Editor's Note: This is the ninth and final story previewing football teams in the Western Athletic Conference. Today, the Appeal takes a look at the University of Nevada.
By DARRELL MOODY
Appeal Sports Writer
When Nevada coach Chris Ault greets his team today for the first official practice, he wants to wipe out the 2004 season.
The Pack compiled a disappointing 5-7 record last season, and Ault admits it was a humbling experience for him personally.
"You learn more through your failures than your success," Ault said at the recent WAC Media Day in Reno. "Last year was very humbling and disappointing.
"We eliminated 17 scholarship (players) last year for various reasons. Some couldn't play at this level. It caused us problems with depth. We ended up playing walk-ons. We're 60 percent freshmen and sophomores this year."
And, that young team faces a difficult nonconference schedule starting with home games against Washington State and UNLV plus a road contest at Colorado State. Throw in conference games against Boise State (road), Fresno State (home) and Hawai'i (home), and you have a pretty tough season ahead.
"This is a great schedule," Ault said. "We open at home on ESPN against Washington State. That game will set the tone. It's a tough, competitive schedule, and I'm excited about it."
The 2004 season was also a humbling one for the Wolf Pack defense, which gave up 209 yards a game on the ground and 34.4 points per game. That type of effort won't win many games, however.
"We were 108th in the nation versus the run," Ault said. "That's how bad a defense we were. When we recruited, we made defense a top priority. We created a different scheme. We'll use a combination of a three-man front and four-man front. We are going to be more aggressive.
"Our team speed was non-existent. We couldn't run. We're vastly improved team-wise in that area."
And, Ault recently announced coaching changes that he hopes will make Nevada a better team.
The biggest move entailed wide receiver coach Kim McCloud moving over to defense and coaching the cornerbacks. Tim DeRuyter, co-defensive coordinator, will work with the safeties and call the defense along with Barry Sacks, who coaches the defensive ends and outside linebackers. Ken Wilson, assistant head coach, returns to work with the middle linebackers. Marty Long works with the defensive tackles.
"We will have five defensive coaches on the field," Ault said. "We want the players to see that where the emphasis is being placed. Defense is where you win championships."
Another big change on defense was moving former defensive end J.J. Milan (6-5, 265) to SAM linebacker. Ault said he is expecting big things from Milan, who had 49 tackles and 4.5 sacks last year. Ezra Butler (6-2, 255) and true freshman Josh Mauga (6-4, 230) of Fallon will push for playing time.
"Butler had to play tackle last year (because of injuries)," Ault said. "Josh Magua is as good as any linebacker to come out of this state. I expect him to compete for playing time."
At the other outside linebacking spot is JC transfer Selevasio Fauolo (6-3, 220) from Fresno Community College. Redshirt sophomore John Simpson (6-2, 220) and Uche Anyanwu (6-4, 215), a redshirt freshman, back up Fauolo.
Wilson said that if the Pack is in a four-man front that either Milan or Fauolo could line up as a pass-rush defensive end. Wilson said Milan's strength is rushing the passer, and that Milan will be used kind of like the 49ers used Charles Haley.
Sophomore Jeremy Engstrom (6-1, 235) enters fall camp as the top MIKE linebacker. Engstrom was second team all-WAC and led the team with 97 tackles. He'll get tough competition from JC transfer Jason DeMars and three-year letterman Jamaal Jackson, who had 45 stops.
Roosevelt Cooks (5-10, 220) is listed as the top WOLF linebacker. Cooks had 37 tackles and started four games last year. Junior Scott Garrison (5-11, 230) had 31 stops a year ago.
Wilson said that the inside linebackers are interchangeable.
Starting cornerbacks Paul Pratt (5-10, 185) and Kevin Stanley (6-0, 175) return. Pratt finished with 42 tackles and three pass deflections, and Stanley had 37 tackles and four interceptions. Joe Garcia (6-0, 182), a JC transfer, true freshman Kenny Viser (6-0, 185) from Bishop Manogue and Shannon Sevor (5-10, 195), who had 22 tackles, will battle for back-up spots.
Nick Hawthrone (6-0, 200) returns at strong safety. He intercepted five passes and racked up 57 tackles last year. Roderick Stallings (5-10, 195) takes over for Keone Kauo. Stallings had 52 tackles and six deflections last year, and is more athletic than Kauo. True freshman Mike Samples (6-0, 195), Zach Walker (5-11, 185) and Luke Lippoincott (6-2, 215) add depth.
Charles Wilson (6-5, 275) and Craig Bailey (6-4, 270) are the frontrunners at defensive end. Bailey had 38 tackles and three sacks in 11 games, while Wilson, who broke his foot and played in eight games, finished with 42 tackles, five sacks and two fumble recoveries.
"He (Wilson) was probably our most consistent lineman last year," Ault said. "He's gained more strength in the weightroom and turned into a football player. Craig needs to play up."
Undersized Matt Hines (6-1, 285), JC transfer Charles Manu (6-3, 300) and Matt Swan (6-4, 255) are the top contenders for the nose tackle spot.
There are scheme changes on offense, too. Ault instituted "The Pistol," a hybrid of the shotgun. It's designed to expand the rushing game and open up the passing game even more.
"I was disappointed with our rushing game last year," Ault said. "We were not a good running team; we weren't consistent.
"The quarterback won't be as deep (in this new set). We still have the ability to have the back line up behind the quarterback. I want to run out of the I-formation. We can run North-South. You have to run downhill to win."
Jeff Rowe is back for his third straight year as a starter. He threw for 2,633 yards and 15 scores last year. He also ran for 129 yards and three scores. He's backed up by Travis Moore, who passed for 481 yards and three scores. Freshmen Ben Galbraith and Nick Graziani will fight for the No. 3 spot.
"I'm proud of Jeff," Ault said. "He's stepped up and taken a leadership role. He's stronger. He's a terrific athlete."
B.J. Mitchell (5-8, 205), who gained 450 yards and scored seven times, returns at running back. He will be pushed by redshirt junior Robert Hubbard (5-10, 195). Redshirt freshman Tommy Haug (5-11, 200) and Kyle Eklund (5-8, 190) also are in the mix for some playing time. Ault believes that he'll need at least three players at this spot throughout the season.
Rowe's favorite target is the dangerous Nichiren Flowers, who was an all-WAC selection last year. Flowers caught 91 passes for 1,126 yards and six scores. Also back are Caleb Spencer (67-761-4), Trevor Brackett (13-191-0) and Alex Rosenbloom 10-125-0). Redshirt freshman Mike McCoy and JC transfer Kyle Sammons will battle for a starting spot in the three receiver set. Ex-Douglas star Andy McIntosh is listed on the three-deep rotation as the X receiver.
"We'll be more experienced here, so I expect this group to make plays," Ault said. "Last year Nichiren didn't expect anything out of himself. He's gotten better and better. Spencer was a converted quarterback. He'll be a fine receiver. Sammons is very strong, physical. McCoy has great hands. We talked many times about playing him last year, but we didn't want to burn that redshirt year."
Anthony Pudewell (6-3, 240), who caught 13 passes for 156 yards, and Adam Bishop (6-4, 240), who had just two catches last year, are battling for playing time at tight end.
The offensive line has undergone a little transformation. Two starters are back - strong tackle Adam Kiefer (6-4, 300) and center Jimmy Wadhams (6-3, 285), who started eight games . Barrett Reznick (6-1, 280), who started one game at guard last year, will be at strong guard.
The two new faces are redshirt freshman Dominic Green (6-3, 285), who will enter camp as the starting weak guard, and Tony Moll (6-4, 285) has moved from tight end to weak tackle.
Center Kyle Gosselin (6-2, 275), tackle Adam Garcia (6-4, 300), JC transfer Fred White, a guard, and JC transfer Reid Jacobs, provide reserve help.
"He (Wadhams) did a great job for us last year," Ault said, "Kiefer had a tremendous spring. Moll is a guy we should have moved two years ago. He had a great spring at tackle. Garcia is in his fourth year here and needs to step up. We like Green a lot, and we almost used him last year. I'm glad we didn't."
The place-kicking is suspect. Damon Fine is graduated, and Brett Jaekle, who was expected to inherit the job, got mono and missed the entire spring except for one day. Punter Justin Bergendahl, who averaged 39.1 last year, could also place kick if Jaekle fails.
Darrell Moody can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by calling (775) 881-1281