If this was indeed an audition for Nevada offensive coordinator Nick Rolovich, he passed his first test.
The Wolf Pack offense put on the most dominating display against the University of Hawaii this season en route to a 26-18 Mountain West victory before an Aloha Stadium crowd of 23,249.
Down 10-0 early on, the Wolf Pack scored 26 unanswered points against an overmatched Hawaii defense that couldn’t stop a one-man band named Cody Fajardo.
The Nevada quarterback rushed for 133 yards and two touchdowns, and completed 17 of 26 passes for 128 yards and another score to make Rolovich look like an offensive guru.
The win raised the Wolf Pack’s overall mark to 5-2 and evened their conference record at 2-2. Hawaii fell to 2-6 for the season and 1-2 in league play. The Warriors ran only 22 plays in the second half, 11 coming on a final scoring drive after the outcome was already determined.
Down by four at intermission, Nevada took the opening kickoff of the second half and drove methodically down the field. Fajardo took the Wolf Pack 72 yards on 14 plays before the drive stalled at the UH 3 as he tried to keep it from the 5 on third-and-goal.
It set up a 22-yard field goal by Brent Zuzo to cut UH’s margin to 10-9 with 9:27 left in the third quarter. In the first half, Zuzo missed a PAT and a 47-yard field-goal attempt to keep UH in the lead.
But that didn’t last long as Nevada began its second march of the third quarter after the defense forced a quick three-and-out. The Wolf Pack took over at their own 33 and carved up the UH defense that couldn’t stop the run or pass. Facing first-and-goal from the UH 8, Fajardo kept the ball and raced to the pylon to score his second touchdown of the game.
“He’s a nice player,” UH head coach Norm Chow said of Fajardo. “He’s dangerous, smart and a nice young man as well. We knew he was going to be a factor in the ballgame and we needed to contain him better than we did. We thought we had a plan but he felt otherwise.”
Zuzo came in and hit the PAT to make it 16-10 Nevada with 3:47 left in the third quarter.
The Nevada defense forced another Hawaii punt as Nevada began another long drive against a tiring UH defense. It began in the third quarter, but ended in the fourth as the Wolf Pack went 84 yards on 19 plays, taking nearly 10 minutes off the clock.
The next-to-last one was an apparent 3-yard touchdown pass from Fujardo to offensive lineman Matt Galas, who caught the ball after it was deflected by two UH defenders. But after further review, it was ruled an incomplete pass leading to a 20-yard field goal by Zuzo to extend Nevada’s lead to 19-10 with 7:35 left in the game.
Nevada had 182 yards in the third quarter to UH’s 15. After picking off a UH pass, the Wolf Pack set up shop at the UH 41 and eventually scored on a fourth-down touchdown pass of 16 yards from Fajardo to Hasaan Henderson with 2:28 left in the game.
Hawaii finally put together a nice drive of its own, but it was too little, too late. Steve Lakalaka scored from 5 yards out to end an 11-play, 63-yard drive as UH converted the 2-point play to make it 26-18 with 40 seconds left.
UH tried an onside kick, but kicked it out of bounds to seal the deal for the Wolf Pack.
Neither team was very effective in the early going before Warriors quarterback Ikaika Woolsey led UH on a four-play, 75-yard drive that culminated with a 38-yard touchdown pass from Woolsey to Donnie King Jr. Tyler Hadden, who had a 32-yard field goal blocked earlier in the opening period, drilled the PAT to make it 7-0 Hawaii with 16 seconds left in the first quarter.
Nevada responded with a nice drive of its own, but it stalled inside the UH 30, leading to a 47-yard field-goal attempt by Zuzo. It had plenty of distance, but hit the right upright and bounced harmlessly to the turf with 9:12 left in the second quarter.
Hawaii took over at its own 29 and quickly moved into Nevada territory thanks to the legs Lakalaka, who gained 55 yards on 15 carries. Facing a fourth-and-1 at the Wolf Pack 28, Lakalaka gained 4 yards to set up first down at the Nevada 24. But the drive stalled, leading to a 37-yard field goal by Hadden to extend UH’s advantage to 10-0 with 4:05 remaining in the half.
“We played pretty well and should have had 13 points (in the first half),” Chow said. “We needed touchdowns and not field goals. The defense played well which allowed us to go ahead but in the second half they just kept the football. They had a 19-play drive and we just can’t score if we don’t have the ball.”
Buoyed by a nice kickoff return, Nevada began its ensuing offensive series at the Nevada 46. Fajardo converted a third-and-2 with a nifty 16-yard keeper that gave them a first-and-10 at the UH 30. Three plays later, he did it again on third-and-short to give Nevada a first down at the UH 12.
Four plays later, he ran it in from 6 yards out to cut UH’s advantage to 10-6 with 52 seconds left in the half. Zuzo missed the PAT as it hit the left upright. It was about the only thing Nevada did wrong for this night.
Rumors have swirled that Rolovich might be considered a candidate for the head coaching position currently held by Norm Chow. He didn’t do anything to hurt his cause.