Time for the season’s final installment of the Out-of-town Q&A.
Dan Hinxman, who covers Nevada for the Reno Gazette-Journal, was kind enough to answer five questions about the Wolf Pack. You can check out his blog on Nevada football at the Gazette-Journal’s website, which will include a Maryland Q&A with me a later on in the week (EDIT: Check it out here).
Thanks of course to Dan for helping out and providing some insight on a team most Maryland fans probably haven’t seen much of over the years.
1. OK, might as well get the classic Nevada newbie question out of the way first. How in the heck did Chris Ault dream up the Pistol offense and why has it worked so well for the Wolf Pack over the last few years?
DH: Ault was never a big fan of the shotgun, but he wanted to tweak his offense. It’s a modified shotgun formation with the quarterback about 4 yards behind center. The original theory was to add more options within the run game while opening up the play-action pass.
Some tangible benefits of the pistol:
* The running backs are set deep, giving them more time to read blocks and make cuts to holes in the line of scrimmage.
* The Pack can run more option plays and the quarterback is more of a runner within the scheme.
* Receivers who go in motion don’t have to run around the quarterback.
* Running backs can essentially hide behind the quarterbacks, which can prove to be deceptive to opposing defenses.
* The quarterback has an extra second or so to read defenses and coverages.
The biggest reasons why it has worked so well that last few years is because it’s been new to opponents, Ault has added a new element each year (this season, the read option) and Nevada has the key components to make it work (strong offensive line and an athletic quarterback).
2. Along those lines, I would guess sophomore Colin Kaepernick was probably one of the first quarterbacks (if not the first) recruited specifically for the Pistol. Is he as ideal a fit as there is for the offense?
DH: Nick Graziano was the first QB recruited after the team went to the pistol in 2004, but it’s safe to say Kaepernick has made it possible to make some of the adjustments Ault has made, most notably the read option. He is physically an ideal quarterback for the pistol, although he would be even better if he was more consistent throwing the ball. When he’s on, the offense is balanced and very difficult to stop. When he’s off, defenses can stack the box and designate a player, usually a safety, to birddog Kaepernick.
3. Nevada ranks 119th – dead last – in major college football in pass defense. Is this a function of opponents not bothering to run against a stout front seven, a schedule featuring plenty of pass-happy teams, a bad secondary or all of the above?
DH: It’s mostly because the pass defense has been so poor, and part of that is the fact that they’ve played four of the top 12 passing teams in the country. Nevada has given up way too many third-and-long plays this season, and it has been susceptible to deep balls and underneath, crossing routes. There was not a cornerback on the roster with Division I experience when the season began. They’ve gotten better in the second half of the season, but they’re still not where they need to be.
4. An injury that caught my eye was the loss of linebacker Joshua Mauga to a torn pectoral muscle. How much will his absence affect the Wolf Pack defense?
DH: Mauga was a team leader and two-year captain, and it certainly hurts the depth, but as long as they don’t lose anyone else at LB to injury, I don’t think it will have a major impact. Jerome Johnson has done a very good job moving from outside to inside and taking over as the defensive quarterback, and the return of Mike Bethea helps replace Johnson on the outside. Linebacker, with or without Mauga, is one of the team’s strengths.
5. Nevada needed to win three of its last four to clinch a winning record and mute Ault’s rumblings of declining a bowl berth if the Wolf Pack was 6-6. Is there much excitement around the program about a second Humanitarian Bowl trip in three years, or about what you’d expect to have for one 7-5 team receiving the chance to play another two days before New Year’s in a less-than-tropical environment?
DH: This has always been a strange sports town. There’s a fairly small population that will bleed Wolf Pack blue no matter what, but the general consensus is this team should have had a better record than it did (the loss to New Mexico State stands out the most). I think the players are excited and eager to play Maryland and get a chance to erase the memory of last season’s bowl loss (23-0 to New Mexico in the New Mexico Bowl), and the team has played much better in the last four games, but the combination of a finicky fan base and the economy will probably create a pretty small groupof travelers.
Thanks again to Dan Hinxman for his help and insight.