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Look ahead to 2024: Nevada preview

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Look ahead to 2024: Nevada preview

Postby PonyPride » Mon May 27, 2024 10:08 pm

Opponent preview: Nevada Wolf Pack
Mustangs kick off 2024 season in Reno
Posted on 05/27/2024 by PonyFans.com

The Mustangs begin the 2024 season riding the wave of excitement that comes with winning 11 games and earning a spot in the Atlantic Coast Conference. To start the new era, the Ponies will head … West, to Reno, Nevada for a matchup with the Nevada Wolf Pack.

Look at the series history between SMU and Nevada and the assumption can be made that the Aug. 24 season opener could be an even showdown, perhaps even headed to overtime.

On the other hand, the last meeting between the two teams — the 2009 Sheraton Hawaii Bowl, in which quarterback Kyle Padron threw for an SMU bowl-record 460 yards and a pair of touchdowns, and running back Shawnbrey McNeal ran for three scores of his own as the Ponies stampeded the Wolf Pack, 45-10 — and Nevada’s 2-10 record in 2023 that resulted in Jeff Choate replacing Ken Wilson as head coach paint an entirely different picture.

Choate and his staff face a daunting task. He takes over a team that went 2-10 in each of the last two years, with players recruited to play in Wilson’s systems … and as he starts to rebuild the program, he also must replace the 25 players the Wolf Pack lost through the transfer portal, the second-highest total for any Mountain West Conference team, behind the 34 players who left San Diego State.

To their credit, the Wolf Pack’s two victories last year amounted to an eight-day winning streak in which they won, 6-0, at San Diego State and then returned home to beat New Mexico, 34-24, on Homecoming. But their schedule also included losses to the likes of Idaho and Texas State, an 0-6 start to the season and a four-game skid to end the season. They were outscored last year by an average of 33.42-17.33 points per game — hence the coaching change.

Choate arrived in Reno after three seasons as the co-defensive coordinator and inside linebackers coach at Texas, where the defense finished in the top 10 in the country in rushing defense and red zone defense, 13th nationally in scoring defense and 23rd in the country in total defense. A few MWC games may be winnable, but it also is possible Nevada could lose them all. Then consider the Pack’s non-conference slate: SMU (11 wins), at Troy (won 11), Georgia Southern (bowl team last year), at Minnesota (Big 10 team that made a bowl) and an Eastern Washington squad that also is trying looking to bounce back in 2024.

Offense
The Nevada offense, at least for the time being, will be led by Mike Lynch, who carries the title of “Interim Offensive Coordinator” and running backs coach. Lynch previous coached with Choate at Utah State and Eastern Illinois.

The Nevada offense leaned heavily on the running game last year — the Wolf Pack ran the ball 443 times, compared to 345 passing attempts. But neither was hugely effective: Nevada averaged 124.8 yards per game on the ground, and 175.17 yards per game through the air.

Nevada’s top two rushers from a year ago, running back Sean Dollars (5-9, 201) and quarterback Brendon Lewis (6-2, 207), are back. Dollars led the ground attack with 527 yards on 151 carries (3.5 yards per) and six touchdowns, while Lewis rushed 120 times for 495 yards (4.1 per) and four scores.

The Pack tried to bolster the rushing attack in the transfer portal, bringing former Texas running back Ky Woods (5-9, 170) and Patrick Garwo (5-8, 208) of Boston College to Reno.

Lewis has the most experience at quarterback after playing in all 12 games a year ago (A.J. Bianco and Shane Illingworth had nine appearances between them), and while he didn’t lead an explosive passing game — he completed 131 of 236 attempts (55.5 percent) for 1,313 of the team’s 2,102 passing yards — he did protect the ball, throwing just six interceptions all season. But he also threw only two touchdown passes; Bianco led the team with four scoring passes.

The transfer portal brought Chubba Purdy — yes, Brock’s younger brother — from Nebraska, where he played in six games, completing 31 of 57 passes for 382 yards, with a pair of touchdown passes and three interceptions.

Nevada’s top seven leading receivers last year are all gone, including wide receiver Dalevon Campbell, who is headed to South Carolina. While 2023 backups will be asked to step into larger roles, Nevada coaches also reached into the transfer portal to fortify the passing game, adding wide receivers Davis Mallinger (6-1, 176) and Cortez Braham (6-2, 192) from West Virginia, as well as former Louisiana-Monroe wideout Dariyan Wiley (6-1, 200) and massive former Florida tight end Andrew Savaiinaea (6-4, 273), who also should help fortify the protection for an offense that surrendered 41 sacks a year ago.

Defense
The Nevada defense was generous last year, surrendering 442.7 yards per game — 188.8 per game on the ground and 253.92 through the air. The scoring defense included similar balance: opponents scored 23 rushing touchdown last season and 24 through the air. Opposing offenses converted 41.5 percent of third downs and 61.11 percent of fourth downs. The Wolf Pack mustered 17 sacks of opposing quarterbacks, and had 16 takeaways — nine interceptions and seven fumbles recovered.

Safety Emany Johnson’s 100 tackles were the most on the Nevada defense by a wide margin. He graduated, and fellow defensive back Richard Toney (67 tackles) transferred to TCU. The top returning tacklers are linebackers Drue Watts (60 tackles), Tongiaki Mateialona (54) and Marcel Walker-Burgess (46, along with a team-high four sacks). Given Choate’s history with linebackers, look for them to be the heart of this year’s defense, in a position group that also welcomes transfers Austin Harnetiaux (from Washington) and Kaden Johnson (Wisconsin), although Johnson also could get some time at defensive end.

The defense operated largely out of a 4-2-5 alignment last year, but using the Texas defense as a blueprint, it would be no surprise to see more of a shift to a more traditional 4-3, at least as the base formation — a system that seems likely given the abundance of linebackers and the needed additions to the secondary.

Linebacker-friendly systems fare better when the defensive line can tie up blockers so the linebackers can run to the ball. That could be a challenge for the Wolf Pack, whose top two returning interior linemen are undersized: Nelson Ropati (6-3, 279) and and Thomas Witte (6-2, 261).

Johnson and Toney not only were the team’s top tacklers last year, but they also accounted for five of Nevada’s nine interceptions. The secondary also will look for help from the transfer portal, which includes former Texas Tech cornerback Nate Floyd (6-0, 176), Texas cornerback Kitan Crawford (5-11, 185), as well as safety Keyshawn Cobb (6-0, 195) from West Virginia.

Expectations in Reno are not high entering the 2024 season, but that does not mean the Mustangs’ season opener will be a cakewalk. Nevada’s Mackay stadium, which seats just 27,000, sits at 4,610 feet above sea level, and the presence of a new coaching makes scouting more difficult than it is when facing an opponent offering more familiarity. But recent results and the talent disparity should make the Mustangs confident going into their 2024 opener.
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Re: Look ahead to 2024: Nevada preview

Postby Pony4Life » Wed May 29, 2024 2:15 pm

Great read.
Sounds like a game we absolutely should win. Kick the season off the right way, Mustangs.
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Re: Look ahead to 2024: Nevada preview

Postby WolfPackBacker » Fri Jun 07, 2024 8:53 am

Even as a late addition to an already daunting schedule, we’re looking forward to this opener. As the game draws closer, we’re happy to offer any advice requested by those of you traveling to Reno.
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Re: Look ahead to 2024: Nevada preview

Postby ClassOf81 » Sun Jun 09, 2024 3:05 pm

Thank you, WolfPackBacker (and welcome to PonyFans)! I'm trying to coordinate a trip, since I've never been to Reno. Hope it's a lot cooler there than in Dallas in August.
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Re: Look ahead to 2024: Nevada preview

Postby WolfPackBacker » Wed Jun 12, 2024 8:58 pm

ClassOf81 wrote:Thank you, WolfPackBacker (and welcome to PonyFans)! I'm trying to coordinate a trip, since I've never been to Reno. Hope it's a lot cooler there than in Dallas in August.

In my highly technical research (read: glancing at Wikipedia pages with average temperatures listed), Reno has comparable highs, but lower lows and lower humidity than Dallas in that month. The real summertime concern for us the last few years has been wildfire smoke drifting in from outside the area, which lessens air quality and makes the region look and smell like a giant campfire.
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Re: Look ahead to 2024: Nevada preview

Postby Drum Major » Thu Jun 13, 2024 7:17 pm

WolfPackBacker wrote:Even as a late addition to an already daunting schedule, we’re looking forward to this opener. As the game draws closer, we’re happy to offer any advice requested by those of you traveling to Reno.


Can you throw out the names of a couple of really good hotels in case I decide to go?
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Re: Look ahead to 2024: Nevada preview

Postby SMUguy » Fri Jun 14, 2024 5:03 pm

WolfPackBacker wrote:
ClassOf81 wrote:Thank you, WolfPackBacker (and welcome to PonyFans)! I'm trying to coordinate a trip, since I've never been to Reno. Hope it's a lot cooler there than in Dallas in August.

In my highly technical research (read: glancing at Wikipedia pages with average temperatures listed), Reno has comparable highs, but lower lows and lower humidity than Dallas in that month. The real summertime concern for us the last few years has been wildfire smoke drifting in from outside the area, which lessens air quality and makes the region look and smell like a giant campfire.

Hopefully that is minimal this year, for Reno and all of the west coast/region.
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Re: Look ahead to 2024: Nevada preview

Postby WolfPackBacker » Sat Jun 15, 2024 8:08 am

Drum Major wrote:
WolfPackBacker wrote:Even as a late addition to an already daunting schedule, we’re looking forward to this opener. As the game draws closer, we’re happy to offer any advice requested by those of you traveling to Reno.


Can you throw out the names of a couple of really good hotels in case I decide to go?

For the casino resort experience more in line with Vegas, I’d recommend the Peppermill or the Atlantis (my fiancé and I especially like the spas at each place). The downside is that they’re further away from the stadium and the university.

If gaming isn’t a big priority for you, try the Whitney Peak downtown (it’s also a non-smoking hotel, FWIW).
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Re: Look ahead to 2024: Nevada preview

Postby DallasDiehard » Sat Jun 15, 2024 3:54 pm

Thanks for the insight, WPB!
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Re: Look ahead to 2024: Nevada preview

Postby Drum Major » Sun Jun 16, 2024 7:30 pm

Yes, thanks for the hotel ideas, WPB!
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Re: Look ahead to 2024: Nevada preview

Postby orguy » Tue Jun 18, 2024 3:05 pm

WolfPackBacker wrote:
ClassOf81 wrote:Thank you, WolfPackBacker (and welcome to PonyFans)! I'm trying to coordinate a trip, since I've never been to Reno. Hope it's a lot cooler there than in Dallas in August.

In my highly technical research (read: glancing at Wikipedia pages with average temperatures listed), Reno has comparable highs, but lower lows and lower humidity than Dallas in that month. The real summertime concern for us the last few years has been wildfire smoke drifting in from outside the area, which lessens air quality and makes the region look and smell like a giant campfire.


Reno is far higher on the late August comfort scale than Dallas. Humidity is a non issue
anywhere in the intermountain west and its elevation insulates it from obscenely high
temperatures.
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Re: Look ahead to 2024: Nevada preview

Postby max the wonder dog » Wed Jun 19, 2024 9:11 am

Don't rule out Lake Tahoe, you'll get two vacations in one. Get a room on the lake if you choose that option. There are casino hotels on the South Shore if you want to add gaming to your agenda. The downside is the drive to the stadium. It's about an hour depending on where you stay.
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