Football: Nevada runs past Eastern Washington in opener
Chris Ault is going to be difficult to please this season.
“I’ll tell you what, I’m concerned about our defense,” said Ault after his Nevada Wolf Pack opened the season with a convincing 49-24 victory over the Eastern Washington Eagles Thursday night at Mackay Stadium. “I made that perfectly clear in (the post-game locker room).”
Ault thought he made it clear ever since last season ended with a 45-10 loss to SMU in the Hawaii Bowl on Christmas Eve. But the Pack defense, which allowed three touchdowns and 432 total yards to the Division I-AA Eagles of the Big Sky Conference, obviously wasn’t listening.
“It’s no secret,” Ault said. “We’re not a great defense. We’re going to give up some yards and some plays. But the thing I’m disappointed in is our effort and our tackling. Those are just fundamental things that I didn’t think we’d have to worry about.”
Consider the Pack coach worried just one game into the season.
“I agree with him,” defensive end Ryan Coulson said. “We didn’t play to our ability. We just were a little lackluster and made a few mistakes.”
Everything – lack of intensity, emotion and leadership — that concerned Ault about the Pack defense a year ago returned to Mackay Stadium on Thursday night.
“Our tackling was just very poor,” Ault said. “Our effort was sub-par, without question. I’m disappointed. I really am.”
The Wolf Pack jumped out to a 14-0 lead midway through the first quarter as quarterback Colin Kaepernick and tailback Vai Taua each scored on 1-yard runs.
“Overall, I think we did a pretty good job,” said Kaepernick, who passed for 306 yards (26-of-37 passing) and two touchdowns and ran for 60 yards and two more scores. “But there were definitely times when we were not on point, when we were not as crisp as we would like to be.”
The Pack took a 28-10 lead into the halftime locker room as Kaepernick added a 5-yard touchdown run and a 48-yard touchdown pass to tight end Virgil Green.
The quarterback and tight end would hook up for another score from 40 yards out just three minutes into the second half for a 35-10 Pack lead.
“We knew we could throw the ball tonight,” said Green, who finished with seven catches for 144 yards and two touchdowns.
Vai Taua (51 yards on 12 carries) scored his second touchdown of the game (3 yards out) and Mark Lampford came off the bench to add a 1-yard TD run as the Pack scored twice in the fourth quarter to secure the season-opening victory.
The Eagles never really slowed down the Pack offense.
“There were a few series when we stopped ourselves,” Green said.
The Pack, though, piled up 553 total yards of offense. Kaepernick and backup Tyler Lantrip (1-for-1) combined to complete 27-of-38 passes without an interception and the offensive line did not allow a single sack.
“The offense did some nice things,” Ault said. “Kap played pretty good. He had a chance to throw some better balls but he’ll get there.”
But this night, at least according to their head coach, was not really about the offense.
Eastern Washington scored on an 82-yard screen pass from quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell to running back Taiwan Jones in the first quarter. The Eagles then made the Pack a little uncomfortable, cutting the Nevada lead to 35-24 heading into the fourth quarter.
Mitchell connected with Brandon Kaufman on a 5-yard TD pass and Darriell Beaumonte scored on a 1-yard run.
The Pack defense, though, did come up with a crucial game-saving play in the fourth quarter. Cornerback Doyle Miller forced a fumble by Eagles’ wide receiver Nicolas Edwards and Pack linebacker Brandon Marshall returned it to the Eagles’ 20-yard line.
Taua scored his second touchdown of the game just three plays later for a 42-24 Pack lead with just over nine minutes to play.
“If there was a play of the game, that was it,” said Ault of Marshall’s fumble recovery.
Ault, though, wasn’t going to let one fumble recovery alter his postgame message.
“I didn’t expect us to not be able to tackle,” Ault said. “You expect to struggle a little on defense in your first game but the fundamental stuff, that should be there. For us to be a championship level team, we have to get better at those things.”