An absurdly premature assessment of the 2010 Wolf Pack.
Why they look familiar: Mid-Major Monday followers will recall quarterback Colin Kaepernick, whose bobbing style of dashing past opposing defenders led to the affectionate nickname "The Angry Ostrich." (The moniker is sure to catch on nationally this fall.) When he's not gangling downfield himself for an extra dozen yards or so, Kaepernick leads an innovative scheme known as the Pistol. Coach Chris Ault's trigger-happy scheme is just smart football, according to the proprietor of Smart Football:
When the pistol works, it's the best of both worlds for Nevada: Both I-formation and spread, both old and new school. Ultimately, however, there's only so much magic in simply putting your running back behind your quarterback -- that's not exactly a novel proposition. What has made Nevada's dynamic offense go has been Ault and his staff's ability to teach these schemes and to adjust week-to-week. Without getting all Bill Callahan in a restricted space, Nevada actually has one of the most diverse playbooks in terms of the number of different blocking schemes; it's something they have developed to stay ahead of the game.
And the Pistol did work, for the most part: The '09 edition led the country in rushing offense, was second only to Houston in total offense and made Nevada the first team in NCAA history to field three different 1,000-yard rushers.
Previously on: The minor darkhorse buzz surrounding the Pack before the season evaporated in a hurry during a sobering September, less so for the 0-3 record than the one-sided scores. Getting shut out by Notre Dame and falling by double digits to Missouri is one thing; losing by two touchdowns at Colorado State is a whole other level of ignominy: The Rams went on to drop nine straight with zero wins in Mountain West play.
Once the Pack got into the WAC schedule, though, things got serious. They demolished in-state rival UNLV, 63-28. They hung 70 (seventy!) points on a surprisingly not-horrible outfit from Idaho. In a single, three-week span, they combined to pile up more than 1,500 yards and 22 touchdowns on the ground in back-to-back-to-back blastings of San Jose State, Fresno State and New Mexico State (combined score: 177-41). They finally fell victim to conference juggernaut Boise State in the regular season finale, 44-33, after eight straight wins.
Still, the winning streak and outrageous rushing numbers made the Pack the most lopsided favorite of the postseason, which made the 45-10 Hawaii Bowl humiliation at the hands of SMU on Christmas Eve that much more disappointing. The loss dropped the final record to 8-5 overall, a game behind Boise State for the WAC championship, but with folks in Reno bent way out of shape over the way it ended.
Encounters in the wild: The Pack travels to BYU in mid-September, and hosts Boise State for another likely winner-take-all affair on Thanksgiving weekend. But the game we're most piqued for is the masterminds' tea party on Sept. 17, when Jeff Tedford brings Cal a-calling for a dose of Ault's funky brainchild on Nevada's home turf.
Stock characters: Nine returning starters on offense spell continued success for the Pistol. Chief among them is Kaepernick, coming off a 1,200-yard rushing season with another 2,000 as a passer – actually the lowest output through the air in his three years as a starter, mainly for lack of opportunities. He'll have backfield help in the form of Vai Taua, one of last year's 1,000-yard triumvirate, as long as Taua keeps his grades up following a suspension from the bowl game. The top three receivers also return, led by Brandon Wimberley, so if the more balanced attack Ault and his staff say they're seeking doesn't materialize, it's not going to be due to any shortage of talent.
Nevada has ranked last and next-to-last nationally in pass defense the last two years, yet defensive coordinator Nigel Burton somehow managed not only to not get fired, but also to wrangle a head-coaching gig at Portland State. His replacement, Nevada alum Andy Buh, has only six returning starters to work with, but given last year's yields that might not necessarily bode ill.
Prognosis: When they win, they win big – the offense scored at least 31 points in every win, and went over 60 four times. But the Pack is in desperate, howling need of some answers on defense. For a good two-thirds of any given season the pistoleros can put together enough points to outlast any challengers, but a handful of ugly losses are starting to rankle in Reno.
This is a team that's been to five straight bowl games but lost the last four, and a secondary last seen being lit up for 460 yards by a true freshman quarterback from SMU won't fly with this schedule. The offense ensures some reasonable success – at least another bowl game – but if Buh can cobble together even a reasonable facsimile of a pass D, the (metaphorically) gun-toting Angry Ostrich can end his college career with the series of loud bangs it deserves.
- - - Holly welcomes your adulation and veiled threats at nastinchka-at-yahoo, etc.
Previous Absurdly Premature Assessments (alphabetically by team): Boston College ... Central Michigan ... Clemson ... Colorado State ... Connecticut ... East Carolina ... Florida Atlantic ... Florida State ... Fresno State ... Hawaii ... Houston ... Iowa ... Kansas State ... Kentucky ... LSU ... Marshall ... Memphis … Middle Tennessee State ... Missouri … Oregon State ... Pittsburgh … San Diego State ... Stanford ... UTEP.
Holly welcomes your adulation and veiled threats at nastinchka-at-yahoo, etc.