Nevada enters the 2019 campaign with plenty of potential following a strong showing last season. Questions have already sprung under center with the injury to fifth-year senior quarterback Cristian Solano, but they have the tools and personnel on both sides of the ball to repeat last year’s success.
Another bowl title for Nevada won’t come without its obstacles. Non-conference opponents such as Oregon and Purdue have crept into this yer’s schedule combined with the defending Mountain West Conference champion Fresno State Bulldogs and Utah State Aggies. The Wolf Pack made school history last year, now they’ll look to build upon it with a few new faces on the field.
Let’s take a look at each unit for the upcoming season.
- New Face(s) Under Center: As mentioned previously, Solano’s hand injury opens the door for redshirt freshman Carson Strong and junior transfer Malik Henry. Solano’s injury will require surgery during the season, so head coach Jay Norvell must put some faith in either signal caller. Strong has been putting on a show so far in camp, so it will be interesting to see which player suits up for the Pack.
- Toa Taua’s Emergence in the Backfield: Sophomore running back Toa Taua has already garnered some national recognition. The 205-pound thumper was added to the Doak Walker Award watch list for the nation’s top running back. He also was named to initial watch list for The Maxwell Award given to the nation’s all-around best player of the year. Taua’s presence also spread to the Mountain West Conference. He joined linebacker Lucas Weber as the lone Wolf Pack members named to the MW Preseason All-Conference Team. As a freshman last year, Taua led Nevada with 872 rushing yards and six touchdowns. He added 202 receiving yards on 22 receptions and one touchdown. The sky is the limit for Taua, and he’ll be the focal point of the offense following a breakout freshman year.
- Wide Receiver Corps Look Strong: A trio consisting of Kaleb Fossum, Elijah Cooks and Romeo Doubs speaks to the depth at the wideout position for Nevada. Throw in Brendan O’Leary-Orange and Ben Putman and it’s even more dangerous. Fossum was second on the team with 734 receiving yards last season and has continued to be a vocal leader for the Pack on and off the field. No matter whose calling the shots under center, Strong or Henry has plenty of targets to throw to outside and in the slot.
- Secondary Looks to Rebound: Nevada ranked 88th in the nation in pass defense according to CBS Sports. If that number improves, it may fall on the shoulders of Daniel Brown and EJ Muhammad. Former Nevada defensive back Jomon Dotson led the team with 63 solo tackles and was second with two interceptions and two forced fumbles. Dotson signed as an undrafted free agent with the Chicago Bears, leaving big cleats to fill in the secondary. Brown started all 13 games with the Pack last year and made steady improvements as the season progressed. Kaymen Cureton will move to safety to help a depleted secondary with two other departed seniors. Cureton started two games at quarterback as a true freshman in 2017. This year’s secondary will feature some new faces and it can turn out to be a turning point to Nevada’s season.
- Bolster of bodies up front: The secondary wasn’t the only unit that left some gaping holes. The departures of Malik Reed and Korey Rush combined for 14 sacks last season. the duo wrecked havoc in the Pack’s 3-3-5 defensive scheme. Nevada still retained a formidable group of Luke Weber, Gabe Sewell, Adam Lopez and Dom Peterson in the front seven. The Pack’s season on the defensive end is riding on pressure from the front seven. They still have the pieces to get it done.
- Strong Legs: There are some strong legs on the Wolf Pack to say the least. Senior placekicker Spencer Pettit and freshman placekicker Brandon Talton will look to battle for the starting kicker spot. Senior punter Quinton Conaway looks to build upon his breakout campaign last season as a junior.
- Speed in the Return Game: McLane Mannix left a hole in the return game mid-season when he the speedy slot receiver transferred to Texas Tech. Luckily, Fossum and Doubs made a seamless transition returning punts and kickoffs. Doubs had a team-high 107 return yards and one touchdown. He may be back for more this season.
8/30: vs. Purdue
9/7: @ Oregon
9/14: vs. Weber State
9/21: @ UTEP
9/28 vs. Hawaii
10/12: vs. San Jose State
10/19: @ Utah State
10/26: @ Wyoming
11/2 vs. New Mexico
11/9: @ San Diego State
11/23: @ Fresno State
11/30: vs. UNLV
This year’s schedule features a pair of formidable non-conference opponents. Luckily, Nevada’s home games are evenly spread throughout to go along to back-to-back road games.
Purdue, Oregon, Utah State, Wyoming, SDSU and Fresno State don’t bode very well for the Pack. But they have the talent to remain a tough beat in conference, especially toward the tail end of the season against UNLV to retain the Fremont Cannon. It’s crucial to get off to a good start as the new faces gel on both sides of the ball, but a tough schedule can help them as the season goes along.
Prediction: Nevada has the ability to win to six to seven games this season. But so many new faces can lead to some stumbles along the way. The Wolf Pack scheduled up to their opponents, and the experience may help them in the future more than the present. Nevada has the ability to repeat, but back-to-back bowl appearances don’t seem very likely.