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Nevada’s comeback falls shy, loses to UNLV 27-22

The Fremont Cannon is now red.

NCAA Football: UNLV at Nevada David Calvert-USA TODAY Sports

The Nevada Wolf Pack concluded the 2022 regular season with a 27-22 loss to the UNLV Rebels on Saturday in the Battle for the Fremont Cannon. Let’s dive into my rapid reaction from the Saturday night Mountain West showdown!

1. Nevada’s last-ditch effort falls short

Nevada trailed by 11 — 27-16 — with 6:45 remaining. Averaging just 3.6 yards in the second half up to that point, Nevada marched 75 yards down the field on 12 plays in 4:17, which was capped by a one-yard rushing touchdown from Toa Taua — his 11th-and-final of the season.

The Pack defense answered the bell on the following drive, forcing a three-and-out and givin Nate Cox and the offense one last-ditch effort. Cox began the drive completing six of his first seven attempts for 57 yards to set up a second-and-goal at UNLV’s 3-yard-line. Though his next three passes were incomplete, including the final two being bobbled or batted away by UNLV’s back-seven.

2. Nevada had one of best starts of season, but it was not enough

Heading into the game, Nevada was getting outscored 86-21 in the first quarter of conference play, including 48-7 over its last four games. Aside from the final play of the quarter (see more below), Nevada had arguably its top first quarter since it played Incarnate Word in early September.

The Wolf Pack outgained the Rebels 168-19 in the period; Nevada was averaging 8.0 yards per play compared to UNLV’s 1.6; Nevada had six first downs, UNLV had zero. Cox connected with BJ Casteel for a 75-yard touchdown, but they were still exploiting UNLV inside the tackles (6.7 ypc) and on the perimeter. That obviously didn’t last forever because of self-inflicted wounds, plus UNLV adjustments, but it was an encouraging start.

3. Horrendous fourth-and-one execution gives UNLV life...and ends up being the difference.

Speaking of self-inflicted wounds!

With Nevada’s offense rolling in the opening quarter, they went for it on fourth-and-one in plus territory. There’s nothing wrong with that, but the execution ended up being costly. Nevada quarterback Nate Cox faked the hand-off to Toa Taua, but the intended pitch to Casteel was botched, with Johnathan Baldwin returning it 45 yards to the house.

That provided a jolt of energy for the UNLV offense, who was without their starting quarterback Doug Brumfield after two drives due to injury. Backup Harrison Bailey started 1-for-4. but connected on seven of his nine second quarter attempts for 112 yards, including a 69-yard touchdown pass to Kyle Williams down the left sideline that gave UNLV the 14-13 with 11:32 left to go in the first half. The Rebels didn’t trail for the rest of the game.

I’m sure Ken Wilson and the Wolf Pack would like to have those seven points back, as it ended up being the difference.

4. Nevada’s offense left too many other points on board, too.

The last drive wasn’t the only one.

Three of Nevada’s first 10 drives started inside the UNLV 40-yard-line.: One off one blocked punt, one courtesy of a strong punt return from Bentlee Sanders and the last on a Drue Watts third-quarter interception. The result? Nine points on three field goals.

On those three drives, Nevada gained just 41 combined yards on 16 plays with two first downs. Sure, that number can be deceiving because a shorter field means, well, reduced yardage. But Nevada had nine plays inside UNLV’s 15 and four plays on goal-to-go situations and still came up empty in the touchdown category.

Other than its final two drives, the Pack had six other plays in UNLV territory, two of which resulted in bad interceptions. You could point to any number of things to blame, but the inability to get into the endzone — except when it was absolutely required in the final seven minutes — looms large to Nevada’s five-point loss.

5. If you have one positive takeaway: Pack pass rush was effective!

One of the top (positive) takeaways from the evening was that Nevada’s pass rush on Bailey was effective. Nevada recorded five sacks — one apiece from Naki Mateialona, Dom Peterson, Tyson Williams, Eli’jah Winston and Dion Washington! Three of those players have extra eligibility remaining for next year, too!

6. The Fremont Cannon is now red!

And Nevada’s lost not one, not two, not three....but 10 straight games in a single season for the first time in program history. Yikes!