Confused? Check out the glossary here.
1. Hopefully this goes better than last time
Over the last 10 years that Nevada's football team has been coached by someone other than Chris Ault, the Wolf Pack are 49-65, with three winning seasons (1993, 1996, 1998) and four years with eight or more losses (1975, 1999, 2000, 2001). Ault had one of the strangest, most unique tenures in college football's history, building a winner from nothing, retiring, getting inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame, returning, inventing the Pistol formation, winning another 70 games, and retiring again. A Nevada grad and former Wolf Pack quarterback, he spent three different tenures as the program's head coach (1976-92, 1994-95, and 2004-12), served as the school's athletic director for 19 years (1986-2004). It is a cliché, but he is Nevada football.
Ault was already absurdly influential at Nevada, known for single-handedly Boise State-ing the program from Division II, to FCS, to FBS. But his late-career offensive tweaks have changed football -- college and professional -- as much as or more than any other recent tactical adjustment.
"There are no gimmicks in our offense," Nevada head coach Chris Ault recently explained. [source]. "When the shotgun offenses came out, I enjoyed watching those teams move the football. The thing I did not like was the idea of a running back getting the ball running east and west," he said. "We have always been a north and south running game offense."
The entire premise of Ault’s pistol attack is to combine the best of the shotgun spread offenses, like Chip Kelly’s attack at Oregon [source], with the traditional, north-south power attack Ault had coached for more than 20 years. The Pistol alignment is merely the means by which to do it; the "Pistol Offense" is this blend of old and new.
It is easy to see why Ault’s vision had more appeal to the NFL mindset than the "east-west" schemes of Chip Kelly or the other spread offense gurus. The NFL is a league concerned with its image, and, despite the efficacy of those offenses, for the NFL to adopt something as its own it must appeal both to the ego and the mind.
And now, Ault leaves again. Granted, the program has gotten some practice at replacing him, but it hasn't been very good at it. Jeff Tisdel went 9-3 in 1996 but fell to 14-19 in his final three seasons in charge. Chris Tormey took over in 2000 and went 10-25 in his first three seasons, went 6-6 in his fourth, but didn't get a fifth. Now it's Brian Polian's turn. The 38-year old son of former NFL general manager Bill Polian, he has spent 16 years as a college assistant in seven different locales: Michigan State (1997), Buffalo (1998, 2001-03), Baylor (1999-00), UCF (2004), Notre Dame (2004-09), Stanford (2010-11), and Texas A&M (2012). He has been around successful coaches -- Nick Saban at Michigan State, Charlie Weis at the start of his Notre Dame run, Jim Harbaugh and David Shaw at Stanford, Kevin Sumlin at Texas A&M -- but he has never held a position higher than running backs coach. Is he ready to take Nevada's program to a place it's never really been without Ault?
2. Fix the defense first
Coach finds an innovative tweak, rides it to success. Everybody copies successful tweak, coach stops finding as much offensive success. That's how the story typically goes, all the way back to the early days of football. People imitate success, and Ault's Pistol adaptation was ridiculously successful. But while Nevada certainly took a step backwards in the final couple of years of Ault's (final) tenure, from 13-1 in 2010 to 14-12 in 2011-12, the primary reason for regression was on the defensive side of the ball. The offense certainly took a step backwards when quarterback Colin Kaepernick graduated following the incredible 2010 run -- Nevada ranked eighth in Off. F/+ in 2010, 39th in 2011, 30th in 2012 -- but it was still a Top 40 unit. The defense, meanwhile, fell from 58th in 2010, to 67th in 2011, to an awful 111th in 2012. Nevada was just 71st in overall F/+ in 2012, and Ault, proclaiming that he had taken Nevada as far as he could, stepped down.
Polian tapped Scottie Hazelton, most recently the defensive coordinator at North Dakota State (2010-11) and linebackers coach at USC (2012), to head his defense. Hazelton experienced serious success at NDSU, but he inherits a unit that is experienced up front (where it was pretty awful in 2012) and nearly devoid of experience in the back seven.
2012 Schedule & Results
|Record: 7-6 | Adj. Record: 8-5 | Final F/+ Rk: 71|
|Date||Opponent||Score||W-L||Adj. Score||Adj. W-L|
|1-Sep||at California||31-24||W||27.4 - 23.2||W|
|8-Sep||South Florida||31-32||L||33.5 - 43.6||L|
|15-Sep||Northwestern State||45-34||W||37.4 - 53.6||L|
|22-Sep||at Hawaii||69-24||W||48.1 - 37.9||W|
|29-Sep||at Texas State||34-21||W||28.6 - 17.4||W|
|6-Oct||Wyoming||35-28||W||30.1 - 20.1||W|
|13-Oct||at UNLV||42-37||W||34.9 - 42.0||L|
|20-Oct||San Diego State||38-39||L||33.0 - 23.4||W|
|26-Oct||at Air Force||31-48||L||27.0 - 41.5||L|
|10-Nov||Fresno State||36-52||L||35.4 - 29.2||W|
|17-Nov||at New Mexico||31-24||W||27.4 - 31.3||L|
|1-Dec||Boise State||21-27||L||45.1 - 33.0||W|
|15-Dec||vs. Arizona||48-49||L||34.7 - 32.8||W|
|Points Per Game||37.8||18||33.8||102|
|Adj. Points Per Game||34.0||26||33.0||102|
3. Playing like a young team
Inexperienced teams are unstable teams. When we look at a young squad's progression using Adj. Points, we typically see either a lot of ups and downs or general progress occasionally marred by random, awful performances. For Nevada, it was the former.
Adj. Points Per Game (first 3 games): Opponent 40.1, Nevada 32.8 (minus-7.3)
Adj. Points Per Game (next 3 games): Nevada 35.6, Opponent 25.1 (plus-10.5)
Adj. Points Per Game (next 3 games): Opponent 35.6, Nevada 31.6 (minus-4.0)
Adj. Points Per Game (last 4 games): Nevada 35.7, Opponent 31.6 (plus-4.1)
Nevada was bad, very good, below average, and above average in 2012. The offense ranged from good to excellent, but the defense was all over the map, from horrendous, to solid, to bad.
The problem, however, was that this really wasn't an inexperienced team. Six of Nevada's seven non-line starters were seniors. It was an unstable unit for unpredictable reasons. We have yet to see whether it was good for Ault to step down, but the timing was certainly right for getting some new blood on the defensive coaching staff. Hazelton is an intriguing hire, young and hungry like the rest of the staff; but he has his work cut out for him at first.
|Q1 Rk||37||1st Down Rk||22|
|Q2 Rk||52||2nd Down Rk||38|
|Q3 Rk||30||3rd Down Rk||74|
Note: players in bold below are 2013 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Cody Fajardo||6'2, 210||Jr.||*** (5.5)||246||367||2,786||67.0%||20||9||14||3.7%||7.0|
|Devin Combs||6'2, 220||Jr.||** (5.2)||25||39||384||64.1%||4||1||3||7.1%||8.6|
|Tyler Stewart||6'4, 220||RSFr.||*** (5.5)|
|Hasaan Henderson||6'5, 230||RSFr.||*** (5.5)|
4. You know Cody Fajardo, right?
One of the easiest hires Polian probably made was that of Nick Rolovich as offensive coordinator; he had to work hard to keep Rolovich from accepting a job at Temple, but he succeeded. Rolovich was Ault's O.C. last year after spending nine years at Hawaii. He has a rather pass-heavy background, but he is both predictably and wisely keeping the Pistol in place in his second year in Reno. This is wise, both because of the program's identity (the Home of the Pistol would probably be well-served in maintaining it for a while) and because of the quarterback. Cody Fajardo is not Colin Kaepernick; his legs are not eight feet long, he does not have the world's best play-fake, and as far as I can tell, he has no visible tattoos. But if Kaepernick is the perfect Pistol quarterback, Fajardo is nearly perfect. His read ability on the option is top notch, he reaches full-speed quickly, and in 2012, under Rolovich, his development as a passer took a lovely step forward. His per-attempt average didn't really change (from 7.1 in 2011 to 7.0), but his negative plays decreased (his sack rate fell from 5.2 percent to 3.7, and his interception rate fell from 2.8 percent to 2.4). And the fact that his averages held steady despite an increased work load is nice in and of itself. If Rolovich does increase the passing load a bit, it is conceivable that Fajardo could be ready for that, especially considering the fact that his top three targets from last year return, along with a big-play tight end (Kolby Arendse) and some interesting newcomers.
Fajardo is a really, really fun quarterback to watch, and it would have been a damn shame if he hadn't gotten to work from the Pistol for another couple of years.
|Cody Fajardo||QB||6'2, 210||Jr.||*** (5.5)||176||1,220||6.9||6.4||12||-0.4|
|Devin Combs||QB||6'2, 220||Jr.||** (5.2)||31||198||6.4||3.1||1||+4.2|
|Kendall Brock||RB||5'9, 195||Jr.||** (5.3)||1||4||4.0||N/A||0||N/A|
|Don Jackson||RB||5'10, 210||So.||*** (5.5)|
|Nate McLaurin||RB||6'0, 210||So.||NR|
5. An RB-friendly system
Perhaps the most defining trait of Ault's late-career offenses was the gaudy yardage total for Nevada running backs. In three seasons as the primary ball-carrier (2008-10), Vai Taua rushed for 4,588 yards and 45 touchdowns and caught another 61 passes for 571 yards and eight scores. In 2011, three backs (Lampford Mark, Mike Ball, Stefphon Jefferson) combined for 2,044 rushing yards and 30 catches. And in 2012, with Jefferson carrying a majority of the load, Nevada RBs had 2,187 rushing yards and 38 catches. The Pistol helped to make Jefferson an All-American despite only decent explosiveness. While he proved capable of carrying an inordinately heavy load (29 carries and a pair of targets per game), it is difficult to get too terribly worked up about his absence.
Of course, that is perhaps a mistake. Not only is Ault gone, and not only is Jefferson gone, but so is backup Nick Hale. Nevada running backs currently on the roster combined for one carry last year. Three-star junior college transfer Don Jackson has a solid resume and looked good this spring, but the lack of depth here, both in terms of experience and warm bodies, has to be considered a concern; and this says nothing of a line that must replace three starters and 98 career starts.
|Brandon Wimberly||WR-X||6'3, 225||Sr.||** (5.4)||94||70||845||74.5%||9.0||24.2%||60.6%||9.0||110.0|
|Richy Turner||WR-Z||5'11, 180||Jr.||NR||86||60||752||69.8%||8.7||22.1%||64.0%||8.7||97.9|
|Aaron Bradley||WR-F||6'1, 200||Jr.||** (5.2)||80||45||467||56.3%||5.8||20.6%||56.3%||5.8||60.8|
|Kolby Arendse||TE||6'3, 250||Sr.||NR||15||13||196||86.7%||13.1||3.9%||73.3%||12.4||25.5|
|Kendall Brock||RB||5'9, 195||Jr.||** (5.3)||10||7||76||70.0%||7.6||2.6%||60.0%||7.6||9.9|
|Joseph Huber||WR-Z||5'11, 185||Sr.||NR||4||3||44||75.0%||11.0||1.0%||50.0%||10.3||5.7|
|Stephen Jeffers||TE||6'3, 265||Sr.||** (5.1)||4||2||6||50.0%||1.5||1.0%||75.0%||1.2||0.8|
|Nigel Westbrooks||WR||6'2, 190||Jr.||*** (5.5)|
|Dominic Coulter||WR-F||6'2, 225||So.||NR|
|Jay Richardson||WR-X||5'11, 190||RSFr.||NR|
|Cody Tuttle||TE||6'3, 225||RSFr.||*** (5.5)|
|Kaodi Dike||WR||6'2, 198||Fr.||** (5.4)|
|D'Andre Fuller||WR||5'10, 160||Fr.||** (5.4)|
6. The world moves pretty fast, and the world moves pretty slow
- Brandon Wimberly, Nevada's senior receiver, committed to Nevada more than five years ago. He had already been committed to Oregon State as a gray shirt for a year. Other receivers in the recruiting class of 2008: Justin Blackmon, Julio Jones, A.J. Green, Roy Roundtree, and Tavarres King. Brandon Wimberly has one more year of eligibility remaining. (How? He suffered gunshot wounds in the summer of 2011, missed the 2011 season, and was recently granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA.)
- On April 2, Polian finally hired a receivers coach: Ashley Lelie. This Ashley Lelie. And this one. How old do you feel right now? (The quarterback in that first clip, by the way? Nick Rolovich.)
|Jeff Nady||LT||36 career starts; 2012 1st All-MWC|
|Chris Barker||LG||53 career starts; 2012 2nd All-MWC|
|Joel Bitonio||LT||6'4, 315||Sr.||** (5.3)||26 career starts|
|Matt Galas||C||6'1, 280||Jr.||*** (5.5)||13 career starts|
|Alex Pinto||RG||9 career starts|
|Sebastian Tretola||RG||6'5, 305||So.||** (5.4)||4 career starts|
|Kyle Roberts||RT||6'6, 305||Jr.||*** (5.6)|
|Kyle Papendorf||LG||6'4, 265||Jr.||** (5.2)|
|Abel De Haro||C||6'3, 300||So.||** (5.3)|
|Connor Talbott||RT||6'4, 290||So.||** (5.2)|
|Zach Brickell||RG||6'3, 290||So.||** (5.2)|
|Abe Abdelkarim||RG||6'6, 325||RSFr.||** (5.4)|
|Aisea Hansen||LG||6'3, 300||RSFr.||** (5.2)|
|Jacob Henry||LT||6'4, 265||RSFr.||NR|
|Jeremy Macauley||LG||6'1, 305||RSFr.||NR|
|Braxton Isaac||OL||6'5, 286||Jr.||*** (5.5)|
|Avery Poates||OL||6'4, 290||Jr.||** (5.4)|
|Q1 Rk||69||1st Down Rk||99|
|Q2 Rk||105||2nd Down Rk||108|
|Q3 Rk||92||3rd Down Rk||101|
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Brock Hekking||DE||6'4, 255||Jr.||** (5.2)||13||57.0||7.6%||10||8||0||2||2||0|
|Jack Reynoso||DT||6'3, 280||Sr.||** (5.1)||11||31.5||4.2%||2||0||0||1||0||1|
|Jordan Hanson||DT||6'2, 280||Jr.||** (5.3)||13||30.5||4.1%||2||0||0||0||0||1|
|Lenny Jones||DE||6'3, 255||So.||** (5.2)||13||29.5||3.9%||7||5||0||3||3||1|
|Rykeem Yates||DT||6'2, 270||So.||** (5.2)||12||13.5||1.8%||2.5||1||0||0||0||0|
|Jake Peppard||DE||6'3, 255||Jr.||** (5.4)||3||3.0||0.4%||0.5||0||0||0||0||0|
|Tyler Houk||DE||6'4, 255||Jr.||** (5.2)||6||1.0||0.1%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Cortez Woods||DT||6'3, 255||Sr.||*** (5.7)|
|Fred Lavulo||NT||6'2, 305||Sr.||** (5.2)|
|Dupree Roberts-Jordan||DE||6'0, 275||Jr.||** (5.2)|
|Beau Hershberger||DE||6'2, 230||Fr.||*** (5.5)|
7. The weaknesses return, and the strengths are gone
If you take a quick look at the stats of Nevada's returning defensive linemen, your first thought might be that this looks like a pretty disruptive group. The top two returning ends combined for 17 tackles for loss, and the top three returning tackles pitched in another 6.5? That's not bad, right? Well...
A) Almost all of those TFLs were sacks. And hey, that's important. But Nevada was the worst team in the country at forcing negative plays on the ground. The Wolf Pack ranked 124th out of 124 in Stuff Rate (negative rushes), 122nd in Power Success Rate (short yardage), and 123rd in Passing Downs line yards per carry. The front four was truly awful against the run, and if you can't stop the run, your pass rush doesn't really make much of a difference.
B) The line was indeed decent at generating a pass rush, but the linebackers combined for just three sacks, and the secondary pitched in one. Nevada was a terrible blitzing team, and forcing the issue with the blitz opened up running lanes on passing downs. The linebackers were solid in run support (10.5 of the starters' 13.5 tackles for losses were non-sacks) but were relatively one-dimensional in that regard. The secondary, with star corner Khalid Wooten and safety Duke Williams, did what it could to pick up the slack, but it couldn't do much.
So now the line returns virtually everybody while the linebacking corps and secondary hit the reset button. The top four linebackers are gone, as are the top three defensive backs. Perhaps a new set of LBs can blitz a little bit better, but will improvement there come at the cost of run support?
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Bryan Lane, Jr.||SAM||6'4, 210||So.||*** (5.5)||13||16.0||2.1%||0||0||0||0||1||1|
|Jon McNeal||LB||6'1, 235||Jr.||*** (5.5)||13||14.5||1.9%||0||0||0||0||1||0|
|Jordan Dobrich||MIKE||6'2, 235||So.||NR||13||6.5||0.9%||0||0||0||0||0||1|
|Lorenzo Devers||LB||6'0, 220||So.||** (5.4)||13||5.5||0.7%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Danny DeCarlo||LB||6'3, 225||Sr.||NR||9||3.0||0.4%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Reggie Coates||MIKE||6'1, 240||So.||** (5.4)||13||2.0||0.3%||0||0||0||1||0||0|
|Burton De Koning||SAM||6'2, 225||So.||** (5.4)||10||2.0||0.3%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Faigofie Faaituala||LB||6'1, 223||Jr.||** (5.2)|
|Ian Seau||LB||6'2, 250||So.||*** (5.6)|
|Matthew Lyons||LB||6'2, 230||So.||** (5.4)|
|Alex Bertrando||WILL||6'2, 215||RSFr.||** (5.4)|
8. Yes, that Seau
In 2012, Nevada had 21 total sacks.
Also in 2012, at Grossmont College, Ian Seau had 18 sacks. In 10 games.
A nephew of the most famous Seau, this junior college transfer has as much opportunity for immediate impact as any JUCO in the country. His work at Grossmont was just gaudy -- 25.5 tackles for loss, four games with at least four TFLs --and if he hits the ground running, at either end or linebacker, he could completely change the trajectory of the front seven. No pressure, Ian.
Beyond Seau, two three-star underclassmen (Bryan Lane, Jr., and Jon McNeal) and two other JUCO transfers (Faigofie Faaituala and Matthew Lyons) will completely change the personality of this linebacking corps. That isn't automatically a good thing (change can be bad sometimes, too), but with the way this defense played last year, things probably can't get much worse.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Charles Garrett||SS||5'11, 205||Jr.||*** (5.6)||12||31.0||4.1%||1||0||1||10||0||0|
|Markus Smith||CB||6'1, 195||Sr.||** (5.4)||11||15.0||2.0%||0||0||0||1||0||1|
|Evan Favors||CB||6'0, 185||Jr.||** (5.2)||8||7.0||0.9%||0||0||0||1||0||0|
|Arthur Forrest II||SS||6'2, 210||Sr.||*** (5.5)||12||6.5||0.9%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Bryson Keeton||SS||6'2, 190||So.||** (5.4)||6||3.5||0.5%||0||0||1||2||0||0|
|Gabe Lee||DB||6'0, 200||Jr.||NR||9||0.5||0.1%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Necho Beard||FS||6'0, 205||Jr.||** (5.3)|
|Nigel Haikins||SS||5'10, 210||Jr.||**|
|L.J. Jackson||CB||6'0, 200||RSFr.||NR|
|Randy Uzoma||CB||6'1, 205||RSFr.||*** (5.6)|
|Teré Calloway||DB||5'10, 176||Fr.||*** (5.6)|
|Julian Brooks||DB||6'2, 210||Fr.||** (5.4)|
|Chase Tenpenny||6'4, 250||Sr.||46||43.3||8||6||12||39.1%|
|Colin Ditsworth||6'0, 190||Jr.||78||60.8||29||37.2%|
|Colin Ditsworth||6'0, 190||Jr.||8-8||1-3||33.3%||0-0||N/A|
|Kendall Brock||KR||5'9, 195||Jr.||31||23.4||0|
|Special Teams F/+||59|
|Field Goal Pct||40|
|Kick Returns Avg||79|
|Punt Returns Avg||5|
9. Missing Khalid Wooten
Khalid Wooten was an outstanding cornerback, picked last weekend by the Tennessee Titans in the sixth round of the NFL Draft. He defensed (intercepted or broke up) 17 passes last year; returning Nevada corners combined to defense two. But as valuable as he was in the secondary, he was even more valuable as a punt returner. His 15-yard average was one of the best in the country and allowed Nevada to generate excellent field position on rare punts by opponents. Wooten left big shoes to fill in a couple of different units.
2013 Schedule & Projection Factors
|14-Sep||at Florida State||15|
|4-Oct||at San Diego State||53|
|19-Oct||at Boise State||12|
|2-Nov||at Fresno State||60|
|9-Nov||at Colorado State||117|
|16-Nov||San Jose State||72|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||61|
|Two-Year Recruiting Rk||91|
|TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin*||-4 / +7.0|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||11 (6, 5)|
10. Easy home, tough road
When Chris Ault retired, he said that "Wolf Pack football has firmly established a blueprint for success that can be sustained." It is a strong, confident statement, but is it true? It wasn't the last time Ault stepped away. Nevada has boosted its profile considerably in recent years and finds itself in the best mid-major conference in the country (as long as we're still counting the American Athletic Conference as "major" for one more year). It has come a long way and appears to be on steady ground, but we won't know anything for sure until Nevada kicks off play this fall.
Here's something we do know: the home slate is easy, and the road slate is quite rough. Five of six visiting opponents are projected 72nd or worse, and four are projected 91st or worse. Depending on how the BYU game falls, a 5-1 or 6-0 home record is likely. At the same time, the schedule features trips to UCLA, Florida State, San Diego State, Boise State, and Fresno State. A win in any of those games would be a reasonable accomplishment, at least depending on how San Diego State takes shape. So Nevada's most likely looking at a record quite similar to what it has produced in each of the past two seasons. That certainly wouldn't be bad for a first-time head coach, with an iffy defense, taking over for a legend.