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Ramey: The lesson of 'prescribed concerns' and how Nevada football overcame them

Toa Taua
Toa Taua and Nevada turned things on in the second half to down Hawaii. (David Calvert/Nevada athletics)

Sport enthusiasm delivers us many appealing things: shared glory, tribal identity, community ritual, bragging rights, the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat you know the words, so sing along.

But a more fundamental appeal of sport is that, through time spent with a given game, we learn and express prescribed concerns.

I can name off the top of my head prescribed concerns for baseball ("too many" walks issued, silly outs on the basepaths), basketball (not attacking the rim enough or probing the paint on offense) or football (not stopping the run, allowing the opposing passer "too much" time).

These are not quantitative outcomes to be avoided, but rather qualitative phenomena that crop up in a given game often enough, and ominously enough, that tell us to be WORRIED. Often correctly.

Why on earth would this be appealing?

Existence is fraught with arbitrary lethal danger about which we cannot, in any seriousness, worry. Whether you smoke too much or don’t work out enough or earn enough or don’t save enough are not worth the time spent considering if someone runs through a red light and in to you. Or if the world’s finest astronomers miss an earthbound comet. Or if an uncontrolled health emergency claims you.

Way too many things can go wrong NOW that would render nearly all of our day-to-day concerns silly in a way we dare not admit (that said, get some exercise and eat more vegetables).

To know how to worry, and what to worry about, when taking in a game, provides us some existential calm in an ocean of dread.

Or at least that’s what we tell ourselves.

***

I was very concerned about Nevada’s 20-17 halftime lead on Saturday night. The Pack had forced two Hawaii turnovers, had blocked a punt, and still only led by three points. Moreover, at halftime Hawaii had 264 total yards on 25 plays. Sure, Nevada had 283 total yards at half, but on 49 plays. Hawaii had gained about the same yardage as Nevada with half the snaps.

My prescribed concerns, from decades of attempting some rational observation of football, were instantly engaged. I was worried the Pack had not made enough hay while the sun was shining. I felt confident that this was a tenuous halftime lead.

I was wrong.

The Pack defense shook off two grotesquely poor snaps in the first half, set down the matador’s cape with which they attempted to tackle Hawaii’s Dae Dae Hunter, and proceeded to shut out the Rainbow Warriors in the second 30 minutes. That Hunter appeared to suffer an injury to his right shoulder and exited the game late in the first half never to return may have had something to do with this, but so did three second-half interceptions of Hawaii quarterback Brayden Schager.

The Pack defense alternately harassed and thrashed Schager, kept the delightfully explosive polyglot Calvin Turner, Jr. from having game-altering big plays, and generally maintained a punishing physicality for the duration of the game. It was a victory for the Nevada defense of ruthless attrition. The Red Army would have approved.

The victory over Hawaii was example of complimentary football, a concept I learned from Jay Norvell. I had not heard the phrase “complimentary football” until I heard it from Norvell, but anyone who knows football knows exactly what it means. Nevada’s offense tended to score after big defensive and special teams plays Saturday night. The tendency for one unit to play well after another unit has posted a big play (like a three-and-out after a scoring drive, or a turnover after a big punt pins the opponent back deep in its own end), is instantly recognizable as good football. The ensemble nature of this is why “complimentary football” is a satisfying concept.

Complimentary football can win upcoming huge games in Fresno and Carson (home of the San Diego State Aztecs of Los Angeles County) and in Fort Collins (don’t look now but the Rams are 2-0 in the conference). It will almost certainly be required for the home game against Air Force, whose archaic style requires an opponent maintain near perfection in all three phases, if only because the alternative is the Falcons holding the ball all night long, one devastating cut block at a time.

***

There is a concept in law called prima facie (pronounced pry-mah face she) and it is Latin for “first face.”

From Cornell School of Law: Prima facie may be used as an adjective meaning "sufficient to establish a fact or raise a presumption unless disproved or rebutted." An example of this would be to use the term "prima facie evidence."

Now, I’m not Abner Doubleday, but hear me out: Your best available pitcher should pitch as much as possible in the most important game of the season.

Your less-than-best available pitcher should not have guaranteed innings in the most important game of the season if a better pitcher is available.

Is this confusing?

The Dodgers using an “opener” for Game One of the National League Championship Series like it’s a bullpen staff day on a Tuesday at LMU is prima facie absurd.

NSN Daily co-host John Ramey is the Voice of the Wolf Pack and writes a weekly column for Nevada Sports Net. He will cheerfully take your reactions, gripes and suggestions at jramey@sbgtv.com. You can follow him on Twitter @Wolf_Pack_Radio.

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