As Nevada Week rolls on, we now step outside the RMN family for a better look at what to expect from the Wolf Pack in 2009. Today, we turn to A.W. Prince, writer and publisher of Silver and Blue Sports, who took the time to answer a few questions for us. Big thanks are in order to A.W. and the entire Silver and Blue Sports community for the solid cross-site discussion in preparation for this season's Mizzou/Nevada game.
RMN: If you don't mind, describe the pulse of the Nevada fan base right now and give us a brief look at any expectations surrounding Nevada in 2009.
A.W.: Like any program before the start of the season, there is certainly a lot of excitement regarding Nevada football this year. The Notre Dame game, and a trip to South Bend, has energized the entire fan base, plus recruits for the past two years since it was announced. That game, plus the home game with a Big 12 power like Missouri, is a big deal for Nevada football and their fans. They are very excited about both of those games, plus the WAC schedule, as well as welcoming UNLV to Reno in their rudest way possible. The Notre Dame game has all the spotlight though. As a program, I'd say that want that win like no other, and most notably because it is the first game of the season for the Wolf Pack. That's not to shy away from how important the Missouri game is, but the focus is on Notre Dame for Nevada fans.
So I would have to say on a scale of 1 to 10 how high the fan interest is in Nevada football right now, I'd put it at an 1000. In fact, I doubt it has ever been higher.
RMN: It's no secret that Missouri lost a lot of offense. How is the Nevada defense shaping up and is a strong enough to dramatically reduce the number of points given up to Missouri this year?
A.W.: The Nevada defense continues to evolve. It is easy to look at the stats from a year ago and see that Nevada allowed 311 passing yards per game, which ranked dead last in the country. In fact, they were the only program in the country to give up more than 300+. Scoring defense was not that good either, ranking No. 99 at more than 32 points per game. That's the bad news.
The good news is that Nevada finished No. 6 in rush defense, No. 8 in tackles for loss and No. 10 nationally in sacks. And when you combine the fact that Nevada rushed for the third most yards in the NCAA last year, they pretty much controlled the line of scrimmage last year. The Wolf Pack have two excellent NFL caliber D-Ends in Kevin Basped and Dontay Moch, who combine to be two of the fastest 4 players on the entire roster. They combined for 21.5 sacks a year ago as true sophomores, and they are legit all-around players. I think what Missouri fans saw last year from Nevada on defense was really the exception; they did not see a team that had it all together that day for whatever reason.
In fact, just look at the scores from last year and you'll see that's the only game Nevada was blown out in.
A lot of the pass defense issues have also been addressed. Two years ago, the Wolf Pack brought in 5 frosh DB's, and only one played last year. With the addition of three more this year, including a quality JC cover corner, plus the energy they have as a group, there is a determination in that group to take this thing from worst-to-first. And as most fans know, statistics are going to be based on who you play, and Nevada dealt with a schedule filled with some extremely great passing offenses. Just looking at the passing offense numbers from a year ago, Texas Tech finished No. 1, Missouri finished No. 4, New Mexico State finished No. 10 and Boise State finished No. 13. Nevada lost all 4 of those games last year, and with the exception of that flawless performance put on by Missouri, everyone was extremely close.
Nevada went 7-2 against everyone else.
More from A.W. after the jump...
RMN: I know Nevada loses Marko Mitchell, but the attack seems to still be as potent as ever. How high are expectations for this offensive unit? Does the return of Lippincott mean much, or did Vai Taua's emergence minimize his importance?
A.W.: Nevada head coach Chris Ault is an offensive coach, and one of the most innovative minds in the game. Every year he tinkers with the Pistol Offense, adding a new component here and there. He's lost some powerful offensive players over the past, but like other great coaches, he just reloads. Nevada has a stable of young receivers, with the four best coming out of spring being juniors Chris Wellington and Malcolm Shepherd, plus freshmen Brandon Wimberly and L.J. Washington. Losing Marko will hurt due to his experience, but overall this is a WR core that is much deeper.
As far as the rushing attack, it would be hard to describe how much talent Nevada has back there. Honestly, I've covered the Pac-10 for years, and only USC in 2005 and Cal in 2004 would rank up there in production with the Wolf Pack ground game. Lippincott and Taua are ferocious "Nevada Backs", warriors in a lot of ways. Combined, they have rushed for over 3,500 yards and 41 TD's in their careers, and considering Lippincott was a converted safety and Taua is only a junior, that's saying something. Missouri knows all about Colin Kaepernick; he's a deer and he'll gallop all over the place. That's just three of the horses; Nevada has the very impressive freshman Michael Ball, speedy senior Brandon Fragger, plus lightning quick sophomore Lampford Mark and junior workhorse Courtney Gardner.
Even without Lippincott, who went down for the season against Texas Tech, and Fragger, who went down against Missouri, Nevada became the first non-BCS program to ever rush for over 6.0 yards per carry over the course of a season.
RMN: Give us the name of one player Missouri fans and national media don't know about who could play a significant role in determining Nevada's success in 2009.
A.W.: I'd have to say Dontay Moch. I mentioned him earlier along with Basped, but Missouri didn't see what he could do whatsoever last year. I don't believe he registered a single tackle in last year's game, and this is a guy who can dominate the line of scrimmage. He's essentially the James Harrison of Nevada's defense.
RMN: How much do you believe "intangible" factors will affect the Missouri/Nevada game? Do you think Nevada's players buy into a "revenge" factor and/or the "Friday night national television" factor?
A.W.: I don't think the night of the game matters as much, but certainly Nevada has a lot of pride as a program. They were shut down pretty much on National TV by Missouri, and blasted by the Tigers. Again, that was the only time it happened all year long. So I think that'll be motivation for the Pack.
Additionally, I'd compare the game to what Texas Tech ran into last year. It was a very tough game for the Red Raiders, who obviously had a heck of a season. Nevada held Harrell to just 19 completions all game, and they truly controlled that game. It was a tough environment for them to get anything going.
RMN: Finish the following statements:
-- Mizzou will win if: They control the line of scrimmage like they did a year ago, and score three rushing touchdowns. They did that a year ago, as did Texas Tech and Maryland, and Nevada went 0-3 in those games.
-- Nevada will win if: They score in the red zone effectively and post 40 points; I can see Nevada winning with 40 on the Tigers.
RMN: And finally, give us your score prediction for the game.
-- You might hate me for this, but I got out of the prediction business a long time ago...so that's a no-go from me. I let the fans project and predict games. My bottom line is that you won't find two classier head coaches than Coach Ault and Coach Pinkel, and it'll be a treat to cover the game. As a person who really enjoyed living in Missouri for a short time, I just want to say thanks to all the Tiger fans for coming to Reno for the game! Ya'll will have a good time.