CFN 2013 Preview - Nevada Wolf Pack
Nevada QB Cody Fajardo
Nevada QB Cody Fajardo
Posted Jun 20, 2013 2013 Preview - Nevada Wolf Pack

Nevada Wolf Pack

Preview 2013

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By Pete Fiutak

Head coach: Brian Polian
1st year
Ten Best Nevada Players
1. QB Cody Fajardo, Jr.
2. DE Brock Hekking, Jr.
3. WR Brandon Wimberly, Sr.
4. DE Lenny Jones, Soph.
5. RB Don Jackson, Soph.
6. WR Richy Turner, Jr.
7. SS Charles Garrett, Jr.
8. C Matt Galas, Jr.
9. OT Joel Bitonio, Sr.
10. TE Kolby Arendse, Sr.
2013 Schedule
8/31 at UCLA
9/7 UC Davis
9/14 at Florida State
9/21 Hawaii
9/28 Air Force
10/4 at San Diego St
10/19 at Boise State
10/26 UNLV
11/2 at Fresno State
11/9 at Colorado State
11/16 San Jose State
11/30 BYU
It's a brand new world for Nevada football without Hall of Fame head coach Chris Ault running his high-powered Pistol offense. Now it's up to Brian Polian not to screw it all up.

The new head coach has lots and lots of work to do with a horrific schedule and massive personnel changes to deal with, and, oh yeah, he has to live up to Ault's unattainable standard turning the program back around and into a factor. Rebuilding isn't considered an option; the Wolf Pack has to win now. That's how high Ault set the bar.

All the excuses are there for Polian, and they're legitimate.

He needs time to make the program his. He needs to replace six starters on each side of the ball. He has to make the miserable defense stronger overnight. He has to get more out of the special teams. However, none of it matters for a program so used to success.

It's been three years since Colin Kaepernick led the way to a historic 13-1 campaign, and while going 7-6 in each of the last two seasons might not be anything special, getting to bowl games is now an expected habit and being a part of the Mountain West title chase will be a must. Polian isn't going to mess too much with what worked offensively, but the defense has to be far more consistent and needs to come up with a stop here and there after getting ripped apart on a regular basis.

Making matters worse for Polian is the work needing to be done on D with most of the back seven needing to be replaced and with the veteran front four needing to start holding up against the run. There are nice pieces to the puzzle, and everyone looks the part with good size and athleticism across the board, but the production has to follow – the Pack won't be as dangerous in shootouts.

Sure, the offense stays, but the line loses its two top blockers in Chris Barker and Jeff Nady and plenty of shuffling needs to be done to find the right starting five to pave the way for the high-powered attack. Quarterback Cody Fajardo will be terrific with a loaded group of receivers to throw to, but he loses the 1,883 yards and 24 touchdowns of Stefphon Jefferson and might have to carry even more of the load by himself.

Polian is stepping into a good situation, but it might take a little while for it to seem that way. He doesn't have a Kaepernick, but he was left a program that's far better than it was ten years ago. He has to keep the consistency rolling.

What to watch for on offense: Who's going to run the ball other than Fajardo? There was supposed to be a rotation, but it was Jefferson who handled the bulk of the work carrying the ball 375 times and catching it 22 more. Polian has vowed that he's not going to mess with the offensive system too much, but it'll only work if JUCO transfer Don Jackson can be special right out of the gate. Kendall Brock is a receiver who'll be in the backfield, and Nate McLaurin has to prove he can handle the work when given the chance. Oh yeah, and to make matters worse, the offensive interior needs time to jell.

What to watch for on defense: How will the defensive back seven hold up? The front four had a rough year against the run, but with age should come more production with all four starters back. It's not like the Pack will totally start from scratch at linebacker and in the secondary, but former corner Charles Garrett is the only returning starter – and he's moving to strong safety. However it all works out, the defense has to come up with more takeaways, more plays in the backfield and more production. After allowing 24 points or more against everyone but Texas State – allowing 21 in the win over the Bobcats – the coaching staff will get tweaking.

The team will be far better if … the secondary starts to come up with a few picks. The pass rush didn't do its part with just two sacks over the final five games and no pressure whatsoever when ends Brock Hekking and Lenny Jones weren't producing. It all trickled down from there with the secondary coming up with just four interceptions – and two coming against Hawaii – in the regular season before picking off two passes in the bowl loss to Arizona. The rebuilt secondary is big, athletic and promising, but it has to be better than last year's veteran crew.

The schedule: It's not fair. Not only does Nevada have to go to UCLA and Florida State in the first three weeks, and not only does it have to deal with BYU to close things out, but it also gets every bad break possible in conference play. Does the Wolf Pack get the lightweights in interdivisional play like New Mexico, Colorado State or Wyoming? No, it has to face Air Force and go on the road to play the two best teams in the conference, Boise State and Fresno State. If that wasn't bad enough, the big showdown against West division foe San Diego State is in California. From the end of September until November 16th, Nevada has exactly one home game against UNLV.

Best offensive player: Junior QB Cody Fajardo. He might be a bit overshadowed by Fresno State's Derek Carr, San Jose State's David Fales and/or Utah State's Chuckie Keeton, but Fajardo is as good as any of them as one of the nation's top dual-threat playmakers. He'll have to be even more of a passer with Brandon Wimberly and Richy Turner back to throw to, but he's at his best when he's taking off and running. As long as he's in one piece, he'll be the one who carries the team.

Best defensive player: Junior DE Brock Hekking. How much did he mean to the woeful defense? The Pack came up with a grand total of 20 sacks, and Hekking had eight of them along with ten of the 50 tackles for loss. Running mate Lenny Jones was the only other producer in the backfield, but it was Hekking who set the tone early in the year and made offenses adjust to him. Like a big linebacker with a great motor and fantastic effort that doesn't stop, he works his way into the backfield and should once again be among the Mountain West's top linemen.

Key player to a successful season: Sophomore RB Don Jackson. The defense has to get a big season out of linebackers Jordan Dobrich and Bryan Lane Jr., and the secondary has to hope for corners Markus Smith and Evan Favors to hold up. A steady placekicker has to emerge, and the defensive tackles need to hold up better against the run after being ripped to shreds. However, nothing else matters if Nevada isn't being Nevada offensively, and that means Jackson has to go from promising JUCO transfer to an elite producer who can tear off at least 1,200 yards.

The season will be a success if … the Pack wins eight games. That might not seem like much, but it would be a one game improvement over the last two seasons. The slate is way too tough to win the West with all the brutal games from the Mountain division and the road game against San Diego State, but merely going bowling for an eighth year in a row should be more than enough to expect considering at UCLA, at Florida State, at San Diego State, at Boise State and BYU could all be losses. Nevada has to win all the games it's supposed to and also come up with an upset or three. However …

Key game: Oct. 14 at San Diego State. If the Wolf Pack can beat Hawaii and Air Force at home to start the conference season, then the tone will be set at San Diego State. Win that, and all of a sudden the team is 3-0 and in a great position in the division before dealing with Boise State and Fresno State. Lose to the Aztecs for a second year in a row and the Mountain West campaign is all but over.

2012 Fun Stats:
- Yards Per Game: Nevada 515 – Opponents 443
- 4th Down Conversions: Nevada 18-of-28 (64%) – Opponents 11-of-23 (48%)
- 2nd Quarter Scoring: Opponents 151 – Nevada 130

- 2013 Nevada Preview | 2013 Nevada Offense
- 2013 Nevada Defense | 2013 Nevada Depth Chart