Last week the Wolf Pack of Nevada triumphed over San Jose State with an impressive 38-16 victory to the smiles of seniors Brandon Wimberly, Joel Bitonio and Jack Reynoso. They would need a similar performance Saturday against BYU and almost pulled it off. However, Jamaal Williams, Taysom Hill and the Cougars had something to say about that, despite 14 penalties.
The Cougar offense finished the first half with zero points and only 150 total yards of offense against one of the worst defenses (ranked 106th) in the country. After being smacked around, the Cougars came out the second half to send off the seniors – including Kyle Van Noy, who was playing in front of his home crowd – as victors in their final regular season game.
Complementing Williams on the ground, Hill did most of his work with his legs. Much of that ground game came during passing downs when Hill would run the ball after an initial first read. Despite the Wolf Pack keying in on Hill, he was still able to gash the UNR defense. Meanwhile, Hill completed 14 of 18 passes, but only for only 98 yards as the passing game struggled to find its groove. However, despite that fact, there was success and Hill made plays with his arm by connecting with seniors J.D. Falslev and Kaneakua Friel for touchdowns. Hill also ran for a touchdown, totaling three on the day. He finished with 154 net yards rushing.
Running backs: A
Jamaal Williams turned in an impressive performance, slicing, dicing and powering his way through the Wolf Pack defense by sheer will. Williams set a new career-high with 219 yards, including a 66-yard touchdown scamper to get the second half going after a stale first half by the offense. Of those 219 rushing yards, 188 of them came in the second half. Williams only needed 17 yards against Nevada to become a 1,000-yard rusher this season, and obviously accomplished that.
This was an interesting result for the BYU pass-catchers. The wide receivers didn't have many opportunities to make some noise in the passing game, but then again they didn't do much to help out their quarterback in the passing offense either. Despite that fact, Cody Hoffman caught two passes to keep his streak of consecutive games with a catch alive. Hill found Falslev in the corner of the end zone for a touchdown to send the tough and gritty senior receiver, who played with a broken hand, off with one more score in the regular season. Skyler Ridley also had a good game, keeping drives alive and making tough catches in traffic.
Tight ends: B+
Kaneakua Friel caught his first touchdown of the season to help tie the game 14-14 in the third quarter. Friel made several catches during the game to help sustain drives. He also did a decent job of blocking up front in the Cougar ground game. Friel turned in a solid performance in his final regular season game.
Offensive line: B-
The offensive line did contribute to Hill and Williams combining for a total of 373 rushing yards, but there were times when the line struggled with consistency and physicality in both the ground and passing game. The Nevada front seven played more physical to start the game, but the Cougar mindset did adjust to play more physical in the second half. This wasn't the best performance by the Cougar offensive line, especially against a defense that's given up an average of 35 points a game. The offensive line was much better in the run game than it was in the passing game.
The defense was uncharacteristically flagged for many penalties, some of which helped UNR extend drives. In front of his family and hometown fans, Kyle Van Noy intercepted a pass on a two-point conversion attempt, keeping the Wolf Pack from closing the score. Bronson Kaufusi recorded two sacks and Robertson Daniel recorded his first interception of the season. Uani Unga once again led the team in tackles with 11 for his eighth double-digit tackle game of the season.
Defensive line: B
In the first half the line wasn't as stout as it was in the second half. Still, the defensive line stepped up and seemed to bottle the Wolf Pack backs along with dual-threat quarterback Cody Fajardo, who had rushed for 602 yards and seven touchdowns this season prior to Saturday’s game. The defensive line stepped up its play despite losing senior Eathyn Manumaleuna to a shoulder sprain. Bronson Kaufusi recorded back-to-back sacks at a time when a play needed to be made, and walk-on Logan Taele turned in a solid performance in the absence of Manumaleuna. Marques Johnson came up big from the nose guard position by recording a career-high seven tackles on the day.
Middle linebacker Manoa Pikula recorded a sack and, as mentioned before, Unga recorded a team-high 11 tackles. There wasn't much performance from the outside linebackers, and if there was a game in which the opposite would be expected, this was it. While he only recorded two tackles on the night, Van Noy did leave his mark with an interception that kept UNR from at least having a chance to pull within three. The pass defense from the outside linebackers was almost nonexistent.
I went a little generous here. The secondary is beat up a bit and UNR knew it. Mike Davis once again played his heart out for a true freshman playing against a spread offense. The young buck was flagged a few times covering deep, but he left everything out on the field against an experience UNR receiving corps that includes one of the best to come through the program in Brandon Wimberley. Robertson Daniel didn't look like his normal self and ended up leaving the game with an injury. He did record his first interception on the season, however. Mike Hague recorded nine tackles and stepped up when needed.
Special teams: C+
The special teams weren't that special. The blocked field goal by Taele raises the grade a bit because it ended up keeping the Wolf Pack from building a two-score lead early on. Hoffman muffed a punt, giving the Wolf Pack another chance to score, but the defense held firm in the end. Alani Fua was flagged for jumping over the wall during a punt, resulting in giving the ball back to the Wolf Pack. The good thing is senior Justin Sorensen made all of his kicks to contribute to BYU's victory