On a smoke-filled afternoon, the Incarnate Word Cardinals, one of the nation’s top FCS squads, marched into Reno and downed the Nevada Wolf Pack 55-41, handing Ken Wilson his first career loss as a Wolf Pack coach.
It marked the second time in six seasons where the Pack have lost at home to an FCS program, the first being in 2017 against Idaho State (30-28).
After quarterback competition questions, Nate Cox played the entire game behind center; Incarnate Wood unearthed multiple big plays yet again; Nevada’s defense struggled outside of a good opening 10 minutes. It was a bad all-around game for the Wolf Pack.
Before I get too into the weeds, let’s go over a few takeaways I had for the game:
1. Pack defense forces turnovers, but the quickly proves to be unsustainable:
Heading into Saturday, the Wolf Pack led the nation in turnovers forced with nine.
Three plays later, their defense already forced two more.
On the second play of the game, Tyson Williams got his hat on the football and forced the team’s fourth fumble of the year, recovered by Thomas Witte. Nevada couldn’t capitalize for six with prime field position, settling for a 34-yard field goal by Brandon Talton.
On the first play of UIW’s ensuing drive, Bentlee Sanders jumped a route and intercepted his FBS-most third pass of the season. They scored three plays later courtesy of an 11-yard rushing touchdown by Toa Taua.
Though, in the end, it all proved to be unsustainable model for success, as basic regression would suggest. Its defense wasn’t able to reward the inexperienced offense with good field positioning, which usually turned into more points and didn’t generate many stops thereafter.
2. Pack falters in second quarter, nearly completes comeback effort
Building on the final point made in the previous bullet: The final 50 minutes from the Pack defense left something to be desired for the Pack defense.
The high-powered Cardinals found a rhythm.
UIW scored touchdowns on three of their final six drives of the first half; in other two were a 21-yard field goal followed by a 22-yard missed field goal to conclude the opening half. All in all, Nevada scored 15 unanswered points entering halftime and led 24-17. The lead extended to 38-17 to begin the third quarter after Kelechi Anyalebechi’s strip sack that was returned 59 yards to the house and Scott’s 44-yard long-ball to Darion Chafin.
UIW’s lead got to within one score two seperate times, but Scott’s 10-yard touchdown pass to Tiji Paul — Scott’s third-of-four touchdown passes, throwing for 406 yards and running for an additional 32 yards — with under nine minutes to go.
Nevada running back Devonte Lee, who finished with 101 total yards from scrimmage, scored a six-yard touchdown with 2:13 left that trimmed it to 48-41. Though UIW responded emphatically with a 41-yard touchdown on third and long with 1:10 remaining that capped off its 618-yard offensive outing.
3. Better efficiency on first down
When I did a numbers recap of Nevada’s 2-0 start, one thing that stood out to me over the first couple of games was their first-down efficiency, or lack thereof. It averaged south of four yards per play, and outside of a handful of sizeable plays, averaged less than two yards on first downs.
That translated differently Saturday, averaging 4.7 yards on 30 first down plays (non-sacks/penalties). They had more incompletions (5) on first down than it did in the first two games, but conversely picked up more chunk plays through the air and on the ground.
4. Did Nate Cox solidify starting QB job?
On the Coaches Show Friday, head coach Ken Wilson admitted that he pulled quarterback Shane Illingworth after the first drive of the second half last Saturday because of a bobbled snap, citing that it was the right time to put Cox in. It was coincidentally the same time he pulled Illingworth out in the season-opener, too, which was due to a lower body injury.
Against Texas State, Cox finished 5-for-7 with 43 yards, adding 29 yards and one score on the ground. He started Saturday, but played the entire game. He went 22-for-43 for 302 yards, two touchdowns to zero interceptions.
The 6-foot-9 was under pressure for much of the afternoon. And even when the Pack offense sputtered with six scoreless drives, it stuck with Cox. It’s by far the best game the Pack quarterback has had this season, so it will be interesting to see if Wilson rolls with Cox for the foreseeable future.
5. Nevada’s most effective pass catchers today were arguably its.....running backs?
All you need to watch is this play to get the gist. On repeat:
,— Nevada Sports Net (@NevadaSportsNet) September 11, 2022
Second straight scoring drive for Nevada, which pulls within a touchdown after Nate Cox hits Toa Taua on a swing pass for a 26-yard touchdown. Cox is 16-of-34 for 198 yards and two TDs. pic.twitter.com/n0ZuZVe0g2
Results aside, the defender’s going to feel that one in the morning.
This is a developing story. Stay tuned for updates.