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Nevada football 2020 spring position preview: Running backs

San Jose State v Nevada
Toa Taua returns as Nevada’s starting running back for the third consecutive season.
Photo by Jonathan Devich/Getty Images

First off, before I begin, I want to thank every single first responder, doctor, nurse, health professional and every essential worker around Nevada (where I reside) and the United States who are working to help us keep safe and defeat this pandemic. I hope everyone is, and remains safe during these troubling times. We will all get through this together.

Now lets get into it.

As football season approaches (despite spring football not being able to be played), we will be breaking down each position group of the Nevada football team every Monday.

Today, we will be looking at running backs.

Previous weeks:

3/30: Quarterbacks

Anyone departing?

Kelton Moore

Nevada v UNLV
Running back Kelton Moore #23 of the Nevada Wolf Pack runs for a gain against defensive Bryce Jackson #24 of the UNLV Rebels.
Photo by Sam Wasson/Getty Images

Moore graduated last spring. In his Wolf Pack career, Moore accumulated 1,424 rushing yards on 290 carries (4.9 yards per carry) with ten rushing touchdowns. He added 45 receptions for 322 yards and one receiving touchdown. The 5-foot-11 tailback broke out in his sophomore season in 2017, rushing for 855 yards with four rushing touchdowns. His 5.2 yards per carry in 2017 placed No. 8 in the Mountain West among running backs. When Nevada added a surplus of running backs in Toa Taua, Jaxson Kincaide and Devonte Lee, Moore’s production dropped substantially — totaling just 124 combined carries for 559 yards and five rushing scores in his final two seasons with the Pack. Last year, Moore racked up just 126 yards on 34 carries (3.7 ypc) with two rushing touchdowns in nine games (one start).

Jaxson Kincaide

Nevada v Hawaii
Jaxson Kincaide #5 of the Nevada Wolf Pack puts the stiff arm on a defender versus Hawaii.
Photo by Darryl Oumi/Getty Images

Kincaide, who spent four seasons with the Wolf Pack, transferred to Western Michigan as a graduate transfer. After appearing in the first four games last season, Kincaide elected to not play the remainder of the season and enter the transfer portal at the season’s end. He had the team’s most touches against Oregon (14) and the second-most versus Weber State (16), but received seven touches for 25 yards in his final game versus UTEP. The scat back finished the season with 32 carries, 146 yards (4.6 ypc) and one rushing touchdown. Kincaide departs Nevada with 199 carries for 894 yards (4.5 ypc) and six rushing touchdowns in 37 career games. He hauled in 38 career receptions for 316 yards and three touchdowns.

Roger Neal

Neal, while having one year of eligibility remaining, is not currently listed on the Wolf Pack roster. In three seasons with Nevada, Neal ran for 24 yards on 14 carries (1.7 ypc) with no scores.

Anyone returning?

Toa Taua

San Jose State v Nevada
Running back Toa Taua #35 of the Nevada Wolf Pack works to get past the San Jose State Spartans defense.
Photo by Jonathan Devich/Getty Images

Taua enters spring as the returning starter for the third consecutive season. In his freshman season in 2018, Taua rushed for 872 yards on 4.9 yards per carry for six rushing touchdowns. Taua earned the Mountain West Freshman of the Year — the first Pack football player to earn an “of the year” award since joining the Mountain West in 2012. He was unable to build on that mark last season, rushing for 807 yards on 4.1 yards per carry with also six rushing scores. The 5-foot-9 bruiser, who earned All Mountain West Honorable Mention honors last season, had two 100-plus yard rushing games. His best contest of the year came against San Jose State, accumulating 160 rushing yards on a career-high 34 carries with a rushing score. Taua was slightly more involved in the passing game last season, hauling in 30 passes compared to his 22 in 2018. Despite the lower production, Nevada was more productive when Taua was more involved. In five games last season when Taua had 20-plus touches, Nevada averaged 409.6 yards and 23.6 points per game (337.9 ypg and 17 ppg when totaling 20 or less touches). Expect Taua to be involved as much, if not more, than he has in the past two seasons.

Devonte Lee

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl - Nevada v Ohio
Running back Devonte Lee #2 of the Nevada Wolf Pack steps away from the tackle of corner back Ilyaas Motley #23 of the Ohio Bobcats during the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.
Photo by Loren Orr/Getty Images

Lee begins spring fully healthy after missing four games last season for recovering from ACL surgery. Lee still found a way to be productive as a backup. He had a team-high seven rushing touchdowns — five coming in the final four games — accumulating 302 rushing yards on 66 carries (4.6 ypc). Listed at 5-foot-8 and 230 pounds, Lee is another bruising back that Nevada could use in short-yardage situations.

Aundre Carter

Carter did not see the field for the Wolf Pack last season. He transferred to Nevada prior to the 2019 season from Fullerton College, where he played two seasons. Carter totaled 136 yards on 29 carries (4.7 ypc) with five touchdowns as a freshman at Fullerton.

Terrell Johnson

Johnson also did not see the field for Nevada last year. Johnson played two seasons at Southwestern College before transferring to Nevada prior to last season. In 12 total games at Southwestern, Johnson rushed for 257 yards on 61 carries (4.2 ypc) with three touchdowns. The 6-foot-2, 210-pound back added 53 receiving yards on eight catches.

Any new faces?

Avery Morrow

Morrow is listed by 247Sports.com as a three-star recruit from Seattle, Was. He joined the Wolf Pack over Montana State, Boise State, Eastern Washington and Oregon State. Nationally, he was listed as the 74th-best running back and the 17th-best player out of the state of Washington.

My Thoughts:

I still think this core of backs — beginning with Taua and Lee — still possesses the ceiling to be an above-average group, relative to the rest of the conference, heading into 2020. The question is if they can fulfill that mark. Last year, the Pack totaled just 115.6 rushing yards per game, second-worst in the conference and 9th-worst nationally. Nevada totaled just four games where they rushed for 150-plus yards as a team last season — going 4-0 in those games. In the other nine games, the Pack failed eclipse 120-plus yards on the ground. What was the record in those games you ask? A lowly 3-6 (.333). To be fair, in each of those six losses, Nevada trailed by double-digits in the first half — so the low rushing totals is deceptive because they had to play “catch up”, lowering the incentive to run the ball for a majority of those games. On the flip side, you can argue that part of the offensive failures and struggling to sustain drives early in games came because the Pack struggled to get the ground game going, forcing to be pinned in long down-and-distance situations. In summary, to be more of a dynamic offense in 2020 and to take a load off of Strong’s shoulders, succeeding in the ground game is paramount. Nevada rolled with just Taua and Lee for the majority of last season, with Kincaide sitting out for the final nine games and Moore not getting a lot of snaps throughout the season — so I don’t think it will be much different in 2020. A lot can happen between now and August, but with both backs healthy, I expect both of them to build off of 2019.