Nevada has won 15 games and earned back-to-back bowl trips under coach Jay Norvell, but the program has its sights set higher for 2020. With the Mountain West's West Division in transition with four new coaches, the Wolf Pack's continuity at head coach and quarterback (Carson Strong) could propel the program into the conference title game. Both sides of the ball have room to improve, but a favorable schedule that features home matchups against San Diego State, Wyoming and Fresno State provides a path for a step forward in the win column this fall.
Previewing Nevada's Offense for 2020
Nevada head coach Jay Norvell didn’t quite know what he had in freshman quarterback Carson Strong. The talented signal-caller opened his career by engineering a wild comeback over Purdue. Then, nagged with injuries and inconsistency, Strong was forced to the bench. Once reinstated midseason, Strong (2,335 yards, 11 TDs, seven INTs) played admirably. Now it appears that Nevada has the next in its line of four-year starting quarterbacks, a list that includes Colin Kaepernick. With Strong among nine returning starters, including the most talented group of skill position players in the Mountain West, Nevada’s hybrid Air Raid offense is poised for a breakthrough.
Senior Elijah Cooks (926 yards, eight TDs), Nevada’s most consistent receiving threat, and junior Romeo Doubs (649 yards, four TDs), who was spectacular before an injury cut his season short, make up the top receiving duo in the conference. Slot Melquan Stovall enjoyed a breakout in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. Keep an eye on freshman Isaac Jernagin, a jewel of the Pack’s recruiting class.
With dynamic Toa Taua (807 yards, six TDs) and bruising Devonte Lee (302, seven TDs), Nevada is loaded in its backfield. But after the team averaged just 3.4 yards per rushing attempt in 2019, Nevada’s offensive line must improve. All five starters and most of the depth return, but the unit struggled mightily in 2019. Senior tackles Miles Beach and Nate Brown will anchor the unit.
Previewing Nevada's Defense for 2020
Norvell cut ties with coordinator Jeff Casteel and two other defensive coaches, and the cancellation of spring ball left Nevada waiting for what new coordinator Brian Ward, formerly of Syracuse, has in store. Ward will likely shift from the 3-3-5 stack to a multiple front in 2020.
Ward inherits a star in end Dom Peterson, a high-motor junior fresh off a first-team All-MW season. Seniors Chris Green (NT) and Sam Hammond (DE) showed flashes in 2019, but some youthful depth up front needs to be developed.
Senior Lawson Hall, an all-conference-caliber linebacker, broke out as a junior. He will lead a corps that includes juniors Lamin Touray and James Fotofili and sophomore Giovanni Miranda.
The quiet strength of the defense is the back end, which lost star corner Daniel Brown but returns every other player who saw significant action. That includes senior corner EJ Muhammad, who received an injury waiver from the NCAA to play another season, and junior safety Tyson Williams, who broke out as a sophomore.
Previewing Nevada's Specialists for 2020
Kicker Brandon Talton (21-of-25 FGs) hit two game-winners and earned second-team all-conference honors as a freshman. Eric Fellenzer will battle with incoming frosh Charlie Pollock at punter. Nevada needs more explosiveness from its returners, with Doubs, Stovall, Taua and possibly Jernagin all factoring in the return game.
Confidence is understandably high in Reno. With spring practices wiped out, Nevada’s 14 returning starters should be a significant early advantage. And the Wolf Pack’s conference schedule is favorable, devoid of Boise State and with their toughest league opponents at home. Put it together, and Nevada is poised to contend for its first division title.
National Ranking: 82
(Top photo courtesy of Nevada Athletics)