Pack offense looks more like ‘Air Afraid’ |

Pack offense looks more like ‘Air Afraid’

by Joe Santoro
Special to The R-C
Nevada's Asauni Rufus was flagged for targeting and was disqualified from the game in the first half.
Thomas Ranson / Lahontan Valley News |

Jay Norvell promised to usher in a new era of Nevada Wolf Pack football.

We had no idea this is what he meant.

The Wolf Pack are now losing games because of their offense. Imagine that. The earth is now flat, the sun rises in the west and the Chicago Cubs are the defending World Series champs. The Wolf Pack football world as we knew it no longer exists. Who knew that Norvell’s catchy little phrase “Nevada Grit” stood for Get Rid of Important Touchdowns?

“I’m not pleased with the way we look offensively,” Norvell said after Saturday’s 37-24 loss to the Toledo Rockets in the home opener at Mackay Stadium. “Our defense gave us a chance to be in the game.”

The offense is the main reason why Nevada is 0-2 this morning for the first time since 2009. Norvell was hired because of his decades of experience tutoring offensive players in Power Five conferences and the NFL. He then stuck his hand into Division III and plucked out offensive guru Matt Mumme, he of the Air Raid offense high wire act masterminded by his father Hal. Norvell and Mumme then promptly went out and got a quarterback from Alabama.

Well, two weeks into their first season at Nevada, Norvell is still searching for his first victory and any offensive rhythm, continuity, consistency, momentum and production he can find. The quarterback from Alabama, David Cornwell, has yet to get off the sideline and take off his baseball cap. And the Air Raid continues to treat the first down marker as some sort of invisible fence that will shock anyone in silver and blue who dares to cross it.

“We’re not there yet,” said Norvell of his offense.

Norvell, though, likened his offense on Saturday to a gas tank filled with water. It actually more resembles an electric car whose battery can’t hold a charge for more than a mile or two.

“We’re still learning, still getting on the same page,” said Ty Gangi, the quarterback from the Brian Polian era who is running the show.

Polian’s idea of offensive ingenuity was running James Butler to the left instead of to the right. Who knew we would be reminiscing about those glory days so soon? Not even Polian, after all, had to try to win games with an offense as frustrating and self destructive as the one Norvell and Mumme have run out there the first two weeks.

The Wolf Pack offense has been more Air Afraid than Air Raid so far. It has had the ball for all of 40 minutes and 51 seconds in its two games combined. The Pack had the ball for 21:05 at Northwestern in a season-opening 31-20 loss and promised improvement. They then went out on Saturday against Toledo and controlled the ball for all of 19:46.

This Pack offense is simply killing this Pack defense right now. The defense can barely get to the sideline, take off its helmet, wipe its brow of sweat and slurp some water before it has to get back out on the field. By the end of the game you half expect the Pack defense to hobble out on the field with both arms in a sling, its knees bandaged and bloodied and its jersey shredded.

“We will improve,” Norvell said. “Learning a new offense takes time.”

Imagine how the smallest (18,617) crowd for a Wolf Pack home opener since 2010 felt on Saturday. But Wolf Pack fans have clearly taken a wait-and-see approach with the Norvell era. They’ve been promised great things by new regimes in the past, after all, and we all know how that worked out. Polian’s home debut, don’t forget, was greeted by 27,052 fans and that was for a Division I-AA opponent (UC Davis). So Pack fans are waiting for something to really get excited about. And we’re all still waiting for the Air Raid offense to show up.

“I’m disappointed in our offensive execution,” said Norvell, who hinted he might play more than one quarterback this week against Idaho State. “Our receivers got to beat their man and the quarterback has to hit the open guy.”

Make no mistake, Gangi is talented enough to run this offense. He’s a wonderful athlete. Norvell wouldn’t send him out on the field if he wasn’t. He knows what a quarterback should look like.

So what’s the problem? Why is the Wolf Pack offense leaving a ton of yards, first downs and touchdowns on the table each week? Freshman wide receiver McLane Mannix looks like he could run past Usain Bolt. The running game looks solid. The offensive line seems improved. So it might be only a matter of time before it clicks and explodes. This week against Division I-AA Idaho State would be a good place to start.

If not, well, be Air Afraid.

“We just have to be consistent,” Gangi said. “We have a lot to build off of. Now we just have to get rolling.”