NCAA Football Preview - Nevada Wolf Pack
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From The Sports Network By Gregg Xenakes, College Football Staff Writer 2003 SEASON IN REVIEW: A loss to Oregon in the second game of the season (31-23) is acceptable enough, and a fan can get past losing to UNLV yet again (16-12), but to drop four of five down the stretch is a bit much for one to forgive the Nevada Wolf Pack last year. With five wins over the first seven games of the season, it appeared as though Nevada was again going to challenge for the Western Athletic Conference title, especially having put together an impressive outing against non-conference foe Washington on the road no less, winning that meeting by a score of 28-17 in early October. Then came the bulk of the WAC schedule and Nevada was simply not prepared for what was ahead, dropping three straight decisions to LaTech, Rice and Fresno State. The group did halt Hawaii in its tracks, 24-14, but then turned right around and was blown out of the water in the season finale by Boise State, 56-3. The disappointing season, although better than a number of teams in the Western Athletic Conference, earned head coach Chris Tormey his walking papers. Tormey was just 10-12 at home during his term and a mere 12-20 against the rest of the WAC. It also didn't help that a Tormey-led team managed to lose to in-state rival UNLV either, so that certainly factored into the decision to replace him the very next day with College Football Hall of Fame coach Chris Ault, now making his third appearance in the role of Nevada head coach. Ault, the athletic director for the school since 1986 (but had to step down to take the head coaching spot) also coached the Pack between 1976-92 and 1994-95 and is the most successful coach the program has had in its 105-year history. 2004 ANALYSIS: OFFENSE: Easily the key to any success the Pack might have this year lies in the churning legs of senior running back Chance Kretschmer. He rushed for 1,162 yards a year ago, eighth-best in school history, and notched a total of five 100-yard games along the way. Kretschmer, who is fourth on the school's all-time rushing list with 2,969 yards and has 28 touchdowns on the ground to his credit, may have lost a little power and mobility after suffering a season-ending injury a couple years back, but there's no question he can return to the heights that made him the first freshman in NCAA history to lead the nation in rushing. Certainly it helps that the offensive line returns three starters from a season ago, Harvey Dahl, Chris Hines and Kyle Gosselin. Dahl, who checks in at 6-5, 305 is already set on both the Lombardi Watch List and the Outland Trophy Watch List for his senior campaign and is more than capable of opening up gaps for Kretschmer to barrel through on his way to countless yards. Quarterback Andy Heiser may be a senior, but that doesn't mean that he has a lot of game experience. Last year Heiser appeared in all 12 games, completing 50.3 percent of his attempts for 2,294 yards and 13 touchdowns, but was also picked off 12 times. Wide receiver Nichiren Flowers tied for the team lead in receptions with 35, leading to 366 yards and two scores, last year and is going to again be a favorite target for Heiser down field. Tony Moll made just six grabs in 2003 at the tight end position, but he was one of six players to have two touchdown catches. DEFENSE: Were it not for inside linebacker Logan Carter last year in the opener, the Wolf Pack may not have beaten Southern Utah (24-23). In that contest the now junior had an interception, a fumble recovery and blocked what was going to be the game-tying extra point kick. Twice named the WAC Defensive Player of the Week a season ago, Carter placed fifth on the team with 76 tackles and was the leader with three picks, one of which he returned 40 yards for a score against SMU. Carter is going to have a lot of pressure on him to perform and lead the Pack after the departure of the top two tacklers from last year (Daryl Towns and Jorge Cordova, both with 97 stops). Both Cordova and Towns were first-team All-WAC choices, with the former also being named third-team All-American. Senior Chris Barry will be throwing his weight around on the front line for Nevada, the returning starter being joined by junior J.J. Milan, who plays a little undersized at 255 pounds and carries that weight on a 6-5 frame. Chris Handy, who made 28 of his 37 tackles unassisted last season, is back to reprise his cornerback position, while Nick Hawthrone and Keone Kauo lock down the strong safety and free safety spots, respectively, for a second straight year. Kauo, a senior, led the team with 62 solo tackles last season while Hawthrone, now just a sophomore, did a little bit of everything for the team last year as he placed fourth on the team in total tackles with 77, had 5.5 TFLs, three interceptions and a pair of forced fumbles. SPECIAL TEAMS: In a league where high-powered offenses are more often the norm than the exception, the Wolf Pack have the luxury of having one of the top kickers in the nation on their sidelines in Damon Fine. Named to the Lou Groza Award Watch List for 2004, the senior connected on 13-of-17 field goal attempts last season and was second on the team in scoring overall behind Kretschmer. Justin Bergendahl, listed as the backup for Fine, has been penciled in as the starting punter, while Alex Rosenblum and Flowers will share the responsibility of returning punts. A couple of freshmen (Jared Belser and Zach Walker) have an opportunity to shine for Nevada having been placed in the position to return kickoffs. OUTLOOK: This year's schedule, a least as far as non-conference is concerned, is definitely more manageable than what the Pack had last season. In a late schedule change, Nevada is now set to kick off 2004 with a meeting against WAC foe Louisiana Tech on the road in Ruston on September 6, pitting a couple of rebuilding programs against each other. Then comes a couple of easy targets with home games versus both Sacramento State and Buffalo, before hitting the road against San Diego State and UNLV to complete the non-conference schedule barely a week into October. Three straight at home versus Rice, Tulsa and San Jose State should give the team at least two victories, as well as the following week on the road at SMU. Unfortunately the Pack have to finish off the regular season with Fresno State on the road and then Boise State at home, no easy task considering the WAC media sees those two as the top teams in the conference again this season. Perhaps a coaching change is just what Nevada needed to get it back on track, but Rome wasn't built in a day.