Good afternoon everyone. As we welcome the return of college football and anticipate tomorrow night's Bruin season opener, please welcome Andrew Maurins from Silver and Blue Sports - Scout.com's site covering University of Nevada athletics. We shared some questions about our respective teams this week on behalf of his site and the BN frontpagers. Our answers to his questions on UCLA football are posted on his site, and here are his responses to our questions regarding the Wolf Pack. Thanks to Andrew for sharing his time and insight with us here.
From what we have read, Nevada - like the Bruins - has a pretty inexperienced secondary this year after losing a couple of players to the NFL. After a few weeks of camp, do you think the Wolf Pack DBs are ready for the passing attacks that they will face this weekend from the Bruins and later this month @ Florida State?
I think they've looked better in the two scrimmages of fall camp I had a chance to attend. They stayed fairly close to their receivers, forced some turnovers and limited the offense's scoring opportunities. However, for a variety of reasons (the conservative play-calling, players on both sides in and out at various times, etc.), I'm hesitant to assign much value to those observations. One thing I have some confidence in is that Scottie Hazelton's Tampa 2 scheme will more frequently put them in position to make good plays than the scheme of their previous coordinator.
Last year, the Wolf Pack had a tough time stopping the run - at 211.9 yards/game, rating as one of the worst rushing defenses in the NCAA - and didn't get that much pressure against opposing offensive lines as measured by Sacks and TFL's. It looks like you are returning at least your starting D-line from last year; how are they - and the defense as a whole - handling the offseason move to the Tampa-2 defense, and what are your realistic expectations for your rush defense heading into this year's season opener?
Defensive players have been singing the Tampa 2's praises since Coach Hazelton's arrival, and have fully bought into the system. The base scheme doesn't rely on lots of blitzes or big, hulking SEC-type linemen, but it does require speed at most positions and disciplined assignments from linebackers and defensive backs. The feeling so far is that it fits the defensive line's strengths, but will probably take some time for the other two units to fully grasp and excel in.
As for what to expect from the run defense, bringing back everyone of note along the D-line gives them the freedom to rotate and rest players more often. Each lineman will be assigned a gap to defend and they won't be tasked with merely "holding the line" like they were last season. I think moving up to at least mediocre in this area is not unreasonable to expect.
Nevada has had a history of building teams with underrated recruits in the state of California, from Colin Kaepernick to Cody Fajardo. Do you guys seek diamond in the rough players like Boise State does and tailor the offense to their skill sets? Or simply find a good fit for the Pistol?
It's sort of a "chicken and egg" question. From the time they moved up to the FBS level in 1992 (known as "Division 1-A" back then), Nevada's athletic resources and budgets have generally been lesser than those of their peers. In 2005, the pistol offense was born, in part, out of Chris Ault's desire to give Nevada a unique selling point no other program could offer recruits and to help get around some of the handicaps that traditionally hold them back. As one can imagine, at first it was hard trying to sign players to a new system that literally had no prior incarnation to serve as a template. But as the offense started to put up better and better numbers, fans, players and media members began to take notice, it started to get adopted elsewhere and more players that fit the pistol skill set began to sign with Nevada.
To get back to your question, the Pack has almost always gone after "diamond in the rough" players that receive less in the way of recruiting attention -- this was true before the pistol's inception and it remains true today. The difference now is that it has given the program a measure of name recognition and notoriety it didn't have before. Given Polian's reputation as a recruiter, this philosophy might change in the future, but as long as Nevada has a smaller budget and less impressive facilities than their competitors, it will probably continue in most instances.
Are there any newcomers that you guys are excited about seeing make their collegiate debuts against UCLA? And Cody Fajardo aside, who should we be watching out for on Saturday night?
On defense, Jordan Dobrich (MIKE linebacker, #49) is a guy I'm excited to see. It's not often you have a sophomore (or a former walk-on, for that matter) named one of your team's captains, and he's had the spring and fall performances to back up his selection. Given the importance of the middle linebacker in the Tampa 2, the team will need him to continue that level of play. As for offense, I'm curious to see what Hasaan Henderson (F receiver, #12) can do. You don't see many 6'5", 230-pound receivers, so he'll be hard to miss when he's out there.
Cody Fajardo (QB, #17) is always a treat to watch regardless of who you happen to be rooting for. I'll also throw Brandon Wimberly (X receiver, #1) out there. It's amazing enough that he does what he does on the field, but to do those things after getting shot in the stomach and spending an entire year rehabilitating himself back into shape to play college football is, in a word, extraordinary.
How is the transition from Chris Ault to Brian Polian going; has he made any tweaks or other changes to the Pistol offense? What are the overall expectations from Coach Polian in his first season in Nevada?
Both in terms of his demeanor and they way he oversees the team, Polian is a huge change from Ault. Where Ault micromanaged and had his hands in pretty much every facet of his program to some degree, Polian is much more hands-off and perfectly content to leave his staff to their own devices while surveying the whole team from 10,000 feet. These changes have been embraced wholeheartedly by both his players and the community at large. His disciplinary hand has been firm, but he's also been keen to remember that football is a game played by young men that should ultimately be fun. From getting new uniforms and a newly refurbished locker room to playing music at practices, Polian has already done a tremendous amount of work to bring Nevada football into the modern era.
Polian hasn't handed down any big changes to pistol and, from what he's said to the media, won't be overly involved in offensive play-calling. Any changes implemented in the pistol from last season to this one will likely come from Nick Rolovich. I would think there will be more passing to take advantage of his obvious expertise and the deeper receiving corps, but they will still work foremost to establish the run in many games.
Given what a brutal schedule he's been dealt this season and the simple fact that he's never been a head coach before now, some struggles are expected. But he also understands he's been left a good blueprint to follow, and a 9th consecutive bowl appearance is still the goal. For me personally, a 6-6 regular season would be dandy.
Of course football is pretty far down the list of priorities for those affected by the wildfires burning around Yosemite and the Sierras, but have the fires had any effect on the Wolfpack's ability to prepare for Saturday?
To my knowledge, they've still been practicing without incident, but player safety has been a big concern. Other Nevada athletic events have already been affected by the smoke, and area high schools have ordered their outdoor activities to either be moved indoors or canceled altogether. Given his remarks about the current difference in air quality between Reno and Los Angeles, though, Coach Polian seems to be taking it all in stride.
A quick reminder that our three part preview of the 2013 Nevada Wolf Pack can be found in the Nevada @ UCLA section of the blog, along with the rest of our coverage of this gameweek. Head over to Silver and Blue to get more of a feel for the POV of Andrew and his fellow Nevada writers and fans heading into tomorrow night.