To get the inside scoop on the Wolf Pack, we went to the expert on Nevada football -- SilverandBlueSports.com publisher Andrew Maurins -- with five questions about the team and this weekend's game in San Marcos.
How has quarterback Cody Fajardo progressed this season in comparison to his outstanding freshman season in which he earned WAC Freshman of the Year? AM: Fajardo has a much greater command of the pistol this year that belies the modest statistical improvement he's shown in passing thus far. He's making better decisions when running the ball, and when dropping back to throw, he's shown greater poise and more trust in his teammates. While it's also true his rushing production has gone up, I think this can be partly attributed to a different, slightly scaled back passing attack that does a better job of putting his short- and mid-range passing skills on display and keeps opponents from selling out to stop the run.
We all know Stefphon Jefferson and Brandon Wimberly are two names to watch but what are some other names to watch on offense? AM: The tight ends (specifically Zach Sudfeld) are the next skill players to keep an eye on. Sudfeld has sustained more injuries in his career than most 6'7" tight ends experience, but it was his broken leg last year which forced Kolby Arendse to start in his place. Now Nevada has the advantage of two very dependable and seasoned tight ends who Fajardo often turns to as safety valves on tough third down situations.
Nevada's offensive line -- nicknamed "The Union" -- also boasts several all conference-caliber players and is consistently one of the best in the nation at run-blocking. Simply put, it's not just courtesy when their teammates are quick to credit them for their success.
Nevada HC Chris Ault is very under appreciated nation with regards to his coaching style and overall record. What does he mean to the Nevada program and it's fans? AM: It's not hyperbole or exaggeration to say that Chris Ault IS Nevada Wolf Pack football. He has guided the program through multiple stints as both head coach and athletic director, and has won conference titles at the D-II, 1-AA and 1-A levels as a coach. The fact that his offenses have led the nation in both passing yards (1995) and rushing yards (2009) at different times is testament to his willingness to evolve and change with the times instead of merely resting on his laurels. Being a Hall of Fame head coach with a base salary of around $400,000 who has also coached at his alma mater for 25+ years is an extreme rarity in these times. He is, without question, the face of the program in the modern era.
Running back Stefphon Jefferson is one of the most consistent running backs this season and a current 13 game streak of 100 yards or more. What makes him so productive and is he the heart and soul of the Wolf Pack offense? AM: As I alluded to before, Jefferson and every other skill player on offense will be the first to credit their teammates on the offensive line for their success. This isn't to sell him or anyone else in the unit short -- it's just the acknowledgment of what their stats over the years have reinforced: skill players come and go, but the Union is the constant.
Jefferson's not undeserving of some of the credit, of course. He has great vision and awareness of how the play is unfolding around him, and there's little, if any, drop-off in speed when he changes direction. As for being the heart and soul of the offense, Coach Ault will still probably tell you he's not a true "Nevada back" yet, although he has matured significantly from where he was at this point last year. The "heart and soul" title would probably go to either the team's tactical leader (Fajardo) or their emotional leader (Wimberly).
Nevada has been suspect on defense this season. What has been the overwhelming issue and can the team overcome defensively to get on the right track? AM: The crux of the defense's struggles has been their inability to consistently pressure opposing quarterbacks enough to take heat away from their teammates in the secondary. Three of the defensive line's four starters had never played a single down of collegiate football before this year. Without a frequent pass rush to worry them, quarterbacks will simply sit back and pick apart whatever defensive coordinator Mike Bradeson throws at them. To compensate for this, Nevada's corners have often drawn pass interference calls as well, prolonging drives and making bad situations even worse. Time to let the young linemen mature will likely alleviate this -- to what extent remains to be seen.
Score prediction for Saturday? AM: Their performance on both sides of the ball against Hawai'i was great to see (more so with the offense), but I don't think they'll replicate that performance this time around. I think they'll keep Texas State at arm's length, but won't quite blow them out -- something along the lines of 56-24 Nevada.