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Nevada football 2021 summer position preview: Running Backs

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Syndication: Reno Gazette Journal JASON BEAN via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Nevada’s first game isn’t until Sept. 4 in a road contest against California — their first non-conference game since its 37-21 victory against Texas El-Paso on Sept. 21, 2019.

After finishing the season 7-2 — capped-off by a 38-27 win over Tulane in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl — the Pack look to replicate their successful season. But before the regular season begins, let’s preview the roster.

Today, we look at running backs. Let’s get into it!

Previous weeks:


Anyone departing?

None.

Who’s Returning?

Nevada v Hawaii
Devonte Lee #2 of the Nevada Wolf Pack avoids a tackle by Darius Muasau #53 of the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors.
Photo by Darryl Oumi/Getty Images

Devonte Lee

For the third consecutive season, Lee was a fruitful piece of Nevada’s backfield. He played in all nine contests in 2020, a season removed from appearing in nine after missing the first four games due to recovering from offseason knee surgery. In 2020, he set career-highs in carries (82), rushing yards (427) and yards per carry (5.2), totaling just two touchdowns. Lee added career-bests in receptions (17) and receiving yards (96). In the Wolf Pack’s season finale in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl versus Tulane, he tallied a career-high 105 rushing yards on 18 carries (tying a season high) — the only 100-yard game of his collegiate career to date. He will, once again, be an integral part to the offseason behind Toa Taua (see below) this season. Don’t forget, Lee is the Pack’s wildcat specialist!

Nevada v UNLV
Running back Toa Taua #35 of the Nevada Wolf Pack celebrates after he ran for a 4-yard touchdown against the UNLV Rebels.
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Toa Taua

A year removed from his 2018 Mountain West Freshman of the Year campaign, Nevada’s starting tailback had a down 2019 — despite earning All-Mountain West Honorable Mention honors. He saw marginal drops in rushing yards (872 to 807), yards per carry (4.9 to 4.1) and total touchdowns (5.4 to 4.4).

Though he reached the end zone fewer times than he did in both of those aforementioned seasons, Taua, who earned All-Mountain West Second Team honors, had an excellent 2020 season. In eight games, he tallied 675 yards, 214 receiving yards (career high) and five total scores. In a full 12-game regular season, those numbers equate to approximately 1013 rushing yards, 321 receiving yards and eight scores. Taua tallied three 100-yard rushing performances, including a career-high 131 yards on 20 carries (6.6 ypc) with a touchdown against Hawai’i on Nov. 28. Against Tulane, the 5-foot-9 thumper totaled 102 rushing yards on 20 carries (5.1 ypc) with a rushing score, adding six catches for a season-high 77 yards and his only receiving touchdown of the truncated 2020 campaign.

NCAA Football: Famous Idaho Potato Bowl-Tulane at Nevada
Nevada running back Avery Morrow (25) runs during the first half of the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl versus Tulane.
Brian Losness-USA TODAY Sports

Avery Morrow

Morrow was Nevada’s third-best tailback in 2020. The then-freshman appeared in all nine contests. Though it was difficult to find carries behind Taua and Lee, Morrow still rushed for 89 yards on 14 carries (6.4 ypc) with one score — coming in its season-opener against Wyoming.

Aundre Carter

Carter, who did not see the field in 2019 as a junior, redshirted in 2020. Prior to his stint with the Wolf Pack, the 5-foot-8 running back played two seasons at Fullerton College. While at Fullerton, he tallied 136 yards on 29 carries (4.7 ypc) with five touchdowns as a freshman at Fullerton.

Wesley Kommer

Kommer played in six games as a freshman in 2020. His lone carry came on Nov. 5 against Utah State, going for seven yards. Kommer added three tackles for the special teams throughout the season.

Morian Walker Jr.

Walker, a transfer from in-conference rival Utah State, transferred to the Wolf Pack last October. He did not suit up in 2020 and will have one more year of eligibility. He redshirted in 2016 and missed the entirety of both 2017 and 2019 due to injuries. In 2018, however, Walker rushed for 66 yards on 19 carries with two scores.

Any new faces?

Ty Collins

Listed as a three-star recruit per 247sports.com, Collins graduated from North Forney High School in Fourney, Texas. He chose the Wolf Pack over Wyoming, Abilene Christian, Utah Texas Southern, UTSA, Lamar and South Dakota. Collins rushed for 2,502 yards on 388 combined carries over the (6.45 ypc) with 29 rushing touchdowns, adding eight receptions for 94 yards and a receiving touchdown over the last two seasons. He earned first-team All-District honors along with winning the district’s MVP award.

Here is what Mountain West Connection’s Mike Wittmann said about Collins in Nevada’s recruiting 2021 preview:

Ty is a talented running back Nevada was able to secure. He has great vision and his ability to change direction sets him apart. Collins is a bit small but difficult to bring down and he isn’t afraid to get physical between the tackles. He is hard to bring down as he does a great job keeping his legs moving throughout the play. Ty brings max effort to the field, which will bode well for him in college.

Jacques Badolato-Birdsell

Badolato-Birdsell was the fifth-highest ranked recruit of Nevada’s 2021 recruiting class, per 247Sports. Badolato-Birdsell, who’s from the Democratic Republic of Congo, graduated from Camas High School in Camas, Wash. The all-state tailback rushed for over 1,500 yards and 29 touchdowns as a junior and led his team to a Washington state title.

Here is what Wittmann said about Badolato-Birdsell:

Jacques is another running back in this Nevada class. He fits the mold of the other running backs in this class; shifty around the line of scrimmage and able to kick it into another gear in the open field. Badolato-Birdsell does a fantastic job keeping his head up and being patient just for a second as he surveys the scene before hitting the hold hard. He can make some plays as a receiver and follows his blocks well. Jacques can produce on the field and is a good back coming into this class.

My thoughts

After a subpar 2019 — where it recorded just 115.6 rushing yards per game, (second-worst in MWC and 9th-worst nationally) — Nevada’s backfield was improved in 2020 despite the decreased workload. The Wolf Pack averaged 122.3 yards per contest, ranking No. 11 in the Mountain West and No. 108 in the nation respectively. But the backfield wasn’t asked to do as much in 2020. Nevada’s big play air-raid offense took pressure off Taua and Lee, opening up plenty of room for them to operate. They both kept defenses honest. The Wolf Pack ran on 40.3 percent of their plays in 2020. That figure trailed only Mike Leach’s Mississippi State (25.7 — no surprise here!), Purdue (35.5), Louisiana Monroe (37.8), USC (39.7) and Troy (40.2) for the lowest percentages of run plays ran across the nation; in 2019, Nevada handed it off on 45.6 percent of its plays, No. 109 (out of 130 teams) nationally. Opponents have had an offseason to (at least) think about game planning for Carson Strong and the lethal #PACKATTACK, so it might be more reliant on the run game more in 2021. For the second straight year, Nevada will presumably have four of its five offensive lineman back, which is always a good sign. Continuity!