With the conclusion of the 2020 college football season (that almost didn’t happen), let’s reflect on what took place.
With a truncated eight-game regular season and a second-consecutive Famous Idaho Bowl Appearance, the Nevada Wolf Pack finished 7-2, including five straight victories to begin the season by combined 58 points.
Complementing its high-powered offense, Nevada transitioned into a capable defense, finishing seventh in the Mountain West in total defense (377.7 ypg). Nevada was also middle of the pack (no pun intended) in the conference in passing and rushing defense, along with total first downs surrendered per contest.
Let’s dive into and review, along with previewing what’s next among the different defensive and special teams groups. Check out the one on the offense here.
- Dom Peterson: 27 tackles, seven TFLs, 4.5 sacks
- Sam Hammond: 32 tackles, 7.5 TFLs, four sacks
- Zak Mahannah: 14 tackles, 2.0 TFLs, 1.5 sacks
- Kameron Toomer: 29 tackles, 3.0 TFLs, one sack
- Daniel Grzesiak: 16 tackles, three TFLs, two sacks
This was Nevada’s strongest group defensively, led by Peterson and Hammond, two All-Mountain West second team honorees. Peterson was banged up for part of the year and Hammond flourished in his first real opportunity as a starter. Though without Hammond and Peterson, the defensive front totaled eight sacks — seven coming in the second half — in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl versus Tulane. Though the defensive front couldn’t get home in the passing game throughout much of the year, this unit helped Nevada boast the sixth-best rushing defense in the Mountain West and the 36th-best nationally. Against Xazavian Valladay and Ronnie Rivers, the two first-team All-Mountain West tailbacks, the Pack held them to just 156 rushing yards on 4.3 yards per carry with zero rushing scores.
Peterson was not fully healthy for a portion of the year and still made an All-Mountain West team after being pegged as one of the candidates for the Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year entering 2020. He should fulfill that status once again heading into next year. Hammond, who was a senior this season, will return for another year of eligibility.
- Lawson Hall: 65 tackles, 8.5 TFLs, three sacks
- Lamin Touray: 30 tackles, 3.5 TFLs, one sack
- Daiyan Henley: 49 tackles, 0.5 TFL
- Trevor Price: 23 tackles, 3.5 TFL, two sacks
With the departure of Gabriel Sewell and Lucas Weber — two of Nevada’s most important defensive cogs — entering the 2020, there were questions about the experience among the linebacking core with Hall as the only returning member with notable collegiate experience. The group performed above expectations and proved to be steady. Hall lived in the back field, leading the squad in tackles-for-loss, but was really the only one to make an impact in that department. Touray, Henley and Price had just 7.5 tackles-for-loss combined. There weren’t too many standouts otherwise statistically, though Henley finished third on the team in tackles while Touray finished in sixth.
There will be continuity in this department, with all of the aforementioned players expected to return. There will be room to grow even more entering a full 12-game season (one would hope there’s one). After emerging onto the scene the past couple of seasons, expect Hall to put together another All-Conference season barring injury.
- AJ King: 12 tackles
- Berdale Robins: 27 tackles, 5 pass breakups, one INT
- EJ Muhammad: 32 tackles, 3.5 TFLs, 1 INT, three pass breakups
- Tyson Williams: 56 tackles, 2 INT, 1 pass breakup
- Mikael Bradford: 29 tackles, 1 pass breakup
- Christian Swint: 24 tackles, 1 INT
The Wolf Pack secondary was much improved in 2020 compared to 2019. It gave up 239.9 passing yards per game to 250.8 the year prior. This year, it only allowed just two games with 300-plus passing yards and one over 400, which came against Fresno State (485 yards). It held opponents to a 60.6 completion percentage and 13 passing touchdowns the entire year, surrendering just two-plus touchdowns in just four games. Though the one downside of this group was the inability to force many turnovers, totaling just five interceptions as a unit (six as a team).
With Muhammad graduating, the Pack will have to replace his production at the corner position. Robins, who was a senior this year, elected to use another year of eligibility. The Pack brought in two new transfers into its secondary: Bentlee Sanders (USF) and Miles Hayes.
- Brandon Talton: 15-for-18 FG (83.3 percent), 28-for-31 XP (90.3 percent)
Talton backed up his stellar true freshman campaign, making the All-Mountain West first team in 2020. He made 18 consecutive field goals (dating back to last season) with his first miss coming on Nov. 21 against San Diego State. Considering the added explosiveness from the Wolf Pack, Talton was not tasked with taking many long field goal attempts — attempting just four field goals past 40-plus yards and one over 50. His season-long came from 49 yards away against Fresno State.
Talton will be the Mountain West’s top kicker and is in no danger of losing his starting role.
- Julian Diaz: 23 punts, 1065 total yards (46.3 average)
Diaz, who missed two games, did not qualify for college football’s punting leaderboard. If he did qualify, he would’ve led the Mountain West in punting average, punts traveling 50-plus yards (11) and would have finished third in punts landing inside-the-20 (11). Like Talton, he was not needed much because of the high-octane Pack offense. But when he was needed, he delivered and routinely pinned opposing offenses in unfavorable field position. He also had the longest punt among any Mountain West punter at 76 yards.
Diaz is one of 11 seniors who will use another year of eligibility and return for the 2021 campaign. He and Talton make up arguably the best kicker-punter duo in the conference.