Nevada is midway through an offseason of uncertainty.
Even parts of the program that should be considered solid -- a high-powered offense, a Hall of Fame coach -- carry question marks. And then there is the revamped defense, which has been a perpetual question mark for going on several years.
Coach Chris Ault is in the Hall of Fame and he invented the "Pistol" offense, which has turned the Wolf Pack into an offensive juggernaut in recent years. But that hasn't spared him from angry fans, mad about the Wolf Pack's propensity to disappear in big games. Nevada athletic director Cary Groth put forth her expectations for the program after last season, expectations that do not include late-season flameouts.
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick remains one of the most dynamic talents in the game, especially with his running ability. In order for Nevada to win some big games, however, he will have to throw the ball better. A 4-fot-16 performance in the spring game has raised old concerns about his ability to get it done through the air.
The biggest worry is with the defense -- a perpetual question mark for going on several years.
Ault brought in former Nevada player and Stanford co-defensive coordinator Andy Buh to revamp the defense. Buh's efforts appeared to pay off with a solid spring from the defense. Buh is trying to incorporate several junior college transfers and holdovers into a more aggressive scheme.
Nevada has reached five consecutive bowl games, a school record. This team should make it six in a row.NOTES, QUOTES
--The Wolf Pack must contend with a difficult nonconference schedule and a tough road stretch in the middle of the season. Nevada opens with Eastern Washington, then hosts Colorado State and California. They complete the nonconference slate with road games at BYU and rival UNLV. Those games begin a stretch of five road games in seven games, including trips to Honolulu, Moscow, Idaho and Fresno.
--Nevada coaches and players shaved their heads during the middle of spring practice to raise money for cancer research. Five coaches and at least eight players took part in the event around St. Patrick's Day. Nevada raised more than $1,000 during the event.
S Corbin Louks -- The former Utah quarterback is expected to be in the starting lineup at safety. Louks had an interception in the spring game.
WR Rishard Matthews -- The junior transfer from Bakersfield College showed why the Wolf Pack is expecting big things from him. At 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds, Matthews had a team-high five catches for 87 yards continuing a strong spring showing.
LB DeAndre Boughton -- A transfer from Fresno City College, Boughton opened some eyes with his strong play throughout spring. He picked up the scheme quickly.
DT Ben Hughes -- A junior transfer from Shasta College, the 6-foo, 280-pounder from Grants Pass, Ore., had 2.5 sacks in the spring game, part of a strong performance by the rebuilt Nevada defense. Hughes signed in recent weeks with the Wolf Pack.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I really like what I see out of the defense. It's enjoyable when you put up 50 points, 40 points and know you're going to win. Sometimes last year we were crossing our fingers and hoping we were going to win." -- Senior offensive guard John Bender told the Reno Gazette Journal after spring practice.STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
2010 OUTLOOK: Nevada is once again expected to be a bowl team and, potentially, challenge Boise State atop the Western Athletic Conference. But this Wolf Pack team knows it must play better in big games for that to happen.
The Wolf Pack opened the 2009 season 0-3 in nonconference games and finished with losses to Boise State and a blowout bowl game. That made everyone forget about the eight-game winning streak in the middle of the season. In order to be better, the Wolf Pack needs it defense to be a whole lot better. Coach Chris Ault turned to former player and Stanford co-defensive coordinator Andy Buh to turn things around on that side of the ball. The defense played well in the spring game, a hopeful sign entering summer.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Expect the offense to lead the way once again. The running game should be as powerful as ever with quarterback Colin Kaepernick and tailback Vai Taua returning. Each rushed for more than 1,000 yards last season as Nevada ranked No. 1 in rushing offense at 344.9 yards per game. Mike Ball should get time as the No. 2 back. He had just 23 carries last season, but he did have five touchdowns in one game with Taua injured. Kaepernick struggled throwing the ball in the spring game, completing 4-of-16 passes. Improvement in the pass game is necessary to get Nevada over the hump in big games.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Nevada alum Andy Buh was brought in to rebuild the Wolf Pack's terrible defense. The former co-defensive coordinator at Stanford inherited a defense ranked 96th in total defense and 119th in pass defense. Buh did not change the 4-3 structure of the defense, but did alter the scheme. With so much pressure on the defense to improve, there was a sigh of relief after the spring game, which featured five interceptions, six pass break-ups, three forced fumbles and five sacks.
SCOUTING THE SPECIAL TEAMS: There has been a lot of emphasis placed on special teams at Nevada in recent years. The Wolf Pack responded with a credible season last year. Kicker Ricky Drake made 6-of-9 field goal attempts last year, including his last five. But Drake did not make or attempt a field goal longer than 40 yards. Drake had 20 touchbacks on 81 kickoffs. Mike Ball is back as the kickoff returner after averaging 24.8 yards per return.
RB Kenny Turner -- It's possible there has never been a newcomer at NMSU with the same hype surrounding Turner. While it seemed the one spot on the entire field NMSU needed the least help was at running back, when a school like NMSU has a shot at landing a player like Turner, what do you expect?
RB Marquese Dunn -- The 6-2, 220-pounder was a gray-shirt from the 2009 signing class who didn't get a scholarship and enroll at the school until January of 2010. Dunn is a player Walker said he was expecting to see on the field immediately next season, but that was before the signing of junior college All-American Kenny Turner.
DT David Mahoney -- Another junior college transfer, Mahoney is the expected anchor of Walker's defensive front. With all the talk of running backs, fans can't forget Walker is a defense-first guy who has built some strong defenses through the years. At 6-3, 300-pounds, Mahoney is someone Walker sees as a potential all-WAC player.
--TE Eric Stewart was a late addition to the Nevada recruiting class, signing in recent weeks.
--TE Zack Sudfeld (hamstring) missed the spring game.
--LB Albert Rosette (shoulder) was injured during the spring game. Rosette was among the top performers throughout spring.
--LB Brandon Marshall (foot) missed much of spring practice.
--OT Mike Gallett, who was suspended for much of the 2010 season after violating team rules, will not return to the team.
--QB David Fales has transferred from the program. Fales redshirted last year.
Previous Report: 03/25/2010