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Western Michigan rolls past shorthanded Nevada 52-24 in Quick Lane Bowl

Quick Lane Bowl - Western Michigan v Nevada Photo by Aaron J. Thornton/Getty Images

The Western Michigan Broncos overwhelmed the shorthanded Nevada Wolf Pack on Monday with a 52-24 victory in the Quick Lane Bowl.

Nevada, without a majority of their coaching staff plus nearly half their regular starters, suffered its worst bowl loss since it lost 45-10 against SMU in the 2009 Hawai’i Bowl, the Pack’s worst loss in their 19-game bowl history. It was forced to put together a makeshift coaching staff with three new coordinators after Jay Norvell’s in-conference departure to Colorado State, led by interim head coach Vai Taua, who was the team’s running backs coach throughout the season.

Western Michigan dominated offensively from start-to-finish, especially on the ground, rushing for 352 yards on 6.8 yards per carry. It racked up 519 yards and 23 first downs in total; comparatively to its hindered counterpart, Western Michigan notched 272 more yards, 231 more rushing yards and seven more first downs on just 12 more plays.

Though he was listed first on their depth chart, the Broncos were without tailback La’Darius Jefferson (undisclosed), so Sean Tyler and Jaxson Kincaide — who spent four seasons (2016-19) at Nevada — were their two primary backs on the afternoon.

Tyler rushed for a team-high 146 yards on a season-high 10.4 yards per attempt. Kincaide, typically the team’s third tailback, recorded a season-high 105 yards — including a pair of seven-yard rushing touchdowns.

Kaleb Eleby completed just eight passes (on 14 attempts) for 162 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.

Skyy Moore, an All-MAC first team honoree who had 90 receptions north of 1,200 yards in the regular season, had four catches for 36 yards. No other Bronco receiver had multiple receptions.

Corey Crooms and Brett Borske recorded touchdowns with their only catches — from 74-and-20 yards out, respectively.

Nevada’s new-look offense, without seven offensive starters, tallied 242 yards (4.6 yards per play) and 16 first downs.

Making his first career start, Nate Cox completed 12-of-23 passes for 121 yards, one touchdown and one interception. The 6-foot-9 signal caller also showcased some mobility and agility, cobbling up 36 yards on seven carries on non-sack rushes. He got sacked six times, losing 28 yards on his final rushing figure (13 carries, 8 yards).

Devonte Lee tallied 85 yards on seven carries — notching a season-high 12.1 yards per carry — with one touchdown. The senior, playing in his final collegiate game, had chunk runs of 34, 33 and 20 yards throughout the afternoon. Toa Taua, who will be returning next season, added 28 yards on 11 carries with a score.

Jamaal Bell had a team-high seven receptions — blowing past his previous career-high of two catches — for a career-most 75 yards and one touchdown, his second career touchdown.

No other Pack player had more than two catches.

Nevada caps off its 2021 season, filled with large expectations and multiple heartbreaking results, at 8-5, including three two-point losses in Mountain West play. Western Michigan also concludes with 8-5 record — its first eight-win season since its 13-1 campaign in 2016.

Monday marked the Broncos’ first and only other bowl victory since 2015, moving to 2-9 all-time. Nevada now drops 7-12 all time in 19 bowl appearances.

Western Michigan possessed a 7-3 lead before its offense saw the field. The Wolf Pack’s first offensive drive resulted in a 32-yard field goal by All-Conference kicker Brandon Talton. Tyler took the Broncos’ ensuing kickoff 100 yards — untouched — to the house.

Eleby’s 74-yard touchdown heave to Crooms — similarly to Nevada’s Carson Strong-Romeo Doubs connection — Western Michigan jumped ahead 14-3 with 6:31 left in the opening quarter.

After electing to kick the field goal on fourth-and-2 on the Wolf Pack six, Parker Sampson’s 22-yard field goal made it 17-3.

The Pack drove 57 yards on seven plays on their next drive — capped by a one-yard rushing touchdown by Lee, cutting it to 17-10. WMU didn’t take long to respond. It responded with a seven-play, 63-yard drive, which resulted in Eleby’s 20-yard touchdown to Borski — widening its lead to 24-10 with 7:48 left in the first half.

Kincaide found the end-zone from seven yards out with under two minutes left in the half, extending the Bronco advantage to three scores.

Western Michigan entered halftime with a 31-10 lead. It out-gained the Wolf Pack 317-111 — including 180-87 on the ground — with 16 first downs compared to Nevada’s seven.

The Broncos picked up right where they left off to begin the second half.

Tyler’s 70-yard run on the second play of the half — getting tripped up by safety JoJuan Claiborne just short of the goal-line — led to Eleby’s one-yard sneak that gave Western Michigan the 38-10 lead.

Lee’s 33-yard rush put the Pack at Western Michigan’s two-yard line. Two plays later, Taua barreled into the endzone for the one-yard score — making it 38-17. The Broncos eventually countered with Kincaide’s second seven-yard score of the afternoon, upping it to 45-17 with 8:57 left in the game.

Nevada’s final scoring drive came on its last drive of the game. Cox completed three of his five attempts, including an 18-yard touchdown to Bell with over five minutes remaining.

After it hauled in the onside kick, the Broncos eventually tallied their seventh-and-final touchdown, courtesy of true freshman Trae Allen’s one-yard rushing score with 1:36 left, which was all she wrote.

Next up: The Wolf Pack will lose all but two starters on offense — Taua and right tackle Aaron Frost. Defensively, the Pack will retain most of their secondary led by Tyson Williams, Jordan Lee and Claiborne, but will lose dominant playmakers up front including Dom Peterson, Sam Hammond, Tristan Nichols and Lawson Hall.