2011 Nevada Preview – Offense
Nevada WR Rishard Matthews
CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - Nevada Wolf Pack Offense
Preview 2011 - Offense
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What You Need To Know: The offense went from being quirky and productive under head coach Chris Ault and offensive coordinator Cameron Norcross, to something truly special. With Ault handling the passing game and Norcross dealing with the ground attack, the Wolf Pack finished fourth in the nation in total offense and eighth in scoring. Now the attack has to replace QB Colin Kaepernick, RB Vai Taua, TE Virgil Green, and all-star OG John Bender, along with two other starters. The line should be solid with three returning starters, while the running game should continue to be nasty with Mike Ball, Lampford Mark, and others ready to form a dangerous rotation. The air attack should be even stronger with QB Tyler Lantrip a strong, accurate passing prospect, and with Rishard Matthews one of the WAC's best receivers, there could be more happening through the air even with the loss of Brandon Wimberly, who suffered a gunshot wound this offseason and whose football career is in jeopardy.
Star of the offense: Senior WR Rishard Matthews
Passing: Tyler Lantrip
8-13, 155 yds, 1 TD, 0 INT
Rushing: Lampford Mark
55 carries, 413 yds, 3 TD
Receiving: Rishard Matthews
56 catches, 879 yds, 5 TD
Player who has to step up and be a star: Senior QB Tyler Lantrip
Unsung star on the rise: Senior C Jeff Meads
Best pro prospect: Junior OG Chris Barker
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Matthews, 2) Barker, 3) Lantrip
Strength of the offense: Running Game, Line
Weakness of the offense: Veteran Quarterback, Tight End
State of the Unit: Gone is Colin Kaepernick, who went from being a great-looking rushing quarterback to a possible franchise NFL passer. He did everything for the resurgence of the program with 10,098 passing yards, 82 touchdowns, 24 picks, and 4,112 rushing yards and 59 scores in one of the greatest all-around statistical careers in college football history. The main man for the last four years, now Kaepernick has to be replaced and the Wolf Pack needs a steady leader to rely on.
6-4, 220-pound senior Tyler Lantrip has no chance to replace Kaerpenick as an all-around playmaker, but he's big, has a great arm, and he can run a little bit. With excellent speed for his size, he's a great in the open field and should be able to take off and make things happen on his own. Around long enough in a backup role to know what he's doing, he's more than ready to finally get his chance to show what he can do after completing 8-of-13 passes for 155 yards and a score and running for 46 yards and a touchdown in garbage time. The back problems that kept him down early in his career are gone, and now it's his time to put up the big numbers.
Pushing for the starting job, and still in the hunt for time, is redshirt freshman Cody Fajardo, a great-looking 6-2, 205-pound prospect who was wanted by everyone in the WAC and Boise State. A good athlete and a baller, he's not all that big and he isn't a bomber, but he has the talent to get a shot to be the quarterback of the future, and possibly the present. Sophomore Mason Magleby will also be in the hunt for time with great athleticism and a live arm. USC wanted the 6-2, 205-pounder to play baseball, and he was a hot-shot dual-sport prospect wanted by several schools.
Watch Out For … more of a fight for the starting job than it might seem. Lantrip has been dutifully waiting his turn, but Chris Ault didn't exactly cement the veteran as the starter coming out of spring ball. While it'll be a major upset for anyone other than Lantrip to be the main man, the job is still technically open.
Strength: Runners. The Wolf Pack has more than enough dual-threat playmakers can go around. All the quarterbacks can run, they're all fast, and they can all bomb. Ault recruits to a type, and now he has options.
Weakness: Experience. Kaepernick was a surprising rock of a veteran considering how much he ran the ball and how much he was beaten up. On the downside, no one got any time to show what they could do.
Outlook: There's no way, no how any quarterback can do what Kaepernick did, throwing for 3,022 yards and 21 touchdowns with eight picks, and running for 1,206 yards and 20 scores last year alone. Lantrip has the size, the skill, and the makeup to be very, very good, while Fajardo and Magleby are terrific prospects to work with for the near future.
Unit Rating: 7.5
State of the Unit: While Colin Kaepernick had a lot to do with the running game over the last few years, the running backs have been fantastic with Vai Taua cranking out 4,588 yards and 45 touchdowns. Most of his work came in the last two seasons, and now it'll take a slew of experienced backs to pick up the slack. The Wolf Pack never has a problem running the ball, and now it's time to unleash the speedsters.
Junior Mike Ball was supposed to take over a big role as a key part of the running game, but he was in the doghouse after being suspended for a violation of team rules and he only ended up with 259 yards and four scores with 101 yards against Idaho in a blowout. At 5-10 and 215 pounds he has good size and home run hitting ability, tearing off a few big runs over the years when he got his chances, and now he'll get the first look. With tremendous quickness and moves, he's a top kickoff returner. With a compact body and a quick, scooting running style, he's a great fit for the offense, and like all the Wolf Pack runners, he was phenomenally productive in high school with track star speed. A darter, he'll be the next on the train to 1,000 yards if he can stay healthy.
One of the big keys to the running game will be the knee of Lampford Mark, who finished third on the team with 413 yards and three scores, highlighted with 116 yards against Idaho and 95 yards against New Mexico State in blowouts. He tore his ACL late in the year and is still iffy to be 100% by the time the season starts, and the offense needs his speed. At 6-1 and 200 pounds he has good size, and he can fly with 10.7 100 and 21.8 200 speed.
New recruit Anthony Knight is a 6-1, 225-pounder out of Massachusetts who can work as a tailback or a fullback with great blocking ability and a tough running style. He's built to be an ideal short yardage back in the Wolf Pack attack, and he can get outside at times, too. He'll combine with sophomore Stefphon Jefferson, a 5-11, 190-pound speedster who saw a little time as a freshman running for 26 yards and a score.
Watch Out For … Ball. He has always had the speed and he has the talent, but he hasn't been able to get his career rolling. Now he has every shot to be a star, and he should be a lock for at least 1,000 yards with plenty of highlight reel dashes.
Strength: The offense. It's a dream of an attack to run in. The holes are wide open, there's plenty of space to move, and if you can hold on to the ball, you'll average six yards per carry and put up ridiculous numbers. All the backs in the mix should shine when they get their chance.
Weakness: Experience. Ball, Mark, and the rest of the backs should be great, but they haven't done it yet. Mark still has to get healthy and Ball has to prove he can handle a big workload. Receiving has been an issue for the Nevada backs, too.
Outlook: While the overall production might not be there like it was in past seasons with Colin Kaepernick running the attack, the ground game will still be devastating. Unlike last year when Vai Taua handled most of the work, there should be more of a rotation considering no one player took the job by the horns this offseason. The rating is based on expected production more than talent.
Unit Rating: 8
State of the Unit: While Nevada has been known for its ground game and its devastatingly long runs, the passing game has been terrific. The Pack was 15th in the nation in passing efficiency and averaged 227 yards per game, and while Colin Kaepernick is gone, Tyler Lantrip is a good enough passer to take advantage of all the returning experience. Ultra-athletic tight end Virgil Green is gone, but the top target is back and there are plenty of great prospects ready to spread out the field.
Back as the No. 1 target, and ready to take on more of a leadership role, is Rishard Matthews, a former JUCO transfer who bailed out the miserable punt return game averaging 9.8 yards per pop, while leading the way with 56 catches for 879 yards and five touchdowns, averaging 15.7 yards per catch. At 6-2 and 215 pounds he has great size, great short-range quickness and home run hitting long speed. It's all there to do big things at the inside Z position, but he can also work on the outside if needed. After a steady first part of the year, he turned into a gamebreaker with seven catches for 151 yards and two scores against Idaho and ten grabs for 172 yards and a touchdown, and a 44-yard rushing score, in the win over Boise State. He'll be backed up redshirt freshman Lemar Durant, a 6-2, 210-pound excellent athlete out of Canada. He can jump out of the stadium.
Junior Brandon Wimberly turned into the team's best receiver two years ago as a top deep threat on the X, and with great speed and 6-3, 210-pound size, he had the talent and the ability put up huge numbers. However, he regressed with the emergence of Matthews, catching 41 passes for 482 yards and no scores after making 53 grabs with six touchdowns two years ago. Most importantly, of course, he suffered a serious gunshot wound in June that damaged his colon and intestines. He's still recovering, and his football career is up in the air, but he's reportedly to be on track to recovery. Obviously, whether or not he does anything on the field this year takes a backseat.
With Wimberly out, the team needs someone else to step up. 6-1, 210-pound senior Shane Anderson caught two passes for 34 yards and a score, with the 28-yard touchdown pass coming against Idaho, and he has enough deep speed to be a bigger part of the rotation.
Taking over a full-time starting spot again is senior Trey Session, a 13-game starter two years ago who caught 30 passes in 2009 and followed it up with 17 catches for 313 yards and three scores, averaging 18.4 yards per catch. The brother of former Oregon star, Samie Parker, needs to step up his game after a decent year, but not a great one. At 6-3 and 190 pounds, he beefed up a bit and filled out his frame, and he has great speed with the ball in his hands. Sophomore L.J. Washington was supposed to be a huge factor last year, but the 6-0, 195-pounder suffered a knee injury and missed the entire season. He had a shot to go to Cal, but changed his mind and now needs to get healthy to show off his kick return skills, gamebreaking speed, and dangerous versatility.
Tight end Virgil Green caught 35 passes for 515 yards and five touchdowns, and then he blew up the NFL Combine with his speed and athleticism. Trying to replace him is senior Zach Sudfield, a special reamer who caught one pass for eight yards in his limited action. A full-tilt worker with a great motor, the junior is big, tough, and has the potential to pose major matchup problems as a big pass catching tight end. Even with his new role, he'll still mostly see time on special teams. He'll be backed up by 6-4, 260-pound sophomore Randy Horton, a nice receiving prospect with the athleticism to come up with a big block down the field.
Watch Out For … Session and Washington. It'll be an interesting battle to see who can take over the No. 2 job with Wimberly out, and Session and Washington have the ability to do big things. When they get the ball in their hands in space, they should put up big numbers.
Strength: Matthews. He appears ready to take his game to a whole other level, and he appears ready to fill in the leadership void on the attack. Even with Wimberly out, Session, Washington, and others should turn out to be fine.
Weakness: Tight end. Green was fantastic with 71 career catches for 911 yards and 11 scores as a gamebreaking playmaker who could stretch the field. Sudfeld and Horton are different types of tight ends, and while Nevada always gets good receiving production out of the position, there will be a drop off.
Outlook: The Wolf Pack might have relied on the running game to move the attack, but even without Wimberly, one of the big strengths could still be at receiver with Matthews leading the way. It'll take a big season from Session and Washington to help make up for the loss of tight end Virgil Green.
Unit Rating: 6
State of the Unit: Partly because of the offensive style and partly because the line was really that good, the Nevada line finished 12th in the nation in sacks allowed and paved the way for the nation's third-best ground game. Three starters return, and while work needs to be done on the strongside, the production should keep on coming with good size and nice prospects.
Taking over the starting job early on last year is junior Jeff Nady, a 6-7, 290-pound weak tackle who missed a little time hurt, but did a nice job holding down the job on the outside. Now the job should be his for the next two years, and while he's not a mauler, he's very tall with a great frame that's tough to get around.
Senior Jeff Meads took over for Kenneth Ackerman in the middle of the line and made the line his. The 6-3, 290-pound center started every game and was fantastic. While he didn't earn all-star honors, he was one of the WAC's most consistent centers as he overcame the injuries that cost him most of 2009 to handle himself well. A top recruit despite suffering a bad knee injury in high school, he'll be one of the team's key anchors. He'll be backed up by senior Jordan Mudge, a 6-4, 300-pound former JUCO transfer who saw time in eight games and can play anywhere on the interior.
The star up front is Second Team All-WAC performer Chris Barker, a 6-4, 305-pound junior who was expected to grow into a top player, and did. One of the team's top recruits over the last few years, he started every game two seasons ago showing off toughness and agility for his size, and then he grew into the type of blocker who'll put his man in the tenth row. A great athlete who could've played in the Pac 10, he's the one the ground game will work behind.
Senior Steve Haley was supposed to be the key to outside at tackle, but he suffered an arm injury and was moved to a backup role after the third game of the season. The 6-5, 305-pounder will get the call again at Strong Tackle and can see time if guard if needed. He's a veteran who knows what he's doing and is a strong, tough pass protector.
Taking over for First Team All-WAC star John Bender at Strong Guard is senior Scott Frisbie, a smallish 6-4, 275-pound former defensive lineman who has seen time as a short snapper and worked as a tight end and guard last year. While he's not huge, he can move. Adding more size to the position is 6-4, 300-pound redshirt freshman Avery Poates, big, strong prospect who wasn't a top recruit, but has the bulk to push people around for the ground game.
6-6, 280-pound redshirt freshman Kyle Roberts had his choice of Mountain West schools and will be the future at one of the tackle jobs. A steady practice player, he'll work behind Nady at Weak Tackle early on. Working as a backup at the other tackle job is Joel Bitonio, a nice backup last year who saw time on special teams and filled in the gaps in blowouts at tackle. At 6-4 and 300 pounds, he has good size and is tough and strong.
Watch Out For … Meads. The line needs more stars, and with Bender gone, Meads appears ready to be one of the veterans to work the blocking scheme around. He's smart, steady, and a great leader in the middle.
Strength: Blocking. "The Union" - the nickname for the O line – continues to be a machine, and now three starters are back with the two open spots certain to be ably filled. The line was terrific in pass protection and was peerless at handling the Pistol offense for the ground game.
Weakness: Strong Guard. Frisbie is a bit of an X factor taking over for Bender, who was one of the WAC's most dominant blockers. Poates will get his chances for the job, and other guard prospects will get a shot.
Outlook: "The Union" had its best season by far under the second term of Chris Ault, and it showed with the 13-1 record. Considering Nevada had one of the WAC's best O lines over the last few seasons, or was at least No. 1A next to Boise State, the 2010 front five set a high standard. The 2011 line won't be as good, but Barker and Meads should be all-stars and solid, and Nady and Haley are good ones on the outside.
Unit Rating: 7
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