Football: Grading the Pack vs. Hawaii |

Football: Grading the Pack vs. Hawaii

by Joe Santoro

Grading the Nevada Wolf Pack football team after a 27-21 loss at Hawaii Saturday night . . .


Every quarterback will have a night he would rather forget before his career ends. For Colin Kaepernick, that night came Saturday night in Honolulu. The senior turned the ball over four times on two fumbles and two interceptions. That is just an inexcusable performance by a senior team leader. Kaepernick had a miserable first half, completing just three of his 11 passes and losing the ball on a fumble and an interception. He was much better in the second half through the air (11-of-15) but he still turned the ball over two more times in crucial situations. He allowed Hawaii linebacker Corey Paredes to knock the ball out of his hands as he approached the goal line and he was picked off in the end zone on a play where he just should have thrown the ball into the ocean. Those are plays a senior quarterback just should not make. Not all of Kaepernick’s struggles were his fault — he was under constant pressure. But this was just a night where little went right for the Pack QB. He also couldn’t salvage his night with his legs, gaining just 30 yards on 11 carries. Kaepernick has now been intercepted in four consecutive games. The bye week is coming at just the right time for him.


Vai Taua did pick up 91 yards but it took him 24 carries. He is usually pushing 150 yards when he gets that many touches. Like Kaepernick, Taua’s struggles were not totally his fault. There just never seemed to be a lot of running room. Taua would get beyond the first wave of Hawaii defenders and then the second wave would close in on him. Hawaii did as good a job on the Pack running game as any team has done the last two years. Mike Ball and Taua did haul in Kaepernick’s two TD passes.


Pack head coach Chris Ault told the television audience at halftime that his offensive line just wasn’t doing its job well. They played much better in the second half but, for the most part, Kaepernick was never allowed to get comfortable in the pocket and Taua had to scratch and claw for every inch on the ground. The Pack offensive line had its hands full with the Hawaii front seven all night long and Hawaii was simply more aggressive. The Pack offense was never allowed to dictate the tempo of the game. The Pack ran for just 134 yards, nearly 200 under its per-game average. Kaepernick was sacked just once but he was hurried seemingly a half dozen other times. Hawaii also beat the Pack offense to the edge on a consistent basis, keeping Kaepernick bottled up.


Brandon Wimberly did catch four passes but, once again, the wide receivers were kept out of the end zone. They haven’t caught a TD pass since Week 3 against Cal. Tight end Virgil Green also continues to be a forgotten element in this offense. He caught just two passes against Hawaii for 11 yards. The Pack passing game never really found any rhythm until the final minutes of the game. The Pack passing game has stagnated in recent weeks. The wide receivers and tight ends are not making big plays.


Dontay Moch is simply destroying opponents. The senior had two sacks and three tackles for a loss and made life miserable for Hawaii quarterback Bryant Moniz all game long. Brett Roy also had a solid game with six tackles, a sack and two tackles for a loss and Zack Madonick had a sack and broke up a pass. This unit seems to be getting better and better each week.


This was always going to be a tough game for the Pack linebackers with the way Hawaii’s spread offense stretches defenses from Hilo to Kauai. Brandon Marshall had a strong night with eight tackles and he also recovered a fumble. James-Michael Johnson had four tackles and forced a fumble. There were some moments when the Pack linebackers simply vanished, like when Moniz took off on a 14-yard run early in the fourth quarter. But those moments were the result of following Hawaii receivers all over the field.


OK, the numbers don’t look great. Hawaii did complete 26 passes for 287 yards and three touchdowns. But we’re talking about an offense that can complete passes in its sleep. Greg Salas caught 11 passes for 153 yards but the Pack did keep him out of the end zone. Kealoha Pilares caught two TD passes and one of those featured a couple of badly missed tackles by the Pack secondary. An interception one one of Moniz’s 36 passes would have been nice to change the momentum. And the secondary only knocked down one of Moniz’s three dozen passes (by Isaiah Frey). But interceptions and broken up passes are hard to come by against Hawaii since the Warriors throw almost all their passes within a yard or two of the line of scrimmage.


Two of the Pack’s three touchdowns were set up by outstanding returns by Rishard Matthews (44 yards on a punt return) and Mike Ball (an 84-yard kickoff return). Those two returns allowed the Pack to stay in the game and have a legitimate chance to win in the final minutes. The special teams also recovered an on-side kick with three minutes to play. There was a questionable pooch kick by Ricky Drake on a kickoff after the Pack pulled to within 20-14 over nine minutes to play (giving Hawaii excellent field position) but other than that the special teams did all they could to win the game.


If someone would have told you last week that the Wolf Pack would hold Hawaii to 27 points and less than 300 yards passing on Saturday, you would have thought the Pack would be 7-0 this morning. The defense had a nice, conservative game plan against Hawaii. They could have done a better job on the Hawaii running game but with Hawaii you have to pick your poison. It was obvious that Ault wasn’t happy with his offensive line at halftime and you could see that they clearly came out of the locker room in the second half with a bit more passion. Kaepernick also seemed to calm down in the passing game in the second half. Strategy didn’t lose this game. Four turnovers lost this game.