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Pack football notes: Dom Peterson 'not ruled out' against Fresno State

Dom Peterson
Dom Peterson is questionable against Fresno State after spraining his ankle against Hawaii. (David Calvert/Nevada athletics)

Nevada is hopeful defensive tackle Dom Peterson, the Wolf Pack's most important defensive player, will be cleared to play against Fresno State on Saturday.

“He didn’t really practice today and wasn’t able to run around very good," Nevada coach Jay Norvell said Monday, "but he’s not ruled out. We’re hopeful he’ll get better by the weekend.”

Peterson injured his ankle during the first half of Nevada's 24-21 loss at Hawaii on Saturday and did not play in the second half.

“He got a bad sprain, and when you’re 300 pounds the sprains are a little bit different than guys who are lighter than that," Norvell said. "Everybody is a little bit different. But he was hobbled pretty good when he got hurt and couldn’t return in the game Saturday night. He’s an awfully good player, so we’re going to miss him when he’s not in there.”

Peterson was Nevada's only first-team All-Mountain West honoree last season and leads the Wolf Pack in tackles for loss (seven) and sacks (4.5) through the team's first six games. He's recorded 27 tackles and has been a big piece to Nevada's strong run defense.

Norvell said Nevada missed more than Peterson's production in the second half against Hawaii.

“He’s just such an emotional leader and a rally guy," Norvell said. "We just kind of missed a little bit of rally. There’s such a fine line between winning and losing. You lose a player of Dom’s magnitude and you miss him, especially in a close game. He’s one of our leaders, too. We missed a little bit of leadership going down the stretch in that game. He was missed. Hopefully we’ll have him back, and this is the time of year where your leaders really work. You have to have the right practice mindset. As a coach, you can talk about the importance of situations, but you need your older players to pull the young guys aside and make them understand the preparation is so important when you play these kinds of games.”

Nevada linebacker Lawson Hall, who played his high school ball with Peterson, said the Wolf Pack would miss a lot if Peterson wasn't able to play against Fresno State.

“That 'it factor,' the energy he brings, the playmaking ability he has," Hall said. "He’s able to make plays out of nothing. That’s a big part of our defense. Our defense is predicated on Dom and that front line getting a push and making plays in the backfield, so that gets harder with him out.”

With or without Peterson, Nevada's defense will be tested against the Bulldogs, which is averaging 33 points per game behind running back Ronnie Rivers, who has accounted for 666 yards and nine touchdowns in just four games.

“They’re most dangerous with their skill players, especially with the running back position," Hall said. "Ronnie Rivers is an outstanding player. He’s been in this conference for a while, so we’ll have to do a good job containing him as well as containing the quarterback and the other skill players they have on offense.”

Where are the turnovers?

Nevada's defense is much improved from last season, cutting its points allowed per game from 31.9 last season to 21.2 this year. But one thing has been missing. Turnovers.

The Wolf Pack has created just three turnovers in six games with its season high in a game being one. Nevada's 0.5 turnovers created per game rank tied for the third fewest in the nation. Only Boise State (two turnovers created in five games) and Bowling Green (one in four games) have been worse.

“We’ve done a really good job of playing defense, limiting big plays," Norvell said. "We haven’t been as disruptive as we possibly can, and I’m still waiting for us to get to that point. Playing tighter coverage, being more disruptive in the pocket and making the quarterback throw over us and getting some bad balls in the air. My hope is they come in bunches here at the end of the year, and we’ll keep scratching and clawing to play better."

Nevada has allowed only one of its six opponents to score more than 24 points this season, that being Wyoming in a 37-34 overtime win to open the season. So the Wolf Pack defense has been strong, but Nevada will face two of the Mountain West's top offenses to close the regular season with games against Fresno State and San Jose State.

"One of the things we’ve been very diligent in defensively is really limiting the opponents’ strength," Norvell said. "Now we have to be a little more disruptive, get some pressure on the quarterback, get some hands on the balls and get some turnovers. I can honestly say this is the least amount of turnovers I’ve seen in six games through a season. When that happens, third down becomes big. You have to get off the field, and that was one of the issues we had Saturday (against Hawaii)."

Hall said Nevada must clean up its tackling this week, too, but creating more big plays via turnovers is an area his unit wants to improve.

“It just comes from taking shots at the ball and putting ourselves in positions to get those turnovers because we’ve had opportunities to get turnovers," Hall said. "We just haven’t capitalized on those opportunities. You have to take more shots at the ball and be more hungry for the ball."

Getting Romeo involved again

Hawaii's defensive game plan of letting Nevada run the ball and double teaming Romeo Doubs worked out well for the Rainbow Warriors as the Wolf Pack's star receiver was held to one catch for 10 yards. Norvell doesn't see Doubs been limited like that again, although he didn't have an issue with the Wolf Pack's offensive game plan against Hawaii.

“There’s some things we can do to get him the ball," Norvell said. "The goal was to win the game, and we felt like we had a plan to do that. They obviously made a real precedence on not allowing him to catch the ball. And you can do that defensively if you want to roll your defense that way. There’s some things we can do, and we’ve talked about those and looked at some in practice. Romeo did what he was supposed to do that game, and Carson (Strong) really played well. We executed a plan and we just fell a little bit short. We ball controlled and tried to keep the ball away from them. We just couldn’t get off the field when we needed to against them (on defense). But there are some things we can do and have talked about that.”

Norvell and Strong both said the Wolf Pack has faced unusual defenses in each of its last four games, with opponents using a scheme they had not played earlier in the season to try and throw off Nevada's offensive rhythm. They expect the same from Fresno State.

“They’ve had almost three weeks off, so they could come out in almost anything, especially against us," Strong said of Fresno State. "Typically they’re a four-down front, cover four a lot with some man coverage, but we really have to be ready for everything. These past few weeks we’ve gotten some crazy looks, so we have to be ready for whatever.”

Strong named to Davey O’Brien list

Strong was named Tuesday to the Davey O’Brien Quarterback Class of 2020. The sophomore is one of 35 players, including two from the Mountain West, to earn the honor with each now an official candidate to win the 2020 Davey O’Brien National Quarterback Award.

The Class of 2020 consists of players from all 10 FBS conferences as well as football independents. The Atlantic Coast Conference has the most honorees with seven, followed by the Southeastern Conference and American Athletic Conference with five. The list is made up of 13 seniors, nine juniors, nine sophomores and four freshmen. The other MW quarterback to make the cut was San Jose State's Nick Starkel.

Strong ranks in the top 25 nationally in a slew of categories, including passing touchdowns (16), passing yards (1,973) passing yards per game (328.8), completions per game (28.5) and completion percentage (71.3). Strong has thrown for more than 300 yards in four of the Wolf Pack’s six games, including two 400-yard performances. Earlier this season, he set the school and MW record for consecutive pass attempts without an interception at 299.

The next step in the process will be to select the award’s 16 semifinalists on Dec. 7.

You can watch Nevada's weekly press conference below.

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