The Star-Tribune is taking an early look at each of Wyoming’s opponents in the order they appear on the Cowboys’ 2019 schedule. Next up is Nevada.
LARAMIE — The men’s basketball team has been all the rage in Reno the last few years, but Nevada is starting to make some noise on the football field as well.
Last season was evidence of that. Nevada had its best showing under second-year coach Jay Norvell, capping an eight-win season with an Arizona Bowl win over Arkansas State. It marked the most wins for the program since the Colin Kaepernick-led Wolf Pack racked up 13 wins in 2010 while their 5-3 record in Mountain West play was their first winning mark in league play since 2011.
Wyoming finds itself back on Nevada’s schedule this year as a result of the MW’s rotating slate. The teams will square off the first time since 2016 when Nevada visits War Memorial Stadium on Oct. 26.
Nevada had one of the league’s better offenses last season, ranking in the top 5 in yards, points and passing yards. It was spearheaded by quarterback Ty Gangi, who threw for more than 3,300 yards and 24 touchdowns.
But Gangi is out of eligibility, leaving a quarterback competition that’s high on numbers and intrigue.
It seemed to be a two-man race heading into the spring between senior Cristian Solano, who played in 11 games last season as Gangi’s backup, and redshirt freshman Carson Strong. But that dynamic changed when Nevada brought in former Florida State quarterback Malik Henry as a walk-on.
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A top-50 recruit coming out of high school, Henry spent the last two seasons at Independence Community College. His time at the Kansas junior college was chronicled in the Netflix series Last Chance U, but Henry played in just two games for the Pirates last season before joining the Wolf Pack’s program.
But the 6-foot-3, 190-pounder put himself squarely in the running for the starting job with a strong spring, one he capped by going 16 of 28 passing for 211 yards and a touchdown in Nevada’s spring game. Norvell didn’t name a starter coming out of spring and will continue to let the competition play out in fall camp.
Receiver Kaleb Fossum is back for his senior season after catching a team-high 70 passes last season.
The one area where Nevada’s offense could use some shoring up is a running game that produced just 152 yards per game last season, but the Wolf Pack return their top three rushers. Toa Taua is back as the team’s primary ball carrier after rushing for 872 yards and six touchdowns last season while Devonte Lee led the team with seven rushing touchdowns. Kelton Moore is also back after averaging 4.8 yards per carry a season ago.
Nevada’s defense is losing four of its top six tacklers, though the Wolf Pack have their top tackler back in Gabe Sewell (90 tackles, 3 sacks). He’s part of a linebacker corps that may be the strength of the unit with Lucas Weber also returning. The senior notched 10.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks a season ago.
The Wolf Pack will have to find a way to replace sack leader Malik Reed off the edge, but they still have some experienced pieces back to help them as they chase back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since the 2014-15 seasons.