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1. This isn't happening again, is it?
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. [...]
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.
When Chris Ault retired (again) following the 2012 season, Nevada had been to eight consecutive bowl games and finished with at least seven wins five years in a row. He left, and the Wolf Pack immediately fell to 4-8.
There are plenty of potential causes here. The offensive backfield suffered all sorts of injuries, with starting quarterback Cody Fajardo missing a couple of games and backup Devin Combs getting lost to injury. The top two running backs played in 11 and nine games, respectively. Plus, a defense that had regressed in recent years faced significant attrition at linebacker and in the secondary. If Ault had still been in charge, the odds of a losing record still would have been pretty good.
Heading into Brian Polian's second year, though, it's hard to escape this:
- Nevada's record, last 5 years with Chris Ault: 42-24
- Nevada's record, last 5 years with anyone else: 20-39
Following a legend is never easy; it is almost anticipated that you will fail. Brian Polian's first year in charge certainly did nothing to assuage concerns that Nevada will falter once again post-Ault.
2. The good news (I guess): Nevada wasn't much better in 2012
Nevada's win total fell by three games in 2013, but the program as a whole had already begun faltering in the years since the Wolf Pack's incredible 13-1 finish in 2010. Nevada ranked 27th in the F/+ rankings that year, but following the departure of quarterback Colin Kaepernick and others, the offense regressed, and Nevada fell to 62nd overall in 2011. The offense rebounded in 2012, but the defense totally fell apart, and Nevada sank to 71st in 2012. Considering the injuries and inexperience involved, another fall to 88th in 2013 doesn't seem that significant.
Injuries aside, there were two primary causes for 2013's regression in the win column: close games and schedule strength. In 2012, Nevada went 4-4 in games decided by one possession; in 2013, the Wolf Pack went 1-3. And in 2012, they went 0-4 against teams that finished with a winning record; in 2013, they went 0-8. The schedule got tougher -- according to Brian Fremeau's numbers, Nevada's strength of schedule was 119th in 2012 and 36th in 2013 -- and the Wolf Pack didn't get better.
So yeah, Nevada was probably doomed regardless of the coach. What a relief?
2013 Schedule & Results
|Record: 4-8 | Adj. Record: 1-11 | Final F/+ Rk: 88|
|Date||Opponent||Opp. F/+ Rk||Score||W-L||Adj. Score||Adj. W-L||5-gm Adj. Avg.|
|31-Aug||at UCLA||15||20-58||L||21.2 - 41.1||L|
|7-Sep||UC Davis||N/A||36-7||W||22.9 - 32.6||L|
|14-Sep||at Florida State||1||7-62||L||22.4 - 39.6||L|
|21-Sep||Hawaii||82||31-9||W||21.5 - 26.3||L|
|28-Sep||Air Force||113||45-42||W||25.3 - 42.0||L||-13.7|
|4-Oct||at San Diego State||89||44-51||L||34.3 - 41.5||L||-11.1|
|19-Oct||at Boise State||45||17-34||L||30.2 - 41.5||L||-11.4|
|26-Oct||UNLV||96||22-27||L||25.8 - 31.9||L||-9.2|
|2-Nov||at Fresno State||49||23-41||L||28.5 - 34.9||L||-9.5|
|9-Nov||at Colorado State||66||17-38||L||22.2 - 40.7||L||-9.9|
|16-Nov||San Jose State||74||38-16||W||32.1 - 19.3||W||-5.9|
|30-Nov||BYU||30||23-28||L||29.7 - 38.3||L||-5.4|
|Points Per Game||26.9||75||34.4||103|
|Adj. Points Per Game||26.3||79||35.8||113|
3. Slight improvement
Nevada was a better team at the end of the year than at the beginning. That statement alone is relatively encouraging. The Wolf Pack were still below average thanks to the defense, but improvement is improvement.
Adj. Points Per Game (first 4 games): Opponent 34.9, Nevada 22.0 (minus-12.9)
Adj. Points Per Game (next 3 games): Opponent 41.7, Nevada 29.9 (minus-11.8)
Adj. Points Per Game (last 5 games): Opponent 33.0, Nevada 27.7 (minus-5.3)
Cody Fajardo missed the Florida State and Hawaii games, but the offense began to get its groove back in the Air Force game and played at a pretty high level the rest of the year. And in late-October, the defense shifted from possibly-worst-in-the-country bad to simply bad. Late-season improvement combined with the return of a majority of a team's primary contributors is generally a recipe for improvement.
But as I wrote last year, too, until the defense shows true, sustainable competence, the ceiling remains pretty low.
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||43.9%||59||Succ. Rt. +||102.4||51|
|FIELD POSITION||Def. Avg. FP||28.7||44||Def. FP+||101.4||41|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||4.4||52||Redzone S&P+||93.2||88|
|Q1 Rk||58||1st Down Rk||100|
|Q2 Rk||82||2nd Down Rk||47|
|Q3 Rk||46||3rd Down Rk||58|
Note: players in bold below are 2014 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Cody Fajardo||6'2, 215||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||242||357||2633||13||3||67.8%||21||5.6%||6.6|
|Tyler Stewart||6'4, 220||So.||3 stars (5.5)||21||37||251||3||2||56.8%||4||9.8%||5.7|
|Devin Combs||6'2, 220||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||11||18||84||1||0||61.1%||0||0.0%||4.7|
|Danté Mays||6'2, 175||RSFr.||2 stars (5.3)|
4. A Cody conundrum
Three games into the 2011 season, it was as if Colin Kaepernick had never left. Freshman Cody Fajardo rushed 10 times for 139 yards in a narrow defeat at Texas Tech, and Ault had found his next great pistol quarterback. He became the primary quarterback in Game 5, and after a 1-3 start, Nevada won five games in a row to reach bowl eligibility. In 2012, he missed one game with injury but still threw for 2,786 yards and rushed for 1,121 (186 against New Mexico).
When Polian took over, he and offensive coordinator Nick Rolovich vowed to keep the same offensive structure in place. This made sense; despite Rolovich's long exposure to pass-happy systems, he had spent 2012 as Ault's offensive coordinator. Plus, in Fajardo Nevada had one of the nation's best rushing quarterbacks.
But there's a line here. You don't want your quarterback taking too many hits, and you don't want to become too predictable. In 2012, Nebraska had a lot of success in passing frequently on standard downs, stealing free yardage and keeping the Huskers ahead of schedule. It seemed as if Rolovich attempted something similar last fall in Reno.
Including sacks as passes, Fajardo attempted 38 passes per game and rushed only 12 times per game. And to be sure, Fajardo was certainly competent in this regard. Nevada emphasized short passing (10.9 yards per completion), but Fajardo did still complete an impressive 68 percent of his passes, and he showed some passing downs magic here and there. And looking at his rushing explosiveness (4.6 highlight yards per opportunity; it was 6.4 in 2012), it's pretty clear that defenses were intent on preventing him from finding running lanes (and/or the knee injury that caused him to miss time in September never fully healed), so Nevada had to try other avenues.
To the extent that this attempted balance was intentional and not a byproduct of Fajardo's injury, the Wolf Pack need further help from the skill positions to make this work. Fajardo took far too many sacks considering the distance of his passes -- a common problem among rushing quarterbacks -- and there was not enough explosiveness elsewhere to punish defenses for hanging close to the line of scrimmage. Nevada was still reasonably efficient in 2013 but lacked severely in the big-play department.
|Kendall Brock||RB||5'9, 195||Sr.||2 stars (5.3)||184||808||10||4.4||3.4||36.4%|
|Cody Fajardo||QB||6'2, 215||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||120||762||8||6.4||4.6||51.7%|
|Don Jackson||RB||5'10, 210||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||83||332||4||4.0||5.1||27.7%|
|Nate McLaurin||RB||6'0, 210||Sr.||NR||13||17||0||1.3||3.7||15.4%|
|Devin Combs||QB||6'2, 220||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||6||39||0||6.5||4.5||50.0%|
|Devoreaux Stewart||RB||5'10, 200||So.||NR|
|James Butler||RB||5'9, 200||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)|
5. Wanted: big plays
Kendall Brock was a prime example of Nevada's big-play issues. Brock averaged almost 17 carries per game but neither put up strong efficiency numbers (36 percent opportunity rate) nor showed any sustained big-play potential. His 3.4 highlight yards per opportunity are what you might see from a decent fullback or short-yardage specialist, not a 5'9, 195-pound feature back. Again, opposing safeties probably didn't have much to worry about in the passing game, so Brock had to weave through quite a few bodies near the line of scrimmage. But he wasn't able to do a very good job of it. Don Jackson, a former three-star recruit, showed a little more big-play potential with even worse efficiency numbers.
These two and Fajardo will be running behind a line that didn't exactly create a ton of downfield opportunities for anybody but does return five players with starting experience (53 career starts). That all-conference tackle Joel Bitonio is gone certainly doesn't help, but overall continuity should help.
The late-season emergence of receiver Hasaan Henderson (23 of his 29 catches came in the last four games) was encouraging when it comes to replacing longtime No. 1 receiver Brandon Wimberly, but in averaging just 11.2 yards per catch, he didn't offer much hope of big-play potential. Nobody did. The only player on the team to average better than 12.4 yards per catch last year was Chris Solomon, who a) caught only three passes, b) was a running back, and c) is no longer on the team. Nevada has to be more successfully aggressive at times, if only to prove it can be.
|Richy Turner||WR-Z||5'11, 180||Sr.||NR||97||60||720||61.9%||24.3%||51.2%||7.4||-22||7.7||88.0|
|Aaron Bradley||WR-F||6'1, 200||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||60||40||474||66.7%||15.0%||50.0%||7.9||-2||8.4||57.9|
|Hasaan Henderson||WR-F||6'5, 230||So.||3 stars (5.5)||42||29||326||69.0%||10.5%||44.1%||7.8||-13||8.3||39.8|
|Jarred Gipson||TE||6'1, 240||So.||2 stars (5.4)||12||9||58||75.0%||3.0%||41.7%||4.8||-43||5.3||7.1|
|Kendall Brock||RB||5'9, 195||Sr.||2 stars (5.3)||11||10||56||90.9%||2.8%||54.5%||5.1||-47||5.0||6.8|
|Jerico Richardson||WR-X||5'11, 190||So.||2 stars (5.4)||5||3||22||60.0%||1.3%||60.0%||4.4||-16||4.4||2.7|
|Don Jackson||RB||5'10, 210||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||4||3||35||75.0%||1.0%||50.0%||8.8||1||7.6||4.3|
|Patrick Clifford||TE||6'2, 232||So.||2 stars (5.2)|
|D'Andre Fuller||WR||5'10, 160||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Andrew Celis||WR||5'11, 185||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Wyatt Dempts||WR||6'4, 200||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Brandon Scott||TE||6'3, 225||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Joel Bitonio||LT||38||1st All-MWC|
|Matt Galas||C||6'1, 280||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||24|
|Kyle Roberts||RT||6'6, 305||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||11|
|Jeremy Macauley||LG||6'1, 305||So.||NR||10|
|Connor Talbott||LG||6'4, 290||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||7|
|Zach Brickell||RG||6'3, 290||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||1|
|Abel De Haro||C||6'3, 300||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||0|
|Austin Corbett||OL||6'3, 250||So.||NR||0|
|Joey Anglemire||OL||6'3, 280||RSFr.||2 stars (5.3)|
|Humberto Lopez||OL||6'5, 305||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Chad Specht||OL||6'5, 305||Fr.||2 stars (5.3)|
|Daren Echeveria||OL||6'5, 270||Fr.||2 stars (5.2)|
|FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||49.7%||119||Succ. Rt. +||88.9||102|
|FIELD POSITION||Off. Avg. FP||28.2||103||Off. FP+||94.5||112|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||4.4||83||Redzone S&P+||85.6||100|
|Q1 Rk||74||1st Down Rk||97|
|Q2 Rk||93||2nd Down Rk||111|
|Q3 Rk||116||3rd Down Rk||119|
6. Either depth or talent
There are really only a couple of explanations when your defense gets worse in each progressive quarter, as Nevada's did in 2013. Either you have no depth, your conditioning is awful, or you just don't have enough talent to stop offenses for 60 full minutes.
I can't speak to conditioning, so I'll focus on the first and last of those three. Nevada played a decent number of linemen, with seven making at least 10.0 tackles (and only two missing a game). Five linebackers within the 4-3 alignment made at least 36.5 tackles (and only one missed a game). And while there was a bit more shuffling in the secondary, seven players made at least 10.0 tackles in the back.
These aren't huge numbers, but they're sufficient. And if nothing else, the simple fact that a lot of regulars played in all 12 games suggests that conditioning could have been worse.
So ... talent then?
Nevada ranked 117th overall in Def. F/+. The Wolf Pack were poor in the first half (74th in first-quarter S&P+, 93rd in the second) and horrid in the second (116th in the third quarter, 122nd in the fourth). They were 103rd in tackles for loss, 93rd in sacks, and 89th in passes defensed. They prevented big plays in the passing game, but they couldn't stop you from running the ball.
This was simply a bad defense, and while you can hope that depth issues might be addressed, it's harder to fix an overall talent issue. And it appears Nevada's biggest issue was simply that there wasn't enough talent.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Brock Hekking||DE||6'4, 255||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||12||39.5||5.6%||13.5||8.0||1||2||2||0|
|Rykeem Yates||DT||6'2, 270||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||11||26.0||3.7%||5.0||3.0||0||3||0||0|
|Lenny Jones||DE||6'3, 255||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||12||23.5||3.3%||4.5||3.0||1||3||0||0|
|Ian Seau||DE||6'2, 227||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||12||18.0||2.6%||5.0||0.0||0||1||1||0|
|Jordan Hanson||NT||6'2, 280||Sr.||2 stars (5.3)||12||13.0||1.8%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Dupree Roberts-Jordan||DE||6'0, 275||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||12||11.5||1.6%||4.5||2.0||0||0||0||0|
|Salesa Faraimo||NT||6'2, 275||So.||2 stars (5.4)||12||8.0||1.1%||1.5||0.5||0||1||0||0|
|Beau Hershberger||DE||6'2, 230||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Kevin Sundberg||DT||6'2, 279||RSFr.||2 stars (5.3)|
|Jeremy Miller||DT||5'11, 300||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)|
|Patrick Choudja||DE||6'3, 225||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Korey Rush||DE||6'1, 260||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)|
7. An outright sieve
The biggest issues were up front. Nevada had some solid pass-rushing potential, but the Wolf Pack just got pushed around too much. They allowed a higher Power Success Rate than anybody in the country, and aside from Ian Seau's and Matthew Lyons' non-sack tackles for loss, they had little to offer in any run defense category.
It's probably not a coincidence that no regular Nevada lineman was listed at more than 280 pounds last year. Quickness was an asset at times, but there apparently just wasn't enough meat up front. If junior college transfer Jeremy Miller (a 5'11, 300-pound bowling ball) can break into the rotation, that will help, but that's only one player. Last year's size deficiencies probably won't be fixed to any degree, and Nevada will have to rely on quickness to offset that disadvantage. Players like Seau and Brock Hekking have potential in that regard, and lord knows there's plenty of experience in the front seven. But how much can they improve in one offseason?
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Jonathan McNeal||SAM||6'1, 235||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||12||81.0||11.5%||4.0||1.0||0||1||0||0|
|Matthew Lyons||WILL||6'2, 230||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||12||72.5||10.3%||6.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Jordan Dobrich||MIKE||6'2, 235||Jr.||NR||11||57.0||8.1%||2.0||1.0||0||3||2||0|
|Bryan Lane Jr.||LB||6'4, 210||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||12||43.5||6.2%||2.0||0.0||1||4||0||0|
|Alex Bertrando||SAM||6'2, 215||So.||2 stars (5.4)||12||36.5||5.2%||4.5||0.0||0||1||1||1|
|Burton De Koning||WILL||12||9.0||1.3%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Reggie Coates||MIKE||6'1, 240||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||4||4.5||0.6%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Travis Wilson||LB||6'1, 200||So.||2 stars (5.2)||10||2.5||0.4%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Trevor Taft||LB||6'2, 215||Sr.||NR||10||2.0||0.3%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Fie Faaituala||LB||6'1, 225||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)|
|Alec Moreno||LB||6'2, 240||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Charles Garrett||CB||5'11, 205||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||11||48.0||6.8%||2.5||0||1||5||1||0|
|Evan Favors||CB||6'0, 185||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||12||34.5||4.9%||1||0||1||4||0||0|
|Elijah Mitchell||CB||5'8, 170||So.||2 stars (5.4)||11||17.5||2.5%||0||0||0||2||0||0|
|Kaodi Dike||FS||6'2, 198||So.||2 stars (5.4)||9||17.0||2.4%||0||0||0||1||0||0|
|Gabe Lee||DB||6'0, 200||Sr.||NR||11||11.5||1.6%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Nigel Haikins||SS||5'10, 210||Sr.||2 stars||10||6.0||0.9%||0||0||1||1||0||0|
|Randy Uzoma||DB||6'1, 205||So.||3 stars (5.6)||10||3.0||0.4%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Teré Calloway||DB||5'10, 175||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)||1||2.0||0.3%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Julian Brooks||DB||6'2, 210||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Duran Workman||DB||6'0, 200||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Elijah Moody||DB||5'11, 175||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Kendall Johnson||DB||6'0, 180||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Asauni Rufus||S||6'0, 185||Fr.||2 stars (5.3)|
|Kelton Moore||S||5'11, 200||Fr.||2 stars (5.2)|
8. Good at preventing big pass plays, somehow
Despite playing a freshman (Kaodi Dike) and a converted linebacker (Bryan Lane, Jr.) at safety for a good portion of the season, Nevada really did do a pretty solid job of preventing big pass plays. Only two teams (Navy and Florida State) allowed fewer 30-yard passes than the Wolf Pack, and as you see above, Nevada ranked 21st in Passing IsoPPP+.
Of course, this would have been a bigger asset if Nevada could at least pretend to stop the run. Opponents got all the points they needed off of the run and shorter passes.
With Lane back at linebacker (which could help with speed and play-making in the front seven), Dike might be the dean of the safeties, though it will be good to get Teré Calloway involved. A highly recruited corner, Calloway injured his knee in the first game of his true freshman season and gets a do-over, this time at safety. Between Dike, Calloway, Randy Uzoma, and Elijah Mitchell, there are the makings of a great secondary in about 2015 or 2016. We'll see how this unit fares in 2014.
|Brent Zuzo||5'10, 175||So.||67||61.3||22||1||32.8%|
|Brent Zuzo||5'10, 175||So.||33-36||9-11||81.8%||5-6||83.3%|
|Nigel Westbrooks||KR||6'2, 190||Sr.||15||19.1||0|
|Jerico Richardson||KR||5'11, 190||So.||10||21.0||0|
|Special Teams F/+||45|
|Field Goal Efficiency||41|
|Punt Return Efficiency||69|
|Kick Return Efficiency||83|
|Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency||65|
9. Replacing Tenpenny
Chase Tenpenny was one of the best field position weapons in the country. He averaged nearly 45 yards per punt, and he had a healthy percentage of fair catches and kicks downed inside the 20. Nevada's per-play yardage margin of minus-1.8 yards (5.3 yards per play on offense, 7.1 on defense) was one of the worst in the country, but thanks to Tenpenny and a decent return game, the Wolf Pack ranked 79th in Field Position Margin (minus-0.4).
And now he's gone. Brent Zuzo appears to be a keeper in terms of place-kicking and kickoffs, but we'll see what happens to the punting game in Tenpenny's absence.
2014 Schedule & Projection Factors
|27-Sep||at San Jose State||82|
|1-Nov||San Diego State||83|
|15-Nov||at Air Force||105|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||-3.0% (66)|
|Two-Year Recruiting Rk||94|
|TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin*||7 / 0.2|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||16 (7, 9)|
10. Improvement, but...
Nevada should be better in 2014. The Wolf Pack return a healthy number of starters and bring back both Cody Fajardo and just about every play-maker (even though that's not saying much) on defense. There is depth of experience even if the overall talent level is in question. Still ...
- The overall talent level is in question.
- And Nevada has regressed at least a little bit for three straight years.
- And there is minimal big-play potential at the skill positions.
- And the defensive line isn't any bigger than when it was getting pushed around last year.
- And a great punter is gone.
- And the three most beatable Mountain West opponents on the schedule (Air Force, Hawaii, and UNLV) host the Pack.
If Nevada can improve to about 70th, the Wolf Pack could threaten for a bowl bid with some breaks despite another pretty strong schedule. And if Fajardo is completely healthy and players like Don Jackson and Hasaan Henderson step up (and the defense rebounds somewhat), maybe that's possible.
But it's hard for me to be optimistic about that. The deficiencies were very deficient last year. And if they reside in the mid-80s again, then an even worse record than last year's is in play.