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Sunday, April 20, 2014         

FERD'S WORDS


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There's a 'D' in Nevada, and we're finally seeing it

By Ferd Lewis

POSTED:



With all due respect and for all the wide acclaim accorded the University of Nevada football team's prolific offense, so far the real stunner from the Wolf Pack this year is their defense.

This just in: The Wolf Pack are rumored to have one.

News, indeed, for anyone who glimpsed the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl 10 months ago in which June Jones and Southern Methodist inflicted a a 45-10 scalding.

Eye-opening, too, for anybody who witnessed much of Nevada's play the past decade.

But as the unbeaten and 19th-ranked Wolf Pack (6-0) return to Aloha Stadium tonight for a Western Athletic Conference showdown with Hawaii, the nation's top passing team, reports have been filtering in that Nevada has embraced the concept of defense.

Not as a full partner, perhaps, but at least as a grudging necessity, which is a remarkable turn of events for head coach Chris Ault.

For most of his three terms over a quarter-century, the man they call the "Little General" has been of the steadfast belief that the defense was there to allow his high-powered offenses a water break and patrons time to hit the concession stands.

His game plan was built on flat out-scoring people, not actually slowing anybody down. Before Keyshawn Johnson wrote about it, Ault was demanding of his defense, "just give me the damn ball." And if it forced a turnover now and then, well, it could keep its scholarships and have a place at team meals.

Sure, the Wolf Pack had three 1,000-yard rushers in a season, but it also was giving up nearly four touchdowns a game and acreage the size of Area 51. While the pistol offense put up points, too often the defense shot itself in the foot.

The joke was that the only way anybody knew Ault even had a defensive coordinator on staff was that he was always changing them. The current tally is up to 14 in 26 years, a job security track record that trails lion tamers and those who inform on drug cartels.

But just when you thought the Wolf Pack defense couldn't say "boo!," its newest coordinator, Andy Buh (pronounced boo), has Nevada playing, get this, commendable defense.

Driven by relentless defensive end Dontay Moch, it is 31st in the nation in scoring defense (18.8 points per game) and 69th in total defense (365 yards per game). And it has surrendered just four passing touchdowns.

If those numbers don't sound particularly riveting, then please note that in five of the previous six years the Wolf Pack have been 86th or worse among 120 major college teams in the most meaningful defensive statistic, scoring defense. Last year it permitted 31 passing TDs.

Years when they gave up less than an average of four touchdowns a game were usually deemed banner ones. Which was as good an indication as any of why Nevada hadn't been more successful in the WAC or, until this season, nationally ranked since 1948.

But as the Wolf Pack close in on making that Nov. 26th matchup with Boise State a clash of nationally ranked unbeatens for the WAC championship, one remaining question remains: How formidable, really, is Nevada's defense, pass-wise especially?

It is ranked 19th in pass efficiency defense, but in its victorious march to this point, Nevada has not faced a team in the top 50 of passing offenses and just one (Colorado State) in the top 80. Nevada has undoubtedly had something to do with that.

Tonight, against the republic's top passing offense, we see how much has really changed in 10 months for Nevada.

Reach Ferd Lewis at flewis@staradvertiser.com.






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