After three series in its season opener against Cal, the Nevada football team trailed, 14-0.
After two plays in its game against Kansas State, the Wolf Pack was down 7-0.
Fast starts have not been Nevada's forte so far this season, with the Wolf Pack defense allowing touchdowns on all three of its opening series in 2021 with the Nevada offense going three-and-out twice (it did score a touchdown on its first series against FCS Idaho State). Wolf Pack head coach Jay Norvell is focused on getting Nevada off to a faster start against Boise State on Saturday.
"We openly talk about it," Norvell said. "When I talk to the coaches all the time about this, we we want our kids to play free and to play aggressive. Sometimes you feel like you need certain schemes for a game, but if a kid is overthinking and if he's really not playing fast, you probably should leave some of those schemes on the shelf. We've worked really hard on that in all three phases to start fast. We didn't really start fast against Kansas State. We've had two weeks to work on the things we wanted to work on and are really looking to get off to a good start in Boise."
Norvell said it sometimes make sense to simplify things early in the game so his players feel comfortable with what the team is trying to do out of the gate. Nevada has been out-scored, 21-7, in the first quarter of its two games against FBS opponents this season and 24-0 in the fourth quarter. The Wolf Pack is plus-22 points in quarters two and three of those games.
"Just playing playing free and easy, having a lot of confidence in the schemes that we're trying to get up early and letting the kids attack," Norvell said of the key to early-game success. "I think that's where we are as a team. We want to start getting in attack mode and be aggressive in everything we do."
Nevada out-scored opponents by 20 points in the first quarter and 57 points in the first half last season, so this wasn't an issue in 2020, although Nevada was out-scored by 45 points in the first quarter and 116 points in the first half in 2019. Boise State has been an exceptionally fast-starting team this season, going up 21-0 on UCF, 10-0 on Oklahoma State and 17-0 on Utah State. The Broncos are plus-34 in the first quarter this season, scoring 44 points and allowing just 10.
"We just want to start fast," Norvell said.
Adding a wrinkle to that fast start is the timing of kickoff, which will be 1:30 p.m. local time and 12:30 p.m. Pacific. Boise State rarely draws an afternoon home kickoff, but both teams played early in their last games, with the Broncos starting at 10 a.m. at Utah State last week and Nevada at 1:05 p.m. at Kansas State.
"We do practice in the morning and we're kind of used to getting up and get going," Norvell said. "When you play at 7:30 at night, you kind of have to pump the brakes a little bit and ease into the day and not get started too quickly. But we'll get up and and we'll have some meetings and have pregame and we'll go play the game, which is what I wish every Saturday was like to be honest with you. But I'm really happy that it's an early kickoff and we get to play right after lunch, and we'll get home at a decent time as well. We'll get to play in the sunshine. I think that's a lot of fun in the fall, especially when you don't get to do it very often."
Norvell said Nevada had three main focuses during its bye week, those being run offense, run defense and special teams. But he would like to see improvement in one additional area.
"We want to generate more turnovers defensively, and I think that comes from disruptions, whether it's guys beating their man up front and making the quarterback have to throw over them, challenging receivers more, hitting our blitzes, just kind of fine tuning the things that we've been working on to get more production," Norvell said. "That's one of the things that we've learned (from the first three games)."
Nevada has created three turnovers in three games this season and 12 turnovers in 12 games dating back to 2020 when defensive coordinator Brian Ward took over. In his final full season at Syracuse (2018), Ward's defensive unit forced 31 turnovers in 13 games, tied for the third most in the nation.
Nevada's counterpart Saturday, Boise State, has excelled in creating turnovers this season. The Broncos have forced 12 of those in four games, the second most in the nation behind Oregon (13). Boise State is led by first-year coach Andy Avalos, who was Oregon's defensive coordinator last year and the coordinator at Boise State before that. This will mark the fourth time Nevada has faced an Avalos-coached defense under Norvell, including games against Boise State in 2017 and 2018 and a game against Oregon in 2019. Nevada has averaged 15.7 points in those games, all loses.
GRITIron luncheons return
Norvell's monthly GRITIron luncheons return next week at the Silver Legacy Resort.
The Wolf Pack head coach will hold one luncheon in each of the next three months with special player and coaching staff guests also appearing at the event. The luncheons will be held at the Silver Baron Ballroom and will recap previous games and preview upcoming contests. The first event will be walk-up only with no reservations necessary. Cost is $25 and can be purchased at the door with cash and credit card accepted.
The first luncheon is Oct. 4 and will be followed by luncheons Nov. 1 and Dec. 6. Each will start at noon.