Football: Grading the Pack vs. San Jose State |

Football: Grading the Pack vs. San Jose State

by Joe Santoro

Grading the Nevada Wolf Pack football team after a 35-13 victory over the San Jose State Spartans . . .


Colin Kaepernick didn’t play a perfect game — he was intercepted for the third consecutive game after not getting picked off at all in his first three games — but this was his best overall game in three weeks. Kaepernick threw for 273 yards, his most against a Division I-A opponent since he passed for 370 against Maryland on Dec. 30, 2008. The senior completed 20-of-27 passes and gained an average of 9.8 yards on every attempt. And, of course, he ran the ball well, picking up 91 yards on 17 carries and scoring two touchdowns. He simply plays at an All-Conference level each and every game.


Make no mistake, Vai Taua is one of the best running backs in Wolf Pack history. The senior was the difference between the Wolf Pack and Spartans, rushing for 196 yards and three touchdowns. His 73-yard touchdown run (a week after he had a 72-yarder against UNLV) broke the game open in the third quarter. And his 4-yard score secured the victory in the fourth quarter. Lampford Mark, Mike Ball and Courtney Randall also continued to run well when Taua needed a breather, picking up 19 yards on five carries combined. All three of them could step in and perform extremely well in a starting role should the need ever arise.


The offensive line allowed Kaepernick to get sacked twice, which is exactly the total number of sacks they allowed over the first five games. But that was the result of Kaepernick looking to throw more in this game. The offensive line, though, paved the way for 367 rushing yards (9.0 per carry) and five touchdowns on the ground. This offensive line smells the end zone as well as any running back in the nation. The Pack can score on the ground from anywhere on the field as that is due to this offensive line — and Taua’s ability to hit a hole.


They didn’t get in the end zone but this group made play after play all night long against the Spartans. Rishard Matthews hauled in four passes and Brandon Wimberly, Chris Wellington and Virgil Green each had three. Tray Session added a pair of receptions. The Pack had 13 first downs through the air, its most since it also had 13 in Week 2 against Colorado State. Wimberly (25 yards) and Malcolm Shepherd (14 yards) also had nice runs on end-around plays.


Dontay Moch had another outstanding game with nine tackles, five for a loss. And Ryan Coulson had five tackles, one for a loss. Zack Madonick recovered a fumble but also was called for roughing the passer. San Jose State tossed 37 passes without getting sacked and ran for 4.9 yards a carry on 36 rushing attempts.


Brandon Marshall had an interception but just two tackles. Kevin Grimes had seven tackles and James-Michael Johnson had six. San Jose State, though, ran well all night (178 yards on the ground). Other than Marshall’s interception in the fourth quarter, the linebackers were almost invisible in this game.


Duke Williams had an up and down night (he was benched for a few plays). But when he was good, he was very, very good. The safety came up with the defensive play of the game, picking off a Spartan pass on the opening drive of the third quarter to preserve a 21-13 lead. Williams also had eight tackles and forced a fumble. Marlon Johnson had five tackles and Isaiah Frey broke up three passes and had four tackles. San Jose completed less than 50% of its passes (16-of-37) and six of their completions went for five yards or less.


The Wolf Pack just didn’t seem to play with any real emotion. This type of game, against a motivated opponent that would like nothing better than to knock off the nationally-ranked Wolf Pack, is the coaching staff’s biggest challenge over the next five weeks. Another challenge is getting this team emotionally charged to play someone it destroyed (the Pack won at San Jose 62-7 in 2009) a year ago. The defense also never really seemed to get a handle on what San Jose State was doing. And, don’t forget, San Jose State came into the game with the worst offense in the country. The Pack seemed to be on their heels all night on defense when it should have devoursed this struggling offense. Brandon Wimberly tossing a goofy pass in the first quarter from the San Jose State 18-yard line also didn’t make any sense. It was just a bad call, now only because it was intercepted but because it was not the right time for such a frivolous call. The game was tied 7-7 early in the first quarter. The Pack was moving the ball at will. That was the time for a couple Taua runs and a touchdown and a 14-7 lead. It was not the time to pull a trick out of the bag. The turnover gave San Jose confidence and was a big reason why the game was close (21-13) at halftime. Also, if you think Wimberly can actually throw a pass (the jury is still out on that one) then why put the play on tape for more serious opponents (like Boise State) to study? Why waste it in a game like this? The Pack, though, seemed intent on filling up the game film with all sorts of gadgets (Wimberly and Shepherd’s runs) for the rest of their WAC opponents to study. Those fancy plays, coupled with Kaepernick tossing 27 passes, (his most since Week 2) seemed to take the Pack out of its familiar, smooth, efficient run-run-pass-run-run mentality we’ve come to know and love.