“Their safeties were where I wanted to throw the ball and coach was telling me you’ve got to have a quick reaction and get through progressions quickly and if it’s not there, you can take off,” said Spartan QB Nick Nash on his game winning 15-yard TD rush. “I literally thought of my coach’s voice at that moment, so I’m thinking ‘I have to take off right now.’ “
Nash’s decisive 15-yard TD gallop was right up the gut of the Rebel defense, as the Spartans slowly powered up to a 27-20 win over a deceivingly good winless UNLV team.
In the Twitter-sphere earlier in the game, notoriously finicky fans and critics wanted Nash pulled and called it a lost season or last season was an anomaly. But that’s the football fringe for you (you certainly wouldn’t want to trust their stock picks).
Nash was tremendous even though he wasn’t getting the help he needed from most of his receivers.
While throwing for 213 yards on 17 of 28 with no TD tosses or interceptions, Nash’s 121 yards rushing showed not only his speed and athleticism, but his guts and commitment. Nash stuck with the game plan through the many dropped passes, three-and-outs and his own fumble (where the Rebels scored seven points following Nash’s turnover).
Nash trusted the system
“If nothing is there in the third progression, you can definitely use your legs,” said Nash on the freedom and the framework he’s given. “I think coach McGiven does a great job of play calling and he finds these holes in the defenses and when I go out there and do what he says, it works.”
It all took a while to get the wheels rolling for the Spartans after botching the opening kickoff return, which the Rebels also turned into seven points on a short field. With the game hampered by dropped passes and other recovered fumbles, it made it a cringe-worthy game at times and it could have been worse.
“They try to run before they catch it and their eyes are up field before the ball’s locked away,” said head coach Brent Brennan on all the dropped passes. “It’s just not fundamental. They’re trying to make a play so quick. But you got to catch it first before you run with it. We’re going to do a lot of catching drills before we run, because we can’t keep doing that and win games.”
Also, right before Nash’s game winning touchdown run, running back Isaiah Holiness’ lone 54 yard scamper was almost for not. Holiness fumbled at the end of his run around a slew of Rebels. Luckily, unsung hero receiver Jermaine Braddock’s quick reactions flew in to recover the ball to save the pivotal Spartan drive.
The only football fundamental that was fixed, at least for this game, was finally having only one penalty for five yards - a far cry from the multiple, multiple penalty games.
Nash’s security blanket
One receiver who caught about every big difficult pass thrown his way was tight end Derrick Deese Jr. (6 receptions, 106 yards receiving). It was Deese’s third 100-yard plus game receiving this season.
“Derrick has incredible long arms and ridiculous long range and because he’s a big body with that kind of range, he’s just a hard person to cover,” said Brennan on Deese. “And to watch him attack the ball and he’s so good with his hands and eyes, he’s really, really special.”
In fact, one would start to say Deese is becoming NFL-special. His hand-skills are superior and his speed and positioning to get open is consistent.
The Spartan D does it again & again
Through thick and thin, through short fields, through penalties and through losses, the Spartan defense remains highly spirited and highly resilient.
“In that last long sustained drive by UNLV, we never stopped playing,” said Brennan beaming about the defense holding the Rebels off on a 19-play drive to close out the game. “We kept playing so hard and the amount of effort and detail is so exciting. That’s what I’m so proud about and so happy for them and feel so good about it getting a win on the road. They just kept lining up, playing with that physicality and effort. They had to close it out and they did.”
The capper of the game by the Spartan defense was delivered by linebacker Kyle Harmon on the very last play. Harmon befittingly delivered a bone-crushing hit and sack on stout Rebel QB Cameron Friel, who’s 20-28, 240 yard passing, one touchdown pass performance belies a true 18-year-old freshman.
“My thought process coming after the quarterback was when I see him hold the ball down by his chest as I’m coming, I’m thinking ‘bite the ball,’” said Harmon. “So I put my face mask on the ball and then he kind of ducked his head and it was a great no-call.”
Regardless, it was a great win with a team that is still progressing midway through the season.