Nevada had a disappointing season which saw just four wins and left them out of a bowl game. To add insult to injury the lasting memory of the 2013 season is of rival UNLV claiming the Fremont Cannon for the first time in nine years. However, UNR returns 18 of its 22 starters so expectations of a much better season are swirling. The Wolf Pack kick off their season next Saturday against Southern Utah. Here are the five biggest question marks concerning this year’s Nevada football team.
5. Can the Wolf Pack offense produce big plays while the defense continues to stay away from them?
Last season Nevada’s offense could not seem to buy a big play. The good news though was that the defense seemed immune to them as well. As they head into the 2014 campaign one of those has to change. The Wolf Pack averaged just 3.9 yards per carry and almost refused to throw the ball down the field. Cody Fajardo is not known for his ability to sling the ball around the yard, but he has the skills to at least take a few shots now and again to keep the defense honest. It’s almost impossible for the Wolf Pack to have as few explosive plays as they did in 2013 again this year, but if they don’t show the ability to threaten opposing defenses in the pass game, they’ll have to come exclusively from individual efforts on the ground. Something that’s very difficult to do when a defense is keyed in on the run. Oh, and the defense has to keep doing what their doing, otherwise the positive offensive plays won’t be worth nearly as much.
4. Are any WR’s ready to make an impact?
The Wolf Pack will enter the 2014 season thin at the wide receiver position. After losing senior Brandon Wimberly and Aaron Bradley opting to leave the program, Nevada is left with few receivers that have any experience and not a single WR who can boast a history of playmaking ability. Richy Turner and Hasaan Henderson will have to come up big and one of the young more physically gifted receivers, Jerico Richardson, Giles Chapman, or Julian Brooks has to step forward and show they can stretch the field. Nevada like to play a quick pass style, so they are able to rack up a lot of receptions, but they have to find a way to make more out of those catches. It appears the talent is still there despite the losses, but these guys have to show up and show up big if the Wolf Pack want to take that big step forward in 2014.
3. Will Cody Fajardo find a way to return to his 2012 self?
Quarterback Cody Fajardo is not the reason why the Wolf Pack had a poor season in 2013. However, he did see a drop-off in both his passing and rushing numbers from his best season as a sophomore. The inabilities of the run game last year clearly hindered Fajardo, but he must find a way to do more with his arm this season. Statistically he has been quite good over his entire career and the same is to be expected this year. He just has to work on turning that 68% competition percentage into more touchdowns. In today’s college football, 13 TD’s is simply not good enough for a quarterback. Something more like the 20 would be nice, but if the Wolf Pack really want to have a big year, they’ll need him to score a combined 35+.
2. Can the run game return to what’s expected of traditional Wolf Pack football?
What in the world happened to the classic Nevada Wolf Pack run game? For years when teams played in Reno or found themselves hosting the Wolf Pack they knew they would have to strap on their boots, dig their heels into the sand, and find a way to stop a punishing rush attack. Well, last year that just wasn’t the case. The crazy thing was, Nevada never stopped trying, even down to the final plays of the season. The shortage of big plays out of the receiving corps was a part of the problem, but the fact that not a single running back, including Fajardo, rushed for more than 4.4 yards per carry is simply unacceptable for an offense built on pounding the rock. If Nevada can return to its usual self and dominate teams on the ground, the high expectations in 2014 could come true, however, if they repeat the performance of last year, another four win season could be in the cards.
1. Will the defensive be able to stop anyone on the ground?
In almost every game the Wolf Pack played in last season fans could be heard grumbling across the entire state wondering why the Nevada defense could not stop opposing teams’ rushing attack. The Wolf Pack allowed an astounding 258.5 yards per game on the ground and finished second to last of all FBS teams in rush defense. Opponents rushed for 6.6 yards per carry against a Nevada defense that is full of talented players. Whatever the problem was, Nevada has to hope experience is the answer. UNR returns 10 of their 11 starters on defense and must find a way to curb the issue that plagued them all last season. The good news is, even with the pathetic run defense, Nevada still won four games and had a shot to win two or three more. If they find a way to stop some people on the ground and all else stays status quo, the Wolf Pack could be looking at a solid season. Then imagine what happens if they stop the run AND have more success running the ball offensively.