In the next installment of our opponent previews, take a look at the Nevada Wolfpack.
- BYU vs. Nevada: Saturday, October 18th at Lavell Edwards Stadium.
- Nevada 2013 Record: 4-8
- Coach: Brian Polian (son of former Colts executive and current ESPN analyst Bill Polian) They also hired new Defensive Coordinator Scott Boone.
The Wolfpack regressed in 2013, their first year under Coach Brian Polian, struggling to stop anyone on defense and going 0-8 against teams that finished with a winning record. They missed the postseason for the first time in 8 years. In 2014 they return 18 starters from last year, 8 on offense and 10 on defense.
What We Learned Last Year:
BYU and Nevada faced off last year in Reno in the last game of the regular season. Following the disappointing loss to Notre Dame, already out of the BCS conversation, and with a bowl bid locked up, BYU was playing with essentially nothing on the line; and it showed in the first half, where Nevada jumped out to a 7-0 lead. The Cougars woke up in the second half, breaking down the Wolfpack defense and scoring 28 points to eke out a win the end, 28-23.
Polian hired a new defensive coordinator in the offseason, so they will be steering away from former DC Scottie Hazelton's Tampa 2 defense, and hoping that new coordinator Scott Boone's 4-3 system can help fill the gaps from last year. As I mentioned, this was a miserable defense. They gave up 34.4 points per game, ranking 104th, and ranked near the bottom in almost every statistical category. The one bright spot being their secondary which ranked 21st against the pass. They gave up very few big plays through the air, but that may have had something to do with the fact that they were so flimsy in their run defense. They ranked 124th in yards/game and 118th in overall run defense.
The defensive line is small up front, but has a few big time pass rushers, including Rykeem Yates and senior DE Brock Hekking who was selected to Phil Steele's preseason all-MWC 1st team and has 24.5 tackles for loss and 17.0 sacks over the past two seasons. He also has sported a heroic mullet that even impressed Jameis Winston.
Overall they return 10 players with starting experience, and have had a years time to try to figure out how to put up more resistance against running plays. They could give BYU some problems with a strong pass rush, but unless they are vastly improved in run defense, Taysom Hill and Jamaal Williams should have huge games again.
Nevada has been known in recent years for the Pistol offense and their strong and efficient running game, but 2013 was a different story as they struggled to run the ball effectively, ranking 51st in the country. This year their bread and butter ground attack will be led by senior Kendall Brock and junior Don Jackson who combined for 1,144 yards and 14 touchdowns last season. Their offensive line returns five players with starting experience and should be improved, which will likely help boost the run game.
Senior QB Cody Fajardo had a down year in 2013 and missed a couple games due to injury, but is still one of the best quarterbacks in the Mountain West. Fajardo took over after Colin Kaepernick went to the NFL and has proven himself to be capable of explosive plays in the Pistol offense. In 3 years at Nevada Fajardo has run for 2,436 yards and 31 touchdowns, and thrown for another 7,143 yards and 39 touchdowns. He is definitely capable of carrying the Wolfpack to victories, the bigger question this season is who he will be looking to get the ball to.
After losing their top receiver, Brandon Wimberly (Who went for 10-117-1 against us last year), the Wolfpack have limited big-play potential at the skill positions. Senior Richy Turner and sophomore Hasaan Henderson will step in as the starting receivers, but neither has established himself as a go-to pass catcher.
What To Expect:
I anticipate BYU will take the same offensive approach from the get-go in this game that worked so well in the second half of last years game: running the ball and moving the chains with a dink and dunk throwing game to overpower Nevadas smaller defensive line and avoid their pass rush. We will need to get off to a better start, but playing at home should help provide energy. If we can contain their Pistol offense and avoid giving up big plays, we should expect to wear them down physically on both sides of the ball and come out with a victory.