Nevada Preview: The Cliff’s Notes Version

Ed. Note – Nothing like waiting until the last minute. One thing that will suffer this year, due to increased schedule demands will be my opponent previews. Hopefully they will still be of interest.

Head Coach: Chris Ault in his 23rd year (non-consecutively) with the Wolfpack. Division IA career record 47-25.

Last Season: The Wolfpack finished 8-5 including a strong showing in the MPC Computers Bowl falling to Miami (FL) 21-20.

This Season: Most expect Nevada’s fortunes to return to more average levels. They return just 12 starters (5 offense and 7 defense) from last year’s squad. The 2006 team also benefitted from a +12 turnover margin which is unlikely to be repeated. In addition, the Wolfpack must replace 2nd Team All-WAC QB Jeff Rowe who threw for 2,925 yards a year ago.

On Offense:

Nevada runs the “Pistol Offense”.

What it is – a hybrid of the shotgun where the quarterback lines up a few steps behind the center. It allows for two-back and single-back sets, typically with four receivers.

What it isn’t – A Mike Leach-ian or run-n-shoot high octane offensive attack.

The Wolfpack offense is a patient, deliberate, efficient, run-based attack. The pistol offense allows for a north/south running game, while also giving the passing game the advantages of the shotgun. We can expect Nevada to run the ball up the middle, but attempt to keep the Blackshirts honest with a fair number of bootlegs and play-action passes. A prototypical Wolfpack drive will include a balanced mix of running and passing plays that burn time and keep the defense guessing. Sound familiar?

Just how efficient was Nevada’s pistol offense in 2006? The Wolfpack finished 10th nationally in the Scoreability Index . In other words, they scored one touchdown for every 71 yards of offense they generated. For comparison, Nebraska scored one touchdown for every 81 yards of offense the Huskers generated a year ago.

Quarterback: Nick Graziano will look to replace Jeff Rowe. Graziano is just a sophomore, but came to Nevada has a highly thought of recruit. Graziano should show off his tremendous arm, and decent mobility. He figures to have a ton of upside in Nevada’s offense. While he has the ability to make all of the throws the offense requires, there is some worry he may rely on his arm too much and could force throws that aren’t really there.

Running Back: Gone is Robert Hubbard who rushed for over 1,000 yards last season. In his place expect to see Luke Lippincott or Brandon Fragger. During one stretch a year ago, Lippencott (6-2, 215) rushed for 359 yards and seven touchdowns, leading the Pack to three straight wins by a combined score of 135-28. He’s a power back, but does have some speed in the open field. Fragger looks like the team’s future star. He’s a sophomore with a good burst through the line. He finished 2006 with 270 yards and three TDs.

Wide Receiver: Three names to watch at the WR position are Marko Mitchell, Mike McCoy and Arthur King. Mitchell is 6-4, 195 pounds, and has good speed for his size. His best attribute is his hands and he catches everything that’s close to him. He was second on the team with 39 catches for 493 yards and four TDs last year. McCoy is listed as a backup but is the team’s big-play target. He averaged 15 yards per catch and scored nine touchdowns on just 23 receptions. King has decent size and speed and should benefit from last season’s experience.

Offensive Line: The line could be the Wolfpack’s Achilles Heel this week. They will be without starting center and Rimington Trophy candidate Dominic Green who broke a bone in his foot. His backup then went all Latrell Spreewell getting into an altercation with a coach. That means Josh Catapano will have the unenviable task of matching up with Ndamukong Suh. You’ll also want to watch Catapano as he’ll be counted on to make 60+ snaps from the shotgun formation. The Wolfpack have two returning starters up front in senior Charles Manu (6-3, 300) and junior Greg Hall (6-3, 290).

On Defense:

Nevada has some new defensive coaches, but will retain its 3-4 defensive alignment. A year ago the Wolfpack defensive forced an incredible 37 turnovers. That helped the team field the 22nd most efficient defense in country as measured by the Bendability Index. Opponents needed to generate an average of 102 yards to score the equivalent of one TD on the Wolfpack a year ago. In comparison, the Blackshirts forced opponents to march 109 yards to score the equivalent of a single TD last season.

Defensive Line: The starters up front are expected to be Mundrae Clifton, Matt Hines and Erics Clark. The 285-pound Hines is the best of the front three with terrific moves and the potential to grow into a star interior pass rusher. The 6-6, 270-pound Clark was expected to be a good pass rusher as last year went on, but it didn’t happen with just 2.5 sacks and 19 tackles. Even so, he’s a good lineman with the big body needed to stop things up. Clifton is big, strong, and quick and seems to have all of the measurables. The coaching staff is now just waiting for his talent to show up in games.

Linebackers: The linebackers are expected to be the strength of the Wolfpack defense. Unfortunately, the will not be at full strength against the Huskers. Ezra Butler, considered the star of the defense, has been suspended for Saturday’s game in Lincoln by Nevada coach Chris Ault for a violation of team policy. Butler was an All-WAC selection and Butkus Award candidate who recorded 17.5 of his 71 tackles behind the line of scrimmage last season. In his absence, Jeremy Engstrom (6-1, 247) and junior Joshua Mauga (6-2, 245) seasoned will be looking to step up in Butler’s absence.

Secondary: Heading into the season, the weak link on the Wolfpack defense is at cornerback. De’Angelo Wilson was kicked off the team, leaving a hole at corner. Senior Devon Walker was getting prepared to go into the season as a number two, but now finds himself a starter after making 18 tackles and breaking up two passes in 2006. On the other side will be junior Paul Pratt. Pratt was beat deep several times a year ago, but was still coming off a serious knee injury. If his speed fully returns, he is probably their best cover man. Sophomore Jonathan Amaya returns at free safety after being one last season’s surprises. The former walk-on made 42 tackles and also recorded an interception. Uche Anyanwu is being counted on at strong safety. He’s huge at 6-4, 220 pounds, but inexperienced. Nebraska fans should expect a big play or two against the Wolfpack secondary.

Random Notes

Nevada and Important Stats (2006):

Scoring Defense: 32nd – 19.2 ppg
Third Down Efficiency: 28th – 42.7%
Total Offense: 46th – 357.54 yds/game
Scoring Offense: 20th – 30.08 ppg.
Pass Efficiency Defense: 47th – 121.29
Rush Defense: 52nd – 128.5 yds/game
Total Defense: 48th – 325.46 yds/game
Yds./Pass Attempt: 57th – 7.12 yds/Att.
Passing Efficiency: 36th – 138.21
Third Down Efficiency Defense: 43rd – 35.7%

Six Degrees of Beano Cook: Nevada beat Colorado State. Colorado State beat Colorado. Colorado beat Texas Tech. Texas Tech beat Oklahoma State. Oklahoma State beat Nebraska.

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