The long off-season is finally over. Game week for the season opener is upon us. Here is a scouting report of the Nevada Wolf Pack prepared for UHND by Silver and Blue Sports’ Neil Henderson.
The Wolf Pack return 7 starters on offense. They’re probably best known for the unique “Pistol” offense they run. The “Pistol” is most easily identifiable as a shortened shotgun formation where the QB lines up 3 yards back from center with a tailback directly behind him. It’s the creation of Nevada’s head coach Chris Ault, one of only four active head coaches currently in the College Football Hall of Fame. He designed the offense during the period he was Nevada’s Athletic Director, between his second stint (1994-95) as Nevada’s head football coach and the current stint 2004-present). He was previously the Wolf Pack’s head coach from 1976-1992.
Best known for high powered passing offenses during his early tenures as head coach, Ault wanted a way to incorporate a good single back North-South running game into a passing formation. To give you an idea of just how pass happy Nevada used to be, if you scan the NCAA record books for passing and receiving you’ll see a number of Nevada players (Mike Maxwell, Trevor Insley, Alex Van Dyke, Nate Burleson, etc.). The idea of Nevada as a running team is fairly new to Wolf Pack fans. However, the goal is always the same, balance and ball control.
It is important to differentiate between the “Pistol” formation and the “Pistol offense”. There are several teams in college and pro that have experimented with the “Pistol” formation but only Indiana and scores of high schools around the country have transitioned to running the offense. I could go into detail about the “Pistol offense” but I think Chris Brown from Smart football has a great deconstruction of the offense, complete with some videos.
The Wolf Pack defense returns 7 starters from a unit that was much maligned for it’s poor performance against the pass. They transitioned last year to the 4-3 from the 3-4. Much has been said about Nevada’s “119th ranked pass defense” leading up to this season, usually in the same breath as high praise for its high powered offense. The key to Nevada’s season this year will be improvement on the defensive side of the ball and special teams, especially the secondary.
Why did the secondary perform so poorly? Well, for starters, they had a first time defensive coordinator and a first time defensive backs coach in charge of a group of players with no division I starts. Secondly, they had 29 days to prepare to open the season against the #1 and #4 ranked passing offenses in the nation last year, Texas Tech and Missouri. The rest of the season they faced the #10, #13 and three other top 20 ranked passing offenses. They were overwhelmed early and often and lost confidence. They started to pull it together later in the year and while they still gave up yards they also started to get a lot more take aways.
It’s felt that with the added experience, the time to prepare and just the simple fact that they won’t be facing so many pass happy system teams so early in the season, this should be a much improved secondary. How improved remains to be seen.
Special teams was a sore spot for the Pack last year as well, primarily on kick coverage. The main reasons were speed on the coverage team and a line drive kicker in, now departed, Brett Jaekle. Teams were frequently able to set up a nice wedge and get really decent returns, therefore giving them a short field.
This year, they have 4 defensive backs who red shirted last year who’ll be covering kick returns while fighting for playing time in the secondary that already has 4 returning starters, so there’ll be a lot more speed back there. They also have a talented kicker coming in by the name of Ricky Drake, a former kicker for Tulsa who came to the Pack via JUCO. He’s a placekicker who kicks with a lot of hang time. Also returning is 2nd team all WAC punter Brad Langley.
Players to Watch
Obviously the player most Notre Dame fans will be familiar with is Colin Kaepernick, the 6-6 220 Junior quarterback out of Turlock, CA. Colin was not highly recruited out of highschool as a QB because he was such a talented baseball pitcher, most programs assumed he would play division 1 baseball or enter the MLB draft. He held baseball scholarship offers from a number of division 1 schools, including Notre Dame, but only 1 football offer, Nevada. He wanted to play football, so that’s how he ended up at Nevada. He was drafted in the 43rd round of this year’s MLB draft by the Chicago Cubs.
He was the backup to Nick Graziano until about the 4th game in the 2007 season when Graziano went down with a season ending injury against Fresno St. His first division 1 start was the record breaking 4OT ESPN instant classic against Boise St., a 69-67 loss in Boise. He racked up 420 yards of total offense in that game, 243 yards passing, 177 yards rushing and 4 TD’s.
He’s a lanky looking QB with a loping run that is deceptively fast because of the length of his stride, he draws immediate comparisons to Vince Young. He has an absolute cannon for an arm, and that is no exaggeration, which is both his greatest asset and perhaps his greatest hinderance at this point. As a pitcher in highschool he threw a 95 mph fast ball. He throws the ball a lot like a baseball catcher throwing out a runner going to 2nd base, slightly side arm. In fact, he throws the ball so hard, that that is a large part of the reason his interception percentage is so low. It’s also a reason his completion percentage hovers around 55%, DB’s AND receivers have a tough time catching the ball at that velocity. He’s spent most of the off-season refining his touch and working with the receiving corps just playing pitch and catch. He was named to the watch list for the Davey O’Brien Award, given to the nation’s top collegiate QB.
Another two players to keep an eye on are JR RB Vai Taua (5-10 220) and SR RB Luke Lippincott (6-2 215). Taua was the WAC’s leading rusher last year with 1,521 yards and 18 touchdowns and has been named to the watch list for the Doak Walker award for the nation’s best running back. Offensive team captain Lippincott was the WAC’s leading rusher in 2007 with 1,420 yards and 18 touchdowns and started last season as the #1 back, but went down with a season ending injury early in the Texas Tech game. He was granted a 6th year of eligibilty by the NCAA. At this time the depth chart has not been announced but it’s likely Taua will get the nod as the starting back at this point but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Lippincott line up as an H back (2 back Pistol set) or as a receiver.
Other returning players on offense to keep an eye on:
TE Virgil Green, 6-5 240. Pre-season first team all WAC player.
WR Chris Wellington, 6-1 190. Only returning starter from last year’s receiving corps. 42 receptions for 632 yards and 6 TD’s.
On defense, the two players most people talk about are JR DE Kevin Basped (6-6 240) and JR DE Dontay Moch (6-1 245). Basped finished 15th in the nation in sacks per game and 10th nationally in tackles for a loss. Moch finsihed 17th nationally in sacks and 30th nationally in tackles for a loss. The matchup of these two players versus Irish OL Sam Young will be interesting to watch.
In the secondary, the players to watch are SR CB Antoine Thompson (6-1 195), SO CB Isiah Frey (6-0 190) and SR FS Jonathan Amaya (6-2 190). Amaya led the team in interceptions with 4.
Top Newcomers to Keep an Eye Out For:
- RS-FR WR Brandon Wimberly 6-3 195. Will probably earn one of the 3 starting spots at receiver.
- RS-FR RB Mike Ball 5-10 225. Rated one of the top 25 runningbacks nationally coming out of highschool in 2007. Word from Fall camp is he will really compete for playing time, even against the two returning starters, Taua and Lippincott, he’s that good.
- FR FS Duke Williams 6-1 185. Local kid who will compete for playing time in the secondary this year.
- FR SS Chris Metcalf 6-2 185. Nevada’s first Army All-American recruit. Orginally signed with USC.
I’m looking forward to watching the game in South Bend and I’m hoping to see a great game free from injuries for both squads.
Thanks to Neil and Silver and Blue Sports for this report.