#79 Nevada Football 2016 Preview

Nevada Wolf Pack
Overall Rank: #79
#5 Mountain West
Nevada deserves a lot of credit for winning seven games last year, including the inaugural Arizona Bowl over Colorado State. That was a pretty young team and many expected the squad to take a very big step back, but they won just as many games as they did in 2014. This year should be better, but with some major losses on defense, the Wolf Pack is likely to stay on the outside of the Mountain West title race.
2015 Record: 7-6, 4-4
2015 Bowl: Arizona Bowl vs. Colorado State (W 28-23)
Coach: Brian Polian (18-20 at Nevada, 18-20 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Tim Cramsey
Defensive Coordinator: Scott Boone
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: James Butler, RB, 1,342 yards
Passing: Tyler Stewart, QB, 2,139 yards
Receiving: Jerico Richardson, WR, 750 yards
Tackles: Asauni Rufus, S, 105
Sacks: Salesa Faraimo, DE, 1.0; Malik Reed, DE, 1.0; Kory Rush, DE, 1.0
Interceptions: Dameon Barber, S, 6
Other Key Returnees: WR Hasaan Henderson, WR Wyatt Demps, TE Jarred Gipson, OL Austin Corbett, CB Elijah Mitchell, K Brent Zuzo
Key Losses: RB Don Jackson, DE Ian Seau, DE Lenny Jones, LB Jordan Dobrich, LB Matthew Lyons
The offense should be extremely potent, and look a bit different than what we have become used to. The Pistol offense is not going away, but new coordinator Tim Cramsey will spread things out more than his predecessors. The ground game will be dynamic with the return of James Butler, who rushed for 1,376 yards and ten touchdowns in 2015. Don Jackson is gone, but former Nittany Lion Akeel Lynch will step into that spot and join Butler as one of the most potent rushing duos in the country. Lynch rushed for 1,318 yards on 262 carries during his three years at Penn State. That is not bad, but he is a better running back than those numbers indicate. Lynch has a great burst of speed and Nevada has a very experienced line that will help him get closer to his vast potential that Lynch was unable to reach in Happy Valley. Quarterback Tyler Stewart was a steady quarterback last year, throwing for 2,139 yards, 15 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Stewart needs to boost his completion percentage or junior college transfer Ty Gangi could get a shot to run the show. The return of the top four receivers should help the passing game balance out the strong running attack. Jerico Richardson caught 68 passes for 750 yards and five scores, while Hasaan Henderson emerged as the big play threat, catching 52 passes for 741 yards and four scores.
Nevada’s defense has improved over the last few years, but the unit should take a significant step back this year. Tackle Salesa Faraimo is the lone returning starter in the front seven and Coach Brian Polian has a lot of work to do. The two end spots will need to be filled by Malik Reed, Patrick Choudja or Kalei Meyer. Choudja, a 6-3, 235 pound junior, has the most experience, but he only recorded ten tackles last year, with no sacks or tackles-for-loss. The linebacker spots are an even bigger concern. Alex Bertrando and L.J. Jackson are seniors, but they have three career starts between the two of them. The expectations are high for redshirt freshman Gabe Sewell, but it is asking a lot for a freshman to step into a leadership role. The secondary has by far the most experience. Safety Asauni Rufus led the team with 105 tackles last year and fellow safety Dameon Baber totaled six interceptions on the year. With Elijah Mitchell manning one of the corner spots, the secondary will have to hold down the fort while the front adjusts to their new personnel.
The Bottom Line:
The good news for the defense is that Coach Polian has been stockpiling talent in Reno. For the most part, the younger talent has been stuck behind more experienced players and should be ready to step in and do the job. However, there are lots of holes to fill and it remains to be seen if there is actually enough talent to fill all of the gaps. Nevada does not have Boise State or Air Force on the schedule and San Diego State and Utah State come to Reno. And those two games are in the middle of November, so by then all of the questions on defense should be answered. As long as the Wolf Pack can beat the teams they should beat in September and October, they will have the opportunity to basically win the West when the Aztecs and Aggies come to town.
Projected Bowl: Arizona Bowl
2015 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 210.6 (25th in nation, 4th in conference)
Passing Offense: 164.5 (113, 9)
Total Offense: 375.2 (86, 8)
Scoring Offense: 26.2 (86, 9)
Rushing Defense: 191.4 (89, 5)
Pass Defense: 214.0 (52, 10)
Total Defense: 405.4 (73, 7)
Scoring Defense: 26.8 (62, 5)
Turnover Margin: 0.69 (15, 2)
Sacks: 1.92 (75, 7)
Sacks Allowed: 1.69 (48, 6)


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