RENO, Nev. – Listening to Eastern Washington University’s football coaches, it becomes difficult to determine what concerns them most about Thursday’s season opener against the University of Nevada – what they don’t know about the Wolf Pack, or what they do know.
What the Eagles don’t know is what to expect, scheme-wise, from a Nevada defense that is being coordinated for the first time by Andy Buh, who spent the last two seasons as the co-defensive coordinator at Stanford.
That, in itself, can be a bit disconcerting, according to EWU’s head coach Beau Baldwin.
But what the Eagles do know is just how well Nevada executes its innovative “Pistol” offense, which features a unique blend of the old veer option and spread offenses.
And that can be downright unnerving.
“It’s interesting, because, offensively, we have a good idea that they’re going to keep doing what they’ve been doing, which is run the football amazingly well,” Baldwin said of the Wolf Pack, which finished 8-5 overall and 7-1 in the Western Athletic Conference last fall, earning a trip to the Hawaii Bowl, where they were drilled 45-10 by Southern Methodist University.
“But defensively, they’re a little bit of a mystery, because they have a new defensive coordinator. We’ve been looking more at their personnel, trying to get an idea of who can run, who can tackle and who can cover rather that the schemes they used before.”
Nevada, in its 26th season under head coach Chris Ault, led the Football Bowl Subdivision in rushing last year, averaging 344.9 yards per game. Three different players gained more than 1,000 yards, and two of them – senior quarterback Colin Kaepernick and senior running back Vai Taua are back.
“Stopping them is going to be a huge challenge,” admitted Baldwin, who also noted the 6-foot-6, 225-pound Kaepernick throws the football almost as well as he runs with it, as evidenced by his 2009 completion percentage of 58.9, which accounted for 2,052 yards and 20 touchdowns.
John Graham, Eastern’s defensive coordinator, is most impressed with Kaepernick’s ability to step away from tackles.
“We’ve watched seven, eight, maybe nine games (of Nevada on film), and the guy never gets tackled hard,” Graham explained. “As much as he runs it, you’d think somebody would eventually get a clean shot at him, but that hasn’t been the case in the film we’ve watched.”
Eastern, which is coming off an 8-4 season that included a 6-2 record in the Big Sky Conference and a berth in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs, will be breaking in a new starting quarterback for the first time in four seasons.
Junior Bo Levi Mitchell, a first-year transfer from SMU, earned the spot vacated last spring by Matt Nichols, and will be leading an Eagles offense that lost five starters from last year. Still both he and Baldwin seem confident the depth on this year’s team – especially in the offensive line – will help keep the offense in high gear.
Mitchell, a 6-2, 210-pounder, was a backup quarterback on the SMU team that demolished Nevada in the Hawaii Bowl.
“But I know their defense is going to be different from the one we prepared for, because of the new coordinator,” Mitchell said. “Honestly, it’s not going to be as much about knowing what they’re game planning against us as it is about us just coming out, being efficient and executing our offense.”