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Nevada football's Monday review: Wolf Pack pass attack has historic feast against NMSU

Bentlee Sanders
Bentlee Sanders celebrates a first-half interception against New Mexico State on Saturday. The play was later called incomplete. (David Calvert/Nevada athletics)

Nevada scored a 55-28 win over New Mexico State on Saturday to improve to 4-1 this season. Here is a Monday review of the game and a look-ahead to Nevada's next opponent, New Mexico State.

Just the facts

New Mexico State opened the scoring with a 19-yard touchdown pass from Jonah Johnson to Jared Wyatt before Nevada reeled off 52 straight points to seal the win. The Aggies "won" the the fourth quarter, 21-3, with Johnson's 6-yard touchdown run with 6 seconds left covering the 28.5-point spread. But it was a dominant all-around effort by Nevada over the second and third quarters after a relatively sleepy first frame. The Wolf Pack piled up 532 yards and 27 first downs with 463 of those yards coming through the air. Carson Strong threw for 377 yards and six touchdowns in 2.5 quarters before giving way to backups Nate Cox and Clay Millen. Nevada also piled up six sacks for the second straight game and has hit the six-sack mark in three of its five games this season if you include an eight-sack performance against Idaho State.

Murray's take

This was Nevada's second game against an FCS-level opponent after the team's 49-10 win over Idaho State last month. While New Mexico State technically plays in the FBS as an independent, it is 1-21 in its last 22 games against FBS foes, almost all of those losses being blowouts. The Wolf Pack took care of business in a potential trap game, and you can't quibble about much from Saturday night. No, the Wolf Pack didn't run the ball with any success (69 yards on 23 carries) and the defense gave up more yards (452) and first downs (25) than you'd like to see, although 209 of those were in the fourth quarter after the Wolf Pack subbed liberally. Nevada got out of the game clean of injuries, with the exception of Romeo Doubs not playing after suffering an injury in practice leading into the contest. The Wolf Pack sits at 4-1 while getting a handful of votes in the coaches Top 25 with only Mountain West games remaining.

Overall MVP

Strong had what was statistically the best game of his career, posting a personal-best passer rating of 232.7 after completing 25-of-32 passes for 377 yards and six touchdowns against one interception, that coming early in the game on a deep shot (he had his first career tackle on the play). Strong won his fourth MW offensive player of the week honors and is now on pace for 3,828 yards and 34 touchdowns in the regular season. His six touchdown throws were the most by a Nevada player since Mike Maxwell had two seven-touchdown games in 1995. Chris Vargas also had a seven-touchdown game in his career, but Strong is the first Wolf Pack player to throw for exactly six scores in an outing. And he did so without his top two receivers, with Doubs and Elijah Cooks (out for the season), sidelined. Strong spread the ball around with five players catching touchdowns, including Cole Turner (twice), Justin Lockhart, Melquan Stovall, Harry Ballard III and Toa Taua. Strong has feasted on the lesser competition on Nevada's schedule, throwing for 758 yards and 10 touchdowns in games against Idaho State and New Mexico State.

Offensive MVP

Stovall, the Wolf Pack's junior slot receiver, posted the best game of his Wolf Pack career, tying a personal best in receptions (seven), setting a career high in receiving yards (155, previous best was 84) and scoring his first college touchdown, a 64-yarder with Stovall doing much of the work with some nifty moves after hauling the ball in around midfield and going the distance (Turner and Tory Horton had some good blocks downfield). The big games by Stovall and Lockhart, who caught seven passes for 103 yards, shows how deep this Wolf Pack receiving corps is. Nevada was down two All-MW wideouts and still put up 463 passing yards. Now, New Mexico State's defense is bad, but it was an impressive showing from the Nevada passing attack, which moved up to seventh in the nation in yards per game through the air at 357.

Defensive MVP

Nevada's pass rush was strong yet against with Sam Hammond posting two sacks and Dom Peterson adding 1.5, so either of those guys are deserving of this honor. But we'll go with cornerback BerDale Robins, who had Nevada's second defensive score of the season when he ripped the ball out of a New Mexico State player's hands and returned it for a touchdown to put Nevada up 52-7. It was a great individual play Robins, who has seven takeaways in his career (four interceptions, three fumble recoveries). Robins did allow a touchdown pass (NMSU's first score) and had only two tackles, but he gets major credit for a self-earned six points. Linebacker Daiyan Henley (team-high 12 tackles, including one for loss) and safety Jordan Lee (nine tackles, two TFL, one pass breakup) also warrant mentions.

Fun stat

9 — The Wolf Pack completed nine passes of at least 20 yards, its most in a game this season. New Mexico State runs a blitz-heavy defense, and Nevada repeatedly gashed the unit while yielding four sacks.

Up next

Nevada jumps into MW action for the remainder of the season and will host Hawaii at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in its homecoming game. The Rainbow Warriors, who were on a bye last week, are 3-3 and beat Fresno State in their last game, a 27-24 decision over he then-No. 18-ranked Bulldogs thanks to a 6-1 edge in turnovers. Hawaii also has beaten Portland State and New Mexico State (41-21 if you want to compare the Aggies' result against Nevada) with losses to UCLA, Oregon State and San Jose State. Nevada is a 14.5-pont favorite with a total of 59.5. The Wolf Pack lost to Hawaii, 24-21, last season, one of its two defeats in 2020.

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