The Nevada Wolf Pack will open up the 2016 season on Friday night at 6:30pm as they face the Cal Poly Mustangs of the Big Sky Conference. The Wolf Pack will play their first game at the newly refurbished Mackay Stadium.
The Wolf Pack are coming off a 2015 campaign in which they finished with a 7-6 record and won the inaugural Nova Home Loans Arizona Bowl by defeating Colorado State 28-23. But the Wolf Pack had a pair of head-scratching losses last season to two of the worst teams in the conference in Wyoming and UNLV.
Also, the passing offense struggled throughout the season as first-year starting quarterback Tyler Stewart only completed 57 percent of his passes and lacked the consistency needed to help out a very talented rushing attack.
This season, the Wolf Pack have brought in new offensive coordinator Tim Cramsey to give the offense some much needed firepower. The former Montana State offensive coordinator and Chip Kelly disciple will still run the famed Pistol offense while incorporating some spread concepts he ran while at Montana State.
So expect to see the offense be more up-tempo and attempt to get the playmakers on offense in open space to create big yardage plays.
The offense does return ten starters and will still be a run-oriented team that is led by junior running back James Butler who ran for 1,345 yards and ten touchdowns as a backup. The offensive line is anchored by junior left tackle Austin Corbett who is one of the top left tackles in the conference and in the nation as he was named to the 2016 Outland Trophy watch list. .
The key for Nevada on offense is getting a more consistent passing game from senior quarterback Tyler Stewart and the wide receiver group that returns talented seniors Hassan Henderson and Jerico Richardson. If the passing game gains consistency, then the Wolf Pack can be one of the best offenses in the conference.
On defense, the Wolf Pack's front seven is inexperienced as only one starter returns from last year's group. But the secondary returns every starter from last year as Safeties Asauni Rufus and Dameon Baber are the players to watch for in the secondary.
Rufus led the team in tackles while Baber recorded six interceptions. The Wolf Pack hope the secondary can play at its best while the front seven finds it way throughout the season.
The Wolf Pack face a Cal Poly team that finished with a dismal 4-7 record in 2015 and gave up 170 yards on the ground last year. This does not bode well for the Mustangs on defense as the Wolf Pack's clear strength on offense is their running game.
The Mustang's triple option spread offense did average 387 yards on the ground in 2015 but their lack of a passing offense (The team averaged 91 yards passing in 2015) will make it easier for the Wolf Pack to stop their ground attack.
The Wolf Pack have the talent on both sides of the ball to make quick work of the Mustangs but the most important items for Nevada is to get consistency in the passing game and have the front seven perform well also. Nevada will need a good performance from them on Friday because the Wolf Pack's next game will be at Notre Dame on September 10th.
Prediction: Nevada 31 Cal Poly 9