Mountain West Notebook

Nevada Wolf Pack sack attack heats up

Hawaii quarterback Brayden Schager throws over Nevada defensive end Jack Powers on Oct. 16, 2021 at Mackay Stadium in Reno. (AP Photo/Tom R. Smedes)

Hawaii quarterback Brayden Schager throws over Nevada defensive end Jack Powers on Oct. 16, 2021 at Mackay Stadium in Reno. (AP Photo/Tom R. Smedes)

The Nevada Wolf Pack sack attack is terrorizing quarterbacks this season.
The Wolf Pack leads the nation at 4.5 sacks a game with 27 in six games. Defensive lineman Tristan Nichols also leads the nation with eight solo sacks and 1.6 sacks a game.
“I am so proud of the pressure were getting after the quarterback,” Pack coach Jay Norvell said. “When you have the ability to get after the quarterback it changes the game.”
The Pack sack attack has really heated up over its last three games, dumping Hawaii, New Mexico State and Boise State quarterbacks a combined 17 times. That sack explosion is coming off a game in which the Pack did not sack Kansas State quarterbacks Will Howard and Jaren Lewis once (the two Wildcats threw just 13 combined passes).
The Pack began the year with two sacks against California and eight against Idaho State. The Wolf Pack has 19 sacks in just three games (Idaho State, New Mexico State, Hawaii) at Mackay Stadium.
“Ever since the Kansas State game we’ve been more aggressive on both sides of the ball,” Norvell said.
Nichols, who has five sacks in his last three games, is not the only Pack defender dropping quarterbacks this season. Dom Peterson didn’t have a sack over the first three games but has 4.5 over the last three. Sam Hammond has four sacks this season.
The Pack’s 27 sacks this season is already its most since it had 35 in 2018. The most sacks the Pack has had in a season since 2000 (sack records before then are unavailable) is 38 in 2003. That team was led in sacks by Jorge Cordova (11.5) and Derek Kennard (10.5). The 2007 Pack had 37 sacks (J.J. Milan had nine and Ezra Butler had seven) while the 2008 team had 36, led by Dontay Moch (11.5) and Kevin Basped (10). Brett Roy’s 10 sacks in 2011 are the most by a Pack player since 2008.
The Mountain West record for sacks in a season in 15 by TCU’s Jerry Hughes in 2008 and 50 by Utah State in 2014.
Peterson now has 21 career sacks, sixth in Wolf Pack history behind Cordova (31), Moch (30), Basped (23.5), Brock Hekking (22.5) and Malik Reed (22). He passed Lenny Jones (20) with a sack against Hawaii this past Saturday in the Pack’s 34-17 victory.
The Mountain West career record for sacks is 34 by Boise State’s Curtis Weaver.
The Wolf Pack isn’t the only team in the pass-happy Mountain West piling up sacks this season. There are five Mountain West teams ranked in the top 30 in the nation in sacks per game. In addition to the Pack, Colorado State is eighth at 3.5 a game followed by San Diego State (3.33, 12th), Air Force (2.86, 25th) and Fresno State (2.71, 29th).
UNLV, with just six sacks all year, is 123rd out of 130 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in the nation at 1 sack per game.
PACK DEFENSE CONSISTENT: Sacking the quarterback is not the only thing this Pack defense is doing well this season. The Pack has already held three teams (California, Idaho State and Hawaii) under 20 points and is allowing just 23.5 points and 377.7 yards a game. Norvell’s first Pack team in 2017 allowed 33.9 points and 471.3 yards a game. Last year’s Pack defense was similar to this season’s defense, allowing 23.3 points and 377.7 yards a game (in a nine-game season).
“It’s always going to be about offense,” Wolf Pack linebacker Daiyan Henley said. “Offense sells tickets. But we’re (the defense) the stepchild. We do the work but don’t get the shine (recognition) for it. But we got to work everyday, we’ll get our shine and our kudos. We know that offense sells tickets but defense wins championships.”
MACKAY ATTENDANCE UP: Northern Nevada, it seems, has jumped on the Wolf Pack bandwagon this season.
The Pack (5-1 overall, 2-0 in the Mountain West) has averaged 22,503 fans for its three home games so far this season. That is a jump of about 30 percent over the first three seasons of Norvell’s career at Nevada when the Pack averaged 16,721 in 2017, 17,180 in 2018 and 16,180 in 2019. Fans were not allowed inside Mackay Stadium last season because of COVID-19 restrictions.
The Wolf Pack already has as many crowds this season of 20,000 or more fans (three) as the first three seasons of Norvell’s tenure combined.
The three attendances this year (23,965 for Idaho State, 21,448 for New Mexico State and 22,098 for Hawaii) rank as the top three in the Norvell era, ahead of the 21,431 that showed up to watch Boise State in 2018.
SCARVER TIES NCAA RECORD: Utah State’s Savon Scarver equaled a NCAA record in a 28-24 win at UNLV on Saturday with his seventh career kickoff return for a touchdown. Scarver, a Centennial High School graduate in Las Vegas, returned a kickoff 100 yards for a 7-3 Utah State lead.
Scarver joins Tony Pollard of Memphis, Rashaad Penny of San Diego State, Tyron Carrier of Houston and C.J. Spiller of Houston with a NCAA-record seven career kickoff return touchdowns.
Scarver returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown in Utah State’s 36-10 victory over Nevada and Penny returned one 100 yards for a score in San Diego State’s 42-23 win over Nevada in 2017.
REBELS WITHOUT A WIN: UNLV has now lost 12 games in a row, all under second-year coach Marcus Arroyo. The longest UNLV losing streak is 16 over the last five games of 1997 and the entire 11-game 1998 season under head coach Jeff Horton.
The Rebels will host San Jose State this Thursday before playing the Wolf Pack at Mackay Stadium on Oct. 29. The last Rebels’ victory was against the Wolf Pack at Mackay Stadium, 33-30 in overtime on Nov. 30, 2019.
“I’m heartbroken, mad and humbled,” Arroyo said after a 28-24 loss to Utah State last week at home. “The stuff we’re feeling in that locker room is pretty rough. It’s been like that all season.”
“It hurts,” said UNLV running back Charles Williams, who had the ninth-most rushing yards (221) in school history against Utah State. “It really hurts my soul.”
MOUNTAIN WEST NOTES: Boise State has now lost three consecutive games at home for the first time since 1996… The two teams in the Mountain West title game last year (Boise State and San Jose State) currently have losing overall (3-4) and Mountain West (1-2) records… Colorado State’s Cayden Camper kicked five field goals in the Rams’ 36-7 victory over New Mexico last week and now leads the conference with 17 field goals. The Wolf Pack’s Brandon Talton is 12-of-16 in field goals this season after leading the conference last year with 15 (in nine games). UNLV’s Daniel Gutierrez is the only Mountain West kicker who hasn’t missed a field goal this season (9-of-9).

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