October 1, 2012
Murray of RGJ Talks Wyoming at Nevada
The GoWyoGo.com did a question and answer with Chris Murray, the beat writer for the Nevada Wolfpack and the Reno Gazette-Journal. Wyoming will be traveling to Reno for the conference opener versus the Wolfpack on Saturday. Read what Murray's says about this weekend's game.
#1 Tell Wyoming fans a little about the Nevada Wolfpack. What are the team strengths? Are there any weaknesses? Who are the impact players on offense? Defense?
Chris Murray: The Wolf Pack's strength is its offense. That has been the case for almost all 28 years of coach Chris Ault's head-coaching tenure at the school. Ault's unique Pistol offense (a modified shotgun with the running back lined up directly behind the quarterback) has proven to be very difficult to stop since he invented it in 2005.
Nevada ranks fourth in the NCAA in rushing yards, fifth in total yards and 14th in scoring offense. Running back Stefphon Jefferson is first in the nation in rushing and quarterback Cody Fajardo is ninth in total offense. Those are the guys to watch.
The defense, on the other hand, is usually average at best. This year's unit has been better the past two games, but it's not a strength. The best player on the defense is senior safety Duke Williams, a big hitter who isn't afraid to throw his body around.
#2 How does this Wolfpack team compare to the outfit that finished in the top 20 in 2010? Does Nevada have the makeup to win the Mountain West this season? What remaining games on the schedule do you see as key matchups in winning a league championship or positioning for the best bowl game?
Chris Murray: The Wolf Pack actually finished 11th in the nation in 2010 before having a so-so 7-6 season in 2011. This year's team is closer to that 2010 version than the 2011 version.
The one major difference is this year's team doesn't have as many big plays on offense as that 2010 team, which featured Colin Kaepernick, who is now with the San Francisco 49ers. This is a more of a ball-control, grinding offense, although Fajardo can make some big plays. Along with Boise State, I think Nevada has to be the favorite to win the Mountain West this season.
The good thing for Nevada is almost all of its tough MWC games (Boise State, Fresno State, San Diego State and Wyoming) are at home. Favorable schedule, for sure.
#3 Nevada lost a heartbreaker to Big East's South Florida by one point at home. The Wolfpack also looked good in beating Pac 12's California on the road. Break down the events of both games and what you learned about head coach Chris Ault's program in each game matching up against BCS schools?
Chris Murray: The win over Cal was surprising considering Nevada was a 10-point underdog and has traditionally struggled against BCS teams. The Bears aren't a great team, but they always have talent, so that was a big confidence-boosting win for the Wolf Pack.
We learned in that game, and subsequent games, that Nevada's offense is pretty elite. The one-two punch of Fajardo and Jefferson is really strong. As far as the South Florida game, that showed where the Wolf Pack has some issues, and that's the secondary.
Nevada was leading that game by double-digits late before allowing two 50-plus-yard touchdown passes in the final three minutes to lose by a point. The defense has given up some big plays this season, and it really ended up costing the team a loss against the Bulls.
#4 Nevada's move into the Mountain West, what is the general feeling from team, fans, and adminstrators about the benefits of the new conference? How has recruiting been impacted? Are there any plans for future facilities or enhancements? What is your opinion of the future of the Mountain West Conference?
Chris Murray: The Wolf Pack has been very excited about the move to the MWC, although the benefits thus far haven't been huge. Nevada didn't get a huge bump up in season-ticket sales (right about 12,000 the past two years) and it hasn't received a ton more television exposure yet.
But the annual MWC distribution check will be larger than the average WAC check, so that will be a big plus for Nevada, which has struggled financially the past few years. The department's budget of $18.1 million is relatively small in comparison to other MWC schools. The Wolf Pack is hoping to raise funds for an indoor practice facility (about $15 million) and additional money to improve Mackay Stadium.
We'll see if they can find that money, but there's a much better chance in the MWC of doing so than there was in the WAC. To me, the future of the MWC is decent but not great. Losing schools like BYU, Utah, TCU, Boise State and San Diego State certainly hurts. This is no longer a conference that can legitimately make the argument that it is at the BCS level (in football, at least).
#5 Give you're perspective on the keys for the Mountain West showdown between Nevada and Wyoming? Keys on on Offense? Defense? How the teams matchup versus one another? Give your prediction of the winner and final score?
Chris Murray: The key, for me, is going to be which defense steps up and makes some big plays. Neither side has an above-average defense, so I'd expect a lot of points thanks to strong quarterback play on both teams.
Nevada and Wyoming are both going to score points. It will be interesting to watch who makes a big sack or forced fumble or interception to turn the game. The Wolf Pack has done a solid job creating turnovers this season, mostly via fumbles, and will need some big plays on that side of the ball to slow down Brett Smith and Co.
Writing this on a Monday, I haven't done enough research to give you an exact prediction, but I will probably going with Nevada winning by 7-10 points in a high-scoring game.
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