm answer on why that was the case. As you noted, Nevada was coming off a strong season, a bowl win and tried to do more community engagement this offseason. Perhaps it is because Nevada basketball season tickets literally cost a mortgage payment if you sit in the lower bowl, which means some fans/families don't have money left over to buy football season tickets. In the end, I believe television is the biggest reason for the decline, not just at Nevada but also across the nation. It's much more convenient and cheaper to simply watch the game on television, but Nevada needs to do a deep evaluation into the problem. Wolf Pack football season tickets are pretty low priced. The 2016 renovation was supposed to make the fan experience better and bring more bodies into the stadium. It hasn't turned out that way.

No. The student section was a graveyard by the time the game ended. It did last 4 hours, though. That's way too damn long for a college football game that doesn't go to overtime. That's one of the big factors why people don't go to as many games as they used to. Way too many commercials and replay reviews.

The real answer is shortening the television timeouts, but that's not going to happen. I would be in favor of a running clock after first downs. And shortening the replays is a must. There are too many replays as is, but we can at least chop off some time when plays are reviewed.

I assume you mean, "Will we see a Power 5 school come to Mackay again?" Unfortunately, not for a while, but not because teams are scared of playing at Mackay Stadium. We already have Nevada's full non-conference schedules through 2022 and it doesn't include a home game against a Power 5 school. Nevada has been doing the one-game road payoffs of late rather than two-for-ones with Power 5 schools. So we might not see a Power 5 school come to Reno for a long time, which is another reason why attendance might continue to drop. Nevada's future non-conference home games are against UC Davis and UTEP (2020), Idaho State and New Mexico State (2021) and Incarnate Word and Texas State (2022). Hard to sell those contests.

It will be interesting to see if Nevada gets a boost in its next home game (against Weber State). It partially depends on how the Wolf Pack plays against Oregon. If Nevada gets blown out, some of that momentum will be gone. If it wins (or at least keeps it close), that might help build the fan base. Nevada started selling five-game packages Saturday, so it is trying to capture some of the fans that were intrigued by the Purdue win.

Oregon's offense has not wowed me the last two seasons despite the Ducks having the potential No. 1 overall draft pick at quarterback in Justin Herbert. Oregon was 41st in total offense and 25th in scoring offense last season. It put up only 21 points in its season opener against Auburn, although that includes a dropped touchdown and missed field goal. Oregon has had some notable injuries in its pass-catching corps and will be without three receivers against the Wolf Pack. All that said, I think Oregon scores at least 40. Nevada's secondary wasn't great against Purdue and will be facing a much better quarterback in Herbert. I'm curious to see how the run defense will do. Oregon has a good offensive line but couldn't run against Auburn and Nevada shut down Purdue's run game. Making the Ducks one-dimensional would be huge.

Can they? Of course. Weird stuff happens in one-game sample sizes. I gave Nevada a one-in-three chance of beating Purdue and then it won the turnover battle, 5-0, to increase those odds. The odds of beating Oregon are probably closer to one-in-10, but it's doable. Nevada has to play well, and Oregon has to play poorly. The Ducks don't lose at home to unranked teams very often, though. If the Wolf Pack does pull off the win, I might put Nevada in my Top 25. It depends on how the game plays out and what else happens across the nation. There's certainly some room at the bottom of my ballot. I have USC ranked, after all, and the Trojans aren't all that great.

Odds are Nevada loses by double-digits. The line seems fair to me. But the bigger the underdog you are, the bigger the shock is when you win. Nevada can capture the nation's attention by winning at Autzen Stadium. I don't think a loss here kills the way Nevada feels about itself, but it might dampen the fans' enthusiasm a little. I'm going to pick Oregon to win but Nevada to cover. With the Ducks losing its season opener to Auburn in heart-breaking fashion, I imagine it won't mind running up the score if has the opportunity to do so, kind of like it did in 2011 (a 69-20 win over the Wolf Pack) after losing its season opener to another SEC team in a neutral site (LSU).

Yes. It has to be. The Mountain West beat a Big Ten team (Purdue), an ACC team (Florida State), a Pac-12 team (Arizona) and an SEC team (Missouri) and didn't take any bad losses in the process. Now, the MW also lost to three Power 5 schools (USC, Colorado and Wake Forest), so it could have been a little better, but going 4-3 against Power 5 schools, plus San Jose State actually winning a game, was a great way to start the season.

Fun fact: The combined football budgets of the four MW teams that beat Power 5 schools in Week 1 is $43.186 million. The combined football budgets of those four Power 5 teams is $140.777 million. There's so much money in college football, although oftentimes it doesn't really matter which team is spending more.

I think the Mountain West would take Utah's Fiesta Bowl win over Pitt in 2005 or Utah's Sugar Bowl win over Alabama in 2009 or TCU's Rose Bowl win over Wisconsin in 2011 or Boise State's Fiesta Bowl win over Arizona in 2014 above this week. It was a great week nonetheless, and I do think the Mountain West is a little stronger top to bottom than the AAC, which is saying something considering how much more money the AAC spends on football. The AAC has had the top dog the last two seasons, however, with UCF, which is probably more important given the money tied to making a New Year's Six Bowl.

1. Boise State over Florida State (it turned out to be a true road game and Florida State will likely end up being the best of these four Power 5 opponents; this was the only road game of the bunch, which elevates it)

2. Wyoming over Missouri (Wyoming ran all over an SEC opponent that won eight games in 2018; the Cowboys were up 34-17 entering the fourth quarter; Missouri was ostensibly ranked No. 26 in this year's preseason AP Top 25)

3. Hawaii over Arizona (Hawaii beat a Power 5 team despite being minus-four in turnovers, which is almost impossible; it's impressive to turn the ball over six times and still beat a Power 5 foe)

4. Nevada over Purdue (not to take anything away from Nevada; all four of these victories were impressive and Nos. 3-4 are interchangable since they were both at home against equal-quality opponents)

As it usually the case in situations like this, it a combination of both. Purdue played about as poor a second half as you can play, both from a player standpoint and a coaching standpoint. But Nevada also had to play really well to complete the comeback, with all three phases chipping in. Carson Strong was great in the fourth quarter, the offensive line kept him clean, Nevada kept Rondale Moore from having an impact in the second half and Brandon Talton and Quinton Conaway were great in the kicking game. Nevada was plus-five in turnovers, which happens maybe once or twice a decade, so that's not going to happen again this season. But the Purdue game was a huge one in terms of getting the community to take notice of the team and in terms of the Wolf Pack's end-of-season record. This was one of those swing games from Nevada hitting its win-total ceiling (which I believe is nine) and its floor (which I believe is five). The Wolf Pack should feel confident it can beat any teams in the Mountain West considering it just beat a Big Ten team that has been to back-to-back bowls. From a fan's perspective, this might push the expectations up to "Win the West Division or Bust." But we'll learn more against Oregon since the turnover margin shouldn't be as lopsided.

Again, a little of both. Purdue had five turnovers. One was Rondale Moore's boner move when he tried to pick up a punt rolling away from him. That's fully on Purdue. Another was just bad luck for the Boilermakers when a punt went off a dude's helmet. Elijah Sindelar threw two picks. One was right to Daniel Brown, a horrible throw. The other was a great play by Emany Johnson and Brown. The final turnover was a fumble punched out by EJ Muhammad, which was bad ball security but also a great play by Muhammad. Yes, Nevada got a good dose of luck, but people aren't going to remember that a couple of years from now. It was Nevada's eighth win over a Power 5 opponents and seventh outright victory as a double-digit underdog. That's what people will remember.

It went off a Purdue player's head for sure. You could argue interference, but the Purdue player wasn't really being blocked into Moore. I believe that was the right no-call. If Purdue fans want to be upset about anything, it'd be the non-call on the interception in the end zone that would have sealed the game late in the fourth quarter. I thought it was an interception, but it was close.

Boise State and Fresno State. I've been saying since the start of the year Boise State could go undefeated, and it has now cleared its largest hurdle. I don't see how Boise State doesn't win the Mountain Division. In the West, I'll stick with Fresno State, which lost 31-23 to USC, which isn't all that bad considering USC was the toughest opponent a MW team played in Week 1. I started the year with Nevada ahead of San Diego State, and that looks good considering the Aztecs beat Weber State, 6-0, in its opener. Six points!?!? So much for that revamped offense.

I'll have a more thorough summation in my weekly Mountain West rankings, but it pencils out like this after Week 1.

1. Fresno State

2. Nevada

3. Hawaii

4. San Diego State


6. San Jose State

Oddly, the only team in the West to lose in Week 1 is at the top (Fresno State). I could make the case for UNLV over SDSU, too. That offensive performance against Weber State was awful: 238 yards on 73 plays (that's 3.26 yards per play against an FCS opponent).

A 10-year fully guaranteed deal worth $11.6 million? Nevada can't afford that. It will be interesting to see what AD Doug Knuth does after this season, but money is tight and the team still isn't drawing in big numbers. Norvell is worth more than the $500,000 he's making now, though. Tricky situation, but Nevada will have to extend Norvell and sweeten his salary if he puts together another eight-win season or better.

I ranked them before the season started right here. Just sub in Hank Bachmeier for Chase Cord on Boise State's listing.

In 2013, the MW did have three future NFL quarterbacks in Derek Carr, David Fales and Garrett Grayson as well as Cody Fajardo and Grant Hedrick. That's pretty good. But with three freshmen (Bachmeier, Strong and Wyoming's Sean Chambers) all beating Power 5 teams as freshmen last week, the MW has to be pretty happy.

How many more games are left in the season? 11? I'll go with 11. I think he makes it to the end of the year, but losing quarterback J.T. Daniels for the season with a torn ACL makes it unlikely he accomplishes enough this year to get a fifth season with the Trojans.

Missing the "iced kick" and making the one that ends up counting does happen on occasion. I've never been a proponent of "icing the kicker." Most kickers would tell you they want the practice try and the extra time. Also, I'm not sure how Purdue coach Jeff Brohm didn't have Rondale Moore in the end zone to return a potential kick that ends up short on the second attempt (the first one was short). Moore is electric and could return that thing for the game-winning touchdown if the kick ends up being short. One of a number of mistakes from Brohm.

I'm against it unless there was already a stoppage in time. Then you could argue you're icing the kicker even more. But I would just let things play out unless I was drawing up a kick block or something.

No. Bennett was still at practice this week waiting to be cleared to participate. Strong's performance tells me he's Nevada's long-term starter, but injuries do happen and the Wolf Pack's quarterback depth chart thins out after this season so Bennett could be the backup next season. It's not going to be much easier to supplant Strong than it would have been to supplant Hank Bachmeier if Bennett stayed at Boise State, though. I could see Bennett getting a package of run-oriented plays to supplement Strong. He always could change positions, too, if he can't crack the top of the depth chart at quarterback.

My initial projections were 25 touchdowns and 15 interceptions, right? I'll stick with that. He was mighty impressive with a three-touchdown, zero-interception game against Purdue, as I wrote about here. Purdue gave up the third-most passing yards in the nation last season, so it was a vulnerable secondary. I wouldn't be surprised if Strong went over my 25 touchdowns and under my 15 interceptions, but I'm not going to change after one game. I actually think the zero interceptions was far more impressive than the three touchdowns versus Purdue. Excellent decision-making on his part all game.

He was not dressed as he is dealing with an injury, but he's still on the team.

Correct. John Hill, a 1973 Nevada alum and son of then-UNR professor of military science Col. Robert H. Hill, claims to be the first person to fire the cannon, which used to blast off after every score during the game. "We not only shot it, but we shot some of our players one time," Ault said several years ago. "I remember Steve Bryant getting shot right in the back with those paper wads and his jersey bending up and smoke coming out. There's some wonderful memories." But it doesn't work anymore. After UNLV won the trophy in 2000, Rebel players and fans lifted the cannon in celebration before accidentally dropping and damaging it. The UNLV athletics department repaired the cannon at a cost of about $1,500 before the team's next home game.

Against press coverage, you do what you have to do to get off the line clean. That's standard. There's a lot of hand-fighting and shaking.

I think that's going to be an issue all season. The key will be making big plays (i.e. creating turnovers) and being good in the red zone in response to the big yards given up. Even last season when Nevada's defense was one of the best in school history, the Wolf Pack ranked 89th in the nation in passing defense and 78th in team pass efficiency defense. And then Nevada lost four starters off that unit in the offseason. Getting a better pass rush than we saw against Purdue will be key, too.

As a life-long Lakers fan, I would rename them the "Shaq Division" and the "Kobe Division." We're talking football here, so it doesn't make much sense, but how often do I get to rename conference divisions? I might as well use this as my platform to rebrand things to my liking. The Kobe Division would be the current West Division and the Shaq Division the current Mountain Division.

No. The AAC is doing that because it is losing UConn and not replacing the Huskies, meaning it is going down to 11 football teams, which makes divisional play difficult. As long as the Mountain West has 12 teams, I see it sticking with the Shaq Division and Kobe Division.

Vote for Pedro (I mean, Petey).

No, I think that would be a little much.

The Mountain West for sure. It's chief rival, the AAC, went 2-4 against the Power 5 last week with wins over Ole Miss and UCLA and losses to Oklahoma, Michigan State, Wisconsin and NC State. The AAC had the harder schedule playing three ranked opponents to the MW's zero.

I've been tracking that all season and it's not great. On the flip side, Reno is the second-smallest city to have a PCL team, so it kind of makes sense the team ranks second-to-last in attendance, too. Reno is really more of a Single-A kind of town in size. I do think the Aces will still be in Reno a decade from now since owner Herb Simon has a vested interest in Reno given all of his properties here, including Reno 1868 FC. But the fall in attendance over the years is notable. Reno drew 6,481 in its first season, 6,218 in its second, 6,089 in its third and hasn't been above 5,415 since. One could argue Reno 1868 FC might have more longevity than the Reno Aces, but since they're somewhat coupled together they probably rise and fall together.

Neither is on a practice squad.

College football players are not allowed to have fun. I understood the one on Purdue's Elijah Sindelar early in the game because he took his helmet off. I did not understand the two on Nevada, but I also can't see much up in the press box and didn't see a review. Literally, if you spike a ball after scoring that's excessive celebration in the college game. It's weird they're not allowed to celebrate.

Unless you place a free T-shirt on the fans' seats it's probably not going to work. It's worked at Lawlor Events Center over the years, but that's because the shirts were placed on the seats.

Even after last week's great performance, the Mountain West ranks 10th (Shaq Division) and 13th (Kobe Division) in Jeff Sagarin's conference rankings. So the answer would be, "No."

Out of the youngsters, I was most impressed with sophomore safety Tyson Williams, who had a team-high 12 tackles. Redshirt freshman safety Emany Johnson also had the huge pass breakup that bounced to Daniel Brown for Brown's second interception, which set up the game-winning field goal. That was the biggest play the defense made all game. Kudos also to true freshman Breylon Garcia for his hustle on punt coverage as he recovered the ball that doinked off the helmet of the Purdue blocker for a crucial turnover.

I haven't been to the Nut Tree for a couple of decades. We used to go there for back-to-school shopping when I was a kid, but with The Outlets at Legends around to shop at, I couldn't even tell you one store at the Nut Tree anymore. I think there was a Nike outlet we'd go to.

Pulitzer Prize since that would be an award I actually earned myself as opposed to a bunch of strangers who happen to wear laundry I like accomplishing something. But if you could guarantee me the Dodgers win every World Series until I die, I would probably take that over a Pulitzer Prize. That'd be like 45 straight World Series. That'd be too good to pass up.

You hope that your offense is on fire and you blow everybody out in the playoffs so you don't need a closer. That seems to be the best strategy right now considering Kenley Jansen has lost a couple of miles per hour off his cutter from its peak, so he's down in velocity and movement, which is a bad combination. Joe Kelly might be the closer in the playoffs. What a torturous world that would be.

Since we're talking about a six-team conference, I could see TMCC finishing in the top half of its league in year one.

I asked Gabriel Sewell about that today and he said, "Not in a game. Probably just in practice really. That's it."

Spanish Springs High football is good. The second best team in the North for me behind Bishop Manogue. They are the heavy favorites to win the High Desert League, but I have Manogue winning the Northern 4A even after its lopsided loss to Desert Pines to open the season. Beyond Jackson LaDuke (the Oregon commit), Spanish Springs also has the best pass-and-catch duo in the North in QB Tristan Szabo and WR Jordan Dudick.

I have no reason to believe the Boston College transfer is not enrolled and on campus.

1. Anthony Martinez's game-winner against Boise State in 2010

2. John Barnes' game-winner against UNLV in 1969 (the first matchup between the teams)

3. Torpedo-Toe Talton's game-winner against Purdue in 2019

4. Kyle Brotzman's miss against Nevada in 2010 (part I)

5. Kyle Brotzman's miss against Nevada in 2010 (part II)

6. Rick Schwendinger's missed 27-yarder as time expired in an FCS quarterfinal against Youngstown State that ended Nevada's undefeated season in 1991

7. Matt Prater's missed extra point to give Nevada the 2005 Hawaii Bowl victory in overtime

8. Tony Zendejas' 58-yarder against Boise State in 1983 (the longest in school history)

9. Damon Fine's 58-yarder against UNLV in 2001 (tying the longest in school history)

I've run out of kicks. The Arkansas State kicker missed a bunch in the Arizona Bowl, didn't he? Put those in the No. 10 slot.

Fazekas has had issues with his feet since he became a pro, which is part of the reason he didn't make it in the NBA. I don't think he'll have any issue getting to the Olympics. This is just kind of how he runs now. He doesn't want to miss the Olympics. I know that. I'm curious to see how he does against Team USA. In his World Cup opener against the Czech Republic, Fazekas had 12 points and 10 rebounds on 5-of-7 shooting with four turnovers and an assist. Not bad, but probably not the game he was looking for (Japan lost, 89-76).

Here's some history on the pre-snap clap motion. Bringing it to the NFL hasn't gone very smoothly.

Without a doubt. There were some fire play calls in Tecmo. Four curls was unstoppable. And who is going to clog up the middle gap against the "X play?"

It was me all along and I don't want to run two accounts anymore. Duh. See y'all next week!

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