Talent rich and looking to finish
A mobile, strong-armed quarterback for the 49ers was, for many folks, the introduction to a college football program that resides in the Biggest Little City in the World. College football fans however knew of and respected the long history previous to Kaepernick and are also aware of the talent that is still there. Being 3-3 halfway through the season, although not bad, has made many Nevada wonder what could be if not for close losses. Chris Murray of the Reno Gazette-Journal joined NFLDraftGM.com to discuss the rest of the season and the talent on this Wolfpack football team. If you get the chance please check out Brock Hekking’s mullet.
J: What were the expectations at the beginning of the season and where are they now?
CM: The expectation for Nevada was to compete for a possible win the Mountain West’s West Division. A 3-3 record at this point in the season before the year began was probably a fair assessment given the fact Nevada played two Pac-12 teams (Washington State and Arizona). However, after Nevada beat Washington State and moved to 2-0 on the season the expectation grew. So I think the team and fans are disappointed with the 3-3 record, especially considering the fact Nevada’s three losses have come by seven points to #16 Arizona, and Colorado State, and five points to Boise State. In each of those games Nevada had the ball on the final drive and failed to get in the endzone.
J: What has this first half of the season shown you both offensively and defensively?
CM: The defense started off well, especially when it held Washington State to 13 points. But since then, it hasn’t been as sharp. The defensive line has played well for the most part and Nevada has held firm against the run, but the pass defense and secondary has been questionable in the last two games. The defense has done a good job creating turnovers, but has regressed a little over the last two games when the competition has improved. Like the defense, the offense has been inconsistent. It’s looked great at moments and horrible in other moments. The offensive line has struggled and Nevada’s run game has improved from last year, but still isn’t where it needs to be for the Pistol offense to hit its ceiling.
J: Could you name 3 or more players on each side of the ball that have really blossomed this year?
CM: Defense: DT Rykeem Yates, DE Ian Seau, OLB Matthew Lyons; Offense: WR Jerico Richardson, TE Jarred Gipson, OG Joey Angelmire
J: Do you see players who could potentially play at the next level? Why?
CM: The best bets are Cody Fajardo, who is No. 8 on Mel Kiper’s draft-eligible quarterbacks, and DE Brock Hekking, who is likely a mid- to-late round pick this season. CB Charles Garrett also could get some looks, although he doesn’t have a lot of career interceptions, so his ball skills might hold him back. But he’s a good, physical cornerback. In the junior class, DL Rykeem Yates and Ian Seau might get to the next level, although size is a concern for both of them, and OLB Bryan Lane Jr. is a great athlete, although I’m not sure he’s on draft radars at this point. At the sophomore level, 6-5 WR Hasaan Henderson, a converted quarterback, would be the best bet. He doesn’t have great speed, but he’s huge and has great hands/ball skills. The freshman class has some intriguing prospects, but they’re too young to judge at this point.
J: What about the system in place offensively and defensively prepares these players to possibly make the transition to the next level? What are some changes you feel that they could make?
CM: Speaking specifically on Fajardo, he’s become a much more well-rounded quarterback. He freelanced and relied on his legs early in his career, but is now a full-field progression guy under Nick Rolovich, who has enhanced the passing game with his run-and-shoot roots. Rolovich’s tutorship of Fajardo has likely helped his draft stock as he’s now asked to go through a progression before pulling the trigger, which is obviously required in the NFL.
J: What is the biggest difference between this years team and last years? Is the talent level any different? Was there more sense of urgency last year?
CM: The players are mostly the same, but they’re a year older. The sense of urgency is greater this season because the team is full of seniors (10 of whom start), so they know this is their last go-around in college. Guys like Fajardo and Hekking, in particular, want to leave a legacy of winning, so they’ve eyed a conference title and return to a bowl game since the end of the 2013 season. The overall talent level at Nevada is better in 2014 than 2013, especially on defense.
J: Has the level of play fallen off a bit in the Mountain West conference this year?
CM: Yes, especially at the top of the conference. The MW is used to having one lead-dog team like BYU, Utah, TCU, Boise State or Fresno State, a Top 25 squad to carry the flag for the conference. There’s no such team this season and the West Division in particular is down.
J: Does UNR have the talent to finish this season strong and to make an impact this year?
CM: Yes. They have a good shot of winning the West Division and getting a rematch with either Boise State or Colorado State in the MW title game. The 3-3 record might be disappointing, but all of the losses have been by a touchdown or less. Since the beginning of 2011, Nevada is 7-14 in games decided by a touchdown or less and is 1-6 in such games the last two years. So, it must improve in those close-game situations.
Talent looks deep at Reno. Lets see if they can put it all together and finish the season strong. As always, thanks to our guest Chris Murray from the Reno Gazette-Journal. Be sure to follow him on twitter @MURRAYRGJ for his latest thoughts.