Fresh off a 16-13 Arizona Bowl victory over Arkansas State, the Nevada Wolf Pack capped-off their first eight-win season in school history since joining the Mountain West Conference. It wasn’t easy, as the Pack suffered a few hiccups along the way and battled through season-ending injuries and late departures on both sides of the ball, but the Pack ended 2018 on a high note with a postseason victory.
Let’s take a look at Nevada’s play that helped seal their second bowl victory since 2015.
Nevada enjoyed another successful campaign under the air-raid offense, they averaged 32.3 points and just under 414 yards per game. The Pack were led by several senior starters offensively, including quarterback Ty Gangi. Gangi closed his collegiate career with another solid season, passing for 3,131 yards and 23 touchdowns. An even mix of upperclassman on the offensive line kept him upright throughout the year, and the unit was crucial to sustaining long drives.
Young Pups: Several underclassman made an early impact on the program as well. Freshman running back Toa Taua was named Mountain West Freshman of the Year with 1,010 all purpose yards from scrimmage and seven touchdowns. As a result, he and redshirt junior Kelton Moore were a major component to the running game, the duo toted the rock at 4.8 yards per carry.
Big Cleats to Fill: Sophomore McLane Mannix announced his transfer to Texas Tech from Nevada Dec. 19. The shifty 5’9” wide receiver was a major component in Gangi’s arsenal, hauling in 50 receptions for 875 yards and seven scores. He also returned punts with the special teams unit. Mannix’s departure paved a path for sophomore receiver Elijah Cooks and freshman Romeo Doubs, and both stepped up in a big way. Doubs had a career night with eight catches for 120 yards and two touchdowns in a 49-10 win over Colorado State Nov. 10. Cooks’ bulky 6’4” frame was used as a red zone threat when the Pack got within the twenties.
New Face Under Center: Junior quarterback Cristian Solano made his first collegiate start for Nevada Oct. 6 in a 21-3 loss against Fresno State after a leg injury sidelined Gangi. Solano shattered several school records at San Fernando High School and was named All-City Most Valuable Player during his senior year. Solano struggled to find any rhythm in the pocket and failed to get his feet set on multiple occasions. He completed just 22 of 43 passes for 195 yards and three interceptions, but Solano’s scrambling ability kept drives alive for the Pack. He had a game-high 71 rushing yards and showcased his potential dual-threat ability.
Nevada’s defense was the real difference maker this season. They stayed consistent throughout the year and battled through sluggish offensive starts on the opposite side of the ball. The Pack were 4-0 in games where their opponents scored 15 points or less. They held opposing teams to 3.5 yards per carry and forced 19 turnovers. In the Arizona Bowl, the Pack forced another three turnovers and four-straight stalled drives in the red zone.
A loaded defensive front seven was anchored by senior linebacker Malik Reed and senior defensive end Korey Rush. Reed totaled 77 tackles, 15.5 for loss to go along with eight sacks and four forced fumbles. Rush added had 34 tackles, 12.5 for loss and six sacks in 10 games. Rush’s season ended early after suffering a broken foot in a 28-24 win over San Diego State Oct. 27. The front seven collapsed the pocket and pressured quarterbacks into making off-balanced throws that landed in the hands of the secondary.
Senior defensive back led the team with three interceptions, Jomon Dotson followed closely behind with two of his own. The secondary was a bit leaky at times, giving up 300 over passing yards in two games this season, but safeties and cornerbacks did a great job of not allowing the big play and wrapping up tackles in the open field.
Another Departure: Sophomore safety Nephi Sewell did not participate in bowl sessions and practices and ultimately transferred to BYU. Justin Brent stepped up in his absence, his two interceptions makes him the only player in school history to have multiple interceptions in a bowl game.
Plays were made on both sides of the ball, and it paid dividends towards the Wolf Pack’s season.
- Strong Finish: The Wolf Pack ended their last five games with a 4-1 record, including a season-high four-game winning streak to put them back into bowl game contention. Their last loss of the season came at the hands of rival UNLV 34-29 , who lost the Fremont Cannon as a result.
- From Walk-On to Winner: Walk-on receiver Ben Putman recorded 114 yards in the Arizona Bowl, he was offered a scholarship minutes after the overtime victory.
- Nevada opened the regular season with a 72-19 victory over Portland State Aug. 31. their 72 points was a season high for the Pack.
- The Pack finished the season 5-3 against conference opponents and were 4-2 at home.
- Nevada’s 28-25 win against Air Force marked the first road victory in the Jay Norvell era.