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What we learned from Nevada’s spring game Saturday

Syndication: Reno Gazette Journal JASON BEAN/RGJ / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Nevada football team played its annual Silver-and-Blue spring game Saturday, giving the public its first look at the new Wolf Pack squad led by first-year head coach Ken Wilson.

The Silver team came out on top 55-46, though the scoring system was different than it was in past seasons under Jay Norvell, when one team (usually composed of the 2nd, 3rd-stringers) began with a multi-touchdown lead.

The offense was tallied the the same — six for touchdown, three for field goals, two-point conversions worth two and one for point-after makes. The defense, however, also had opportunities to score points: Seven points for touchdowns, three for three-and-outs, three for takeaways, two points for a defensive stop, two for safeties and one for every tackle-for-loss.

“We started doing that when I was up at Oregon and it gives the defense a chance to be more involved in the game.” Wilson said after the scrimmage. “Not only are they playing to [get stops], but they can actually get points. The coaches on the headset were funny to listen to because they don’t like the score is ringing up there pretty fast and they don’t like to see that. But for the players, it’s awesome. The defensive players, if they get a tackle-for-loss, sack or a three-and-out, they’re racking up points up points just like the offense is. So everyone’s involved in the scoring.

Both teams had a pretty even mix of starters and backups. Notable players on the Blue team were Nate Cox, Aaron Frost, Toa Taua and Tyson Williams while the Silver team featured Devonte Lee, Dom Peterson and Bentlee Sanders.

“When you mix teams like that for a spring game and you got guys on both sidelines, you never know quite how it’s going to go,” Wilson said. “I thought it was smooth. There weren’t a lot of penalites out there.

“We wanted to see execution; we wanted to see some long drives; we wanted to see guys play an extended amount of time. Most of our guys have played a couple scrimmages with only 20-30 plays tops. And today, they played a good half and the second half was obviously a running clock, but they played a good half of football tonight. So we got to see them tired, we got to see offenses get stopped, we got to see them drive — so we just got to play football and it was fun to be back out there.”

Here’s a few things we learned in Saturday’s spring affair:

1. Cox is the QB favorite, for now:

As expected, 6-foot-9 quarterback Nate Cox took most of the reps at quarterback, starting all but one drive at quarterback for the Blue Team — while Jake Barlage and Jonah Chong split reps behind center for the Silver Team.

Cox completed 9-of-20 passes for 177 yards, one touchdown and zero turnovers. He connected with freshman Victor Snow, who finished with a game-high four catches for 89 yards, for an 77-yard score on the third play of the game.

If the offseason were to have concluded today, it’s fair to conclude Cox would be the team’s starting quarterback. Aside from Oklahoma State transfer Shane Illingworth — who’s not an campus, but expected to compete for the starting job when he arrives in the summer — Cox is the only player to have thrown a pass at the Division-I level, completing 27-of-45 for 289 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.

“I thought [the quarterback room] made good decisions today. I don’t think we had any interceptions today,” Cox said after the scrimmage. “[QBs coach Nate Costa] was telling us after that he wants to see more consistency out of us ... Making those completions and getting the ball to our guys and letting them do work is something I’d say we can improve on a little bit; overall accuracy and consistency.”

2. New look on offense:

With Jay Norvell and Matt Mumme bringing the Air Raid offense to Fort Collins, Wilson and first-year offensive coordinator Derek Sage were expected to implement a new offensive scheme to tailor its newfangled roster. The offense intermixed looks out of the ‘gun and pistol, while also dabbling into the I-formation under center.

“I thought [both teams] played hard,” Wilson said. “There was a lot of formations — we threw a lot of stuff out there so we can see it on film. It was a success that way, to let them just play and enjoy a game-like situation.”

The Wolf Pack featured a more stable run-pass balance compared to Norvell’s air raid, which had the fourth-lowest run frequency (35.8 percent) in the nation a year ago.

Both teams combined for 45 non-quarterback carries for 185 yards (4.1 yards per carry) compared to 50 passes for 285 yards (5.7 yards per attempt). Wesley Kommer (10 carries, 98 yards, 1 TD), Oregon transfer Cross Patton (12 car., 23 yds) and returning starter Toa Taua (11 car., 34 yds, 1 TD) were the most involved in the run game.

“When you have the offenses split and different guys playing together, it gets like that sometimes,” Wilson said when asked about the periodic stagnation. “The run game, because we didn’t show a lot of different run plays, was in spurts. But we got late in the [second half] and they got going and had a couple good runs. It’s something new for these guys — the run game — and we’re working on it. We got 29 more practices in the fall to get them ready for the first game.”

3. Still work to do to solidfy the depth chart:

Nevada’s roster underwent significant roster turnover from 2021, when it finished 8-5, to this year. Here’s a not-so-fun-fact: The Pack’s the only team in the country to return lower than 30 percent of their 2021 production (27 percent), 20 percent on offense and 34 percent on defense.

With a brand new roster with plenty of fresh faces, Wilson was vocal about wanting to solidify a depth chart. He noted after the scrimmage Saturday that they made strides in fortifying said chart, but still has plenty of progress to go heading into the fall.

“I don’t know if we’ve solidified a few positions, but we’re going to leave it open,” he said. “We got some more guys coming (in the summer) that are going to be involved in the depth coming into the fall ... There’s some guys that solidify parts of the depth, but we have a lot more work to do. We’ve had a successful spring, but we need to go farther to get ready for the football season.”

4. Wilson’s stressing speed, tempo:

Wilson made it clear that he’s emphasizing the team operate at a much quicker pace, acknowledging the players have come a long way in the progress made.

“I’m on them all the time. We’re an attack offense, we’re an attack defense, we’re attacking on special teams,” he said. “We have to have the threat of going fast and attacking at all times. We don’t want to stand there and look at the sidelines — we want to be in constant movement, constant motion ... Our plays our fast, we’re always at the threat at getting into motion, so defensive coaches have to watch that and make sure if they’re not paying attention, [the offense is] going to go tempo. Same thing defensively: We want to be on the line of the scrimmage, ready to play and ready to play fast.

“[The players] came a long way because it was so foreign to them how we see this team moving around on the field. But after 15 practices, they’re starting to get it and you saw it out there tonight. They want to go fast ... now we have to calibrate when we’re playing well, when we hold onto the ball. You can’t go fast all the time, but you have to have the threat of it. We’re making progress that way.”

A few players that impressed (me):

  • RB Wesley Kommer
  • DT William Green Jr.
  • DE Breylon Garcia
  • WR Victor Snow
  • WR Jamaal Bell
  • TE Carlton Brown III
  • DB Darion Green-Warren