Nevada gets pistol-whipped by Oregon's big plays
With fewer than five minutes left in the first quarter, it looked as if the Nevada Wolf Pack had an opportunity to really be competitive against the No. 13 Oregon Ducks. Though the Wolf Pack were down 6-0, they had just held the Ducks to a three-and-out and had driven all the way down to the 20-yard line. After an incomplete throw on third and 4 from senior quarterback Tyler Lantrip, who made his first career start in Autzen Stadium on Saturday, Wolf Pack kicker Anthony Martinez lined up to attempt a 38-yard field goal and capitalize on his team’s 10-play drive.
Instead, the kick was blocked by Oregon free safety John Boyett, and the Ducks scored a touchdown six plays later on the heels of a 62-yard rush from tailback De’Anthony Thomas that put Oregon on Nevada’s 3-yard line.
Nevada head coach Chris Ault was extremely critical of the blocked field goal, noting that he could have blocked it flat-footed, saying “We’ve got some problems if I can block that kick.”
“When you’ve got an experienced kicker that does that to you, you’re doggone right that puts everything in a bind,” Ault added.
With its upset hopes dimmed but not extinguished, the Wolf Pack drove back down the field again on the ensuing possession, with Lantrip getting his team to Oregon’s 25-yard line in five plays, but threw an interception to Ducks cornerback Troy Hill, whose 45-yard return put the ball on Nevada’s 44-yard line.
On the first play of the drive, Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas hit running back LaMichael James on a wheel route on the left sideline for a 44-yard touchdown, putting Nevada in a 20-0 hole it would never climb out of en route to its 69-20 loss to start out its regular season.
The only sustained offensive success the Wolf Pack found was receiver Rishard Matthews, who caught several third-down slant routes to keep possessions alive and ended the game with eight catches for 100 yards.
“It’s just a soft coverage on the outside and we ran short routes and with good leverage you can take advantage of that,” Lantrip said. “They were worried about our run game and overloaded, and we could throw that.”
Lantrip’s first career start was statistically successful, as he completed 21 of 35 passes for 219 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. Still, he was unhappy with his performance against the Ducks’ defense.
“I think we couldn’t finish, that’s what it was,” Lantrip said. “We had some chances and didn’t capitalize and made some dumb mistakes and they proved they’re a really good team.”
The Wolf Pack finally put points on the scoreboard with 2:20 left in the first half when they were already down 41-0. Lantrip hit running back Mike Ball with a five-yard pass to put the cap on an 11-play, 80-yard drive.
Apart from his receiving touchdown, Ball was effective on the ground against the Oregon defense, accumulating 99 yards on 14 carries.
Defensively, the Wolf Pack struggled to contain the Ducks’ potent spread offense. Darron Thomas set a school record by throwing five first-half touchdowns, and added another in the second half to tie the school record for a game. Thomas was 13 of 19 passing the ball, gaining 295 yards through the air and took three carries for 35 yards.
Oregon running back De’Anthony Thomas was on the receiving end of two of those, getting a 24-yard score in the second quarter and a 69-yard catch and run in the third quarter in which he violently juked Nevada defensive back Ty Thompson before scampering into the end zone. Thomas was also Oregon’s leading rusher, gaining 81 yards on eight carries, including the 62-yard rush in the first quarter.
The Wolf Pack surrendered 603 yards of total offense in the game, dwarfing their own prolific total of 516 yards. Ault characterized his quarterbacks’ play as “average” but finished by saying “but you better put some points on the board.”
Nevada linebacker James-Michael Johnson, who finished with five tackles in the game, said the defense was unable to adjust to what Oregon was running offensively.
“They’re a good team, they do what they do really well, and we didn’t have an answer for it,” Johnson said.
Nevada gave up an 11-play scoring drive to Oregon to end the first half down 41-7, however, but nevertheless found a little momentum for the start of the second half. After giving up a punt return touchdown to James, the Wolf Pack rallied with a 13-play, 89-yard touchdown drive that was keyed by two first-down runs by Ball and finished with a one-yard plunge by Stefphon Jefferson.
The Wolf Pack scored again in the fourth quarter when backup quarterback Cody Fajardo took a read option play for a seven-yard touchdown to make the score 55-20. Nevada surrendered two more touchdowns near the end of the game to complete the scoring and hand them a 49-point loss.
Many of Oregon’s touchdowns came off big plays, and Nevada’s secondary suffered from communication problems caused by the Ducks’ uptempo offense. The Ducks ran 12 plays of 20 yards or more, including six of its offensive touchdowns.
“It had an effect because we were looking over to get the play to see what play we were running,” Wolf Pack cornerback Isaiah Frey said. “But we worked on it for however long we were preparing for Oregon, so you can’t use it as an excuse.”
Given the size of his team’s loss, Ault was hesitant to take anything positive from the game.
“I’m not happy at all. You can’t come off the field saying ‘I’m happy with this,’” Ault said. “Some guy says ‘You’re the coach;’ that’s ridiculous. To play that way and to come out and say you’re happy with anything, I think you have to get yourself checked.”