It wasn’t pretty, but the Nevada defense came through.
The Wolf Pack unit was dialed in and held Washington State to 13 points in a confidence-building 24-13 win last week.
It’s the kind of performance Nevada has been in search of for years. Now, consistency must be the focus, especially if the Wolf Pack wants to play for a Mountain West championship.
The secondary was impressive, although on paper it wouldn’t seem so. Nevada surrendered 389 yards through the air, but rarely allowed a big play.
In fact, the Cougars’ longest pass play was 24 yards, which came in the final seconds of the game. In addition, the Pack also picked off Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday twice.
The effort will be needed as Nevada takes the field Saturday against a powerful Arizona offense. However, what wasn’t tested was the Pack’s run defense. The Cougars only ran the ball 18 times for 69 yards. Arizona will surely run more and has the two-headed monster of former Bishop Gorman quarterback Anu Solomon and running back Nick Wilson, who has tallied 278 yards in two games.
The Wildcats are 11th in the country in rushing averaging 264.9 yards per game and their offense is ranked 31st.
Although Nevada’s pass defense is ranked 81st, it’s a deceiving stat. They gave up big numbers due to Washington State’s unrelenting passing philosophy. Nevertheless, the Pack cannot take Arizona’s sophomore quarterback lightly.
Solomon broke out against UNLV with 425 passing yards, but struggled against Texas-San Antonio. He is also a threat to run with 61 yards on 16 carries.
Nevada, however, will be prepared for Arizona’s spread attack, but must execute if the game is to be close.
Pack defensive lineman Brock Hekking said after Friday’s win the defense is a cohesive unit and all are playing on the same page. Running back Don Jackson said it was the best performance by a defense he has played with.
As good as they were against Washington State, the Nevada defense must be better against Arizona. Should the Pack pull off another stout defensive performance, the offense must become more potent, especially with the Mountain West slate on the horizon.
Quarterback Cody Fajardo looked healthy and fast against the Cougars. Any injury to Fajardo will be devastating to Nevada’s chances of winning the West division.
He led the Pack with 107 yards rushing, but must be more consistent in the passing game.
The team, however, is full of confidence and swagger. A big-time game against another Pac-12 opponent is waiting and a win will have the Pack as the favorites to win the conference.
Boise State, Colorado State, San Diego State and Fresno State will have their say, but the Pack gets all of them at home.
If nothing else, Nevada must stay close with Arizona. Even a close loss wouldn’t shake their confidence knowing they can hang with a second straight Power 5 foe and challenge for the Mountain West crown.
Steve Puterski is the sports editor for the Lahontan Valley News and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org