Much thanks to Andrew Maurins of Silver and Blue Sports for taking the time to answer some questions about the Nevada Wolf Pack. Make sure and check them out for my questions (to be published soon) and for your Wolf Pack news.
It's still early in the season, but grade Nevada's performance thus far in terms of preseason expectations and your expectations moving forward.
Outside of the ground game, the offense has been wildly unpredictable and unable to consistently capitalize on the scoring opportunities they earn. Same for special teams, which went from poor play in one area (shanked punts in week one) to poor play in another (muffed punt returns the following week). The ambush at Oregon aside, the defense has played about as well as we could expect them to.
In spite of all of that, however, 1-1 is still where the majority of us figured the team would be sitting at this point. The first two games haven't revealed all that much about them, and it's unclear what the immediate future has in store.
Thus far, Lantrip (#16) has shown a fairly good command of the offense, making effective reads on his receivers' routes and calling audibles at the right times. However, several weaknesses show up after the snap, including tendencies to stare down receivers and not put enough touch on his passes. And when you throw in his inability to make opponents respect the read option as much as they did when Kaepernick ran it, the offense's tempo and efficiency have taken big hits from last year to this year.
Ball (#5) has been the offense's main attraction, and is one of the only skill players in that unit who's shown any kind of consistency. He's averaging about 5.2 yards per carry and has a balance of speed, strength and lateral quickness that make him a perfect pistol running back.
Lantrip and Ball are just two pieces to the puzzle, talk a bit about some of the other offensive players for Nevada.
Rishard Matthews (#15) is Nevada's leading receiver, averaging about 11.8 yards per catch. This week would not be a bad time for him to finally break out and have a huge game. Stefphon Jefferson (#25), the running back playing behind Ball, has also garnered a lot of praise from Coach Ault, including some early comparisons to Vai Taua. Finally, as with all Nevada offenses, the unit's success will depend heavily upon how well their offensive line -- nicknamed the Union -- performs. Chris Barker (#75) is the best of these linemen, and will likely play in the NFL after next year.
More after the jump.
Nevada has had one poor performance defensively against Oregon and one tremendous performance against San Jose St. What Nevada defense should Texas Tech fans expect on Saturday and who are some players to watch?
Oregon is one of the very best offensive teams in the nation and San Jose State is...not. With that in mind, we're unsure what to expect out of the defense this week. They're going to be lining up against an offense that, while not boasting nearly the kind of personnel Oregon has, could be every bit as challenging to overcome if Nevada's own offense continues to flounder.
Linebacker James-Michael Johnson (#52) is the unit's unquestioned leader. He plays the way you'd expect a senior captain to play: confident, fearless and always finding a way to get involved on seemingly every play. Safety Duke Williams (#20) made the game-saving interception last week and will also be showcasing his speed on kick returns. Finally, Brett Roy (#47) had eight sacks last year -- not an easy feat for a tackle -- and must have a big game if Nevada's defense is to succeed.
Nevada started the season with four straight road games. Do you think this has taken a toll on Nevada and do you expect there to be an impact for Nevada given that this will be the third game on the road thus far?
It's not clear right now how many of the team's various problems can be attributed to playing on the road for so long, nor are they the kinds of players who would trot that out as an excuse, anyway. But the schedule is an undeniable handicap working against them, and week-to-week improvements will be that much more difficult to ascertain for all the reasons you'd expect -- not being able to play younger players as often as you'd like for fear of squandering momentum, the general intimidation of always having the crowd against you and so on.
Predict final score.
Before the season started, I described this game as "difficult, but very much winnable." After last week, though, that 20-point spread seems mostly justified. At some point before WAC play starts, I believe the offense will improve markedly in balance and scoring output. But I'm just not sure they can improve enough from last week to this week to come out of Lubbock with a win.
Texas Tech 42, Nevada 24
Make sure and check out Silver and Blue Sports for the latest on the Nevada Wolf Pack.