Monday fast forward: Nevada
This is the second installment of a series of weekly previews I'll be doing this summer on the Washington State football team's 2014 opponents.
Our Nevada preview is after the jump.
The Wolf Pack find themselves in much the same place the Cougars were last season. Nevada is also in the entering a new coach's second season, and like Mike Leach's three-win debut in 2012, Brian Polian did not set the world on fire in his first year, winning just four games. A win at home over Washington State could critical for this year's team if the Wolf Pack is going is going to make the same performance jump to a bowl game that the Cougars did in Leach's second season.
Last season Nevada was bad at offense and worse at defense, ranking No. 119 among FBS teams in total defense. If there is anything that should give fans pause when looking at those numbers it is the fact that the pass defense was a little better against the pass than the run, but WSU's Air Raid should still have no trouble putting points on the board.
Because of depth issues, Nevada's defense also became demonstrably worse as the game went on, performing poorly in the first half and terribly in the second. SB Nation's Bill Connelly does a nice job breaking down why, here.
Those depth issues should be a little better this season, and the Wolf Pack return nine starters on offense and 10 on defense.
Players to Watch:
— Cody Fajardo, QB, 6-2, 215: The Wolf Pack might not have been good last year but they were at least exciting, thanks to quarterback Cody Fajardo. Nobody is going to mistake the senior QB for Colin Kaepernick this season, but Fajardo is a true threat to pass and run, much like Nevada alum. Polian keeps passes short on offense and Fajardo only averaged 7.5 yards per attempt. However, he is safe with the ball, completing 67.9 percent of his passes and throwing 13 touchdowns against just three interceptions. As a runner Fajardo averaged 4.4 yards per carry on his way to 621 yards and eight touchdowns. Those numbers were down significantly from his time running Chris Ault's Pistol offense in 2012, when the QB ran for 1,121 yards and 12 touchdowns while averaging 5.9 yards per carry.
— Brock Hekking, DE, 6-4, 255: Brian Bosworth fans will love Hekking and his bleached blonde Mohawk, but WSU quarterback Connor Halliday won't. Hekking is undoubtedly the best play on the Nevada defense and had nine sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss last season. He was also named the national Defensive Player of the Week after forcing two fumbles, intercepting a pass, breaking up two passes and recording three sacks against Hawaii.
— Wide Receiver: No. 1 wide receiver Brandon Wimberly is gone and it's not immediately apparent who will replace him. Hasaan Henderson played well at the end of the season, but averaged just 11.2 yards per catch and nobody showed much big play potential.
— Punter: The Wolf Pack must replace Chase Tenpenny, who averaged nearly 45 yards per punt last season. Nevada's struggles on defense were mitigated slightly by the good field position Tenpenny gave the team and the defense should expect to have around five fewer yards per possession to work with this season.
— Run Defense: Nevada has a small defensive line that got pushed around last season, making for one of the worst run defenses in the country. Only New Mexico State gave up more than Nevada's 258.5 yards per game on the ground.