Nearly four years ago to the date, the Idaho State Bengals marched into Mackay Stadium in Reno, Nev., as 33.5-point underdogs against the Nevada Wolf Pack. It didn’t matter; Idaho State upset the Pack on the road, 30-28 — possessing a 23-point lead at one point.
The result flipped this time around.
The Wolf Pack downed Idaho State 49-10 — rattling off the game’s final 28 unanswered points (all coming in the second half).
Saturday’s win improves Nevada to 2-0 on the year and 3-1 against FCS programs in five seasons under head coach Jay Norvell. Idaho State drops to 0-2 and 2-31 against FBS programs since the turn of the century.
The Wolf Pack collected 585 yards of offense, their most since they had 636 yards on Oct. 10, 2018, against Colorado State.
Carson Strong, last week’s Mountain West Player of the Week, completed 34-of-43 passes (79.1 percent) for 381 yards, four touchdowns and zero turnovers. It marked his 10th career game of 300-plus yards and fourth of four-plus touchdowns.
Backup quarterback Nate Cox went a perfect 3-for-3 for 60 yards — including his first career FBS touchdown throw on a 43-yard heave to Arkansas Pine-Bluff transfer Harry Ballard III, his first career catch with the Wolf Pack.
After its tailbacks combined for a measly 73 yards (on 22 carries) against Cal, Toa Taua and Devonte Lee compounded 136 rushing yards on 15 carries — equating to 9.1 yards per carry.
Taua recorded his ninth career 100-yard rushing performance, topping the Pack with 103 yards on just nine carries. Lee tallied 33 yards with one rushing touchdown, adding 30 yards on three receptions with one touchdown catch as well.
Eleven different Pack players had a reception, with nine recording multiple.
Elijah Cooks led the charge with seven receptions for 89 yards and two touchdowns — all team highs. Cole Turner hauled in five receptions for 55 yards and a touchdown. Romeo Doubs, Melquan Stovall and tailback Avery Morrow had four apiece, with Doubs tying Turner with 55 receiving yards.
Nevada defensive lineman Tristan Nichols, who had six career sacks in his previous two seasons entering Saturday, recorded a team-most three sacks, including a fourth-quarter strip sack that two-time All-Mountain West defensive lineman Dom Peterson returned for six.
Collectively, the Wolf Pack recorded a boisterous eight sacks, matching their total they notched in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl against Tulane in December.
Idaho State tallied 283 yards of total offense — 141 on the ground — with 18 first downs in the losing effort.
Idaho State signal caller Tyler Wander Waal went 10-for-17 (58.8 percent) for 107 yards before suffering a shoulder injury in the third-quarter that knocked him out of the game. Freshman Hunter Hays earned meaningful game reps, completing five of his eight pass attempts for 35 yards.
Malakai Rango tallied a team-high 10 carries for 72 yards. Soujah Gasu had six carries for 36 yards, while Raiden Hunter added 18 yards on the ground on only 2.6 yards per attempt.
Xavier Guillory led the Bengals with five receptions for 54 yards, while Shane Dailey had three catches for 31 yards. Tanner Connor, arguably their best wideout, was held to just two receptions for 24 yards.
Nevada and Idaho State both opened with touchdowns on their first drive.
The Pack drove a methodical 75 yards on 15 plays, capped-off by a six-yard touchdown to Turner, his first of the season.
The Bengals countered with a 75-yard drive of their own, including chunk plays of 10, 11 and 39 yards. It’s only touchdown was finalized by a one-yard run by Oshea Trujillo, one of the Bengals’ three starting linebackers.
Taua’s 59-yard rush on the first play of Nevada’s ensuing drive put it in prime position to dot six on the board. It did just that — Strong’s 12-yard touchdown connection to Cooks capped-off a string of five straight completions (for 51 yards) for the 6-foot-4 gun slinger that drive, awarding the Wolf Pack a 14-7 advantage with 1:04 to go in the first quarter.
Strong’s second touchdown connection with Cooks — also from 12 yards out — came with 43 seconds remaining in the half, upping the lead to 21-7. Strong had 213 yards passing and three touchdowns, while Nevada out-gained Idaho State 336-122 in the opening half.
Idaho State’s Kevin Ryan booted a 43-yard field on the Bengals’ first second-half drive, though Nevada responded with the game’s final 28 points.
Lee’s two-yard rushing touchdown — off the wild cat — was succeeded by Strong floating a 15-yard touchdown to Lee, making it 35-10 with 11:03 to go.
Nichols’ strip sack — his third-and-final of the contest — resulted in Peterson’s 12-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown, the first of his career.
Nevada upped it to 49-10 with 4:45 to go, courtesy of Cox’s 43-yard connection to Ballard, the final score of the contest. There’s a first for everything and everyone, right?
Next up: Nevada hits the road to face Kansas State (2-0) on Saturday, Sept. 18 at 11:05 a.m. PT on ESPN+.
Speaking of first’s for individuals, Saturday marked Colin Kaepernick’s first return to Mackay Stadium since 2010, his final year with the program.
Kaepernick highlighted six former Wolf Pack athletes who were apart of Nevada’s 2020 Hall of Fame class, which also included former EDGE rusher Dontay Moch and running back Vai Taua, Toa’s older brother (and current running back’s coach).
Kaepernick received a strong reception from the fans and current Wolf Pack players.
No matter what happens between Nevada and Idaho State, this game will always be remembered as the night Colin Kaepernick returned to Reno. https://t.co/SwhiG65VXn— Chris Murray (@ByChrisMurray) September 12, 2021
Overwhelmingly positive response to Kap at halftime. It’s good to see him back on campus.— Nathan Shoup (@ShoupNathan) September 12, 2021
That just brought back a lot of memories for a lot of people.
DOM PETERSON WITH THE WHEELS ♂️— Nevada Sports Net (@NevadaSportsNet) September 12, 2021