We are talking today with Andrew Maurins of Silver And Blue Sports. Those guys cover the Nevada Wolfpack, Cal's 2012 opening game opponent. Hopefully, Memorial Stadium will be done in time for the game this year.
Of course, we all remember the last Cal-Nevada game. That game, held in the high school stadium that Nevada apparently plays its games at, ended......poorly. Noted Ostrich Colin Kaepernick, who I now have to root for, destroyed us. Nevada uses the Pistol formation on offense, which can be very confusing. Do you tackle the guy with the ball or throw yourself at the empty handed player? It always seemed that whatever decision Cal made was the wrong one.
But that was in the past. 2010 is SOOOOOOOOOO 2011. 2012 is (Spoiler Alert) the year we are currently in. So, let's find out more about the 2012 Nevada team. Mr. Maurins' answers to our questions after the jump. GO BEARS!1. What were the core questions that you had hoped would be answered by Spring Practice? Were conclusions reached?
The biggest questions faced by the team heading into spring were the defensive line and the receiving corps. The line lost four starters from a group that was just adequate to begin with, while the receivers lost a lot of productivity and experience of their own. Both units will get infusions of players this fall which will bring them more up to respectability, but in the interim, depth and experience were in short supply.
The best answer to emerge out of the spring was Brandon Wimberly's return to the receiving corps. After getting shot in the abdomen during the 2011 off-season, it was doubtful whether he'd even return to a normal day-to-day existence, much less the rigors of FBS college football. Now, not only is he back on the field, but he looked as though he hasn't missed a single step. His return will provide a big boost not just for his unit, but to the whole team. As for the line, they seemed to play well in their first two scrimmages, putting pressure on the quarterbacks and slowing down the run, but they got pushed around a lot in the Silver and Blue spring game. They're still a bit of a question mark at this time.
2. Any major style changes coming our way in the fall? New offense or defense installed?
Chris Ault's staff was hit with the most departures in one off-season he's ever experienced. Since the 2011 season ended, he's hired a new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach (Nick Rolovich from Hawai'i), promoted his secondary coach to defensive coordinator (Mike Bradeson), brought in a new special teams and running backs coach (Larry Lewis from Colorado State) AND a new offensive line coach (Darren Hiller from Arkansas State).
With his experience in the run and shoot being brought in to a pistol offense, Rolovich is the most intriguing addition to the staff. The pistol will remain the base formation and Ault has indicated the offense will still run first, but the passing game will take on a new look and level of importance that hasn't been seen since the pistol was first created. The defense will play out of a 4-3 scheme that will take advantage of Bradeson's experience with secondaries and the depth the unit will have this year.
3. What players emerged on offense? On defense?
The offensive player who left the biggest impression on me personally was quarterback Cody Fajardo. While displaying the same passing touch and running elusiveness he showed as a redshirt freshman last year, he looked stronger, more confident and at more ease in the pocket. His passing game is already more refined than Colin Kaepernick's was after his freshman season, and his 19 of 22 performance at the spring game is testament to this growth. Tight end Zach Sudfeld was a very close second, showing the best pass-catching ability of anyone outside the receiving corps and looking like Fajardo's favorite target so far. Tony Knight is also a potential instant impact addition to the running backs, showing a great blend of speed and strength.
Three players who performed with similar distinction on defense were inside linebacker DeAndre Boughton, end Lenny Jones and tackle Rykeem Yates. All three players were all over the field at the practice I watched, and Boughton in particular is playing with the urgency you'd expect from a player being counted on to lead his group. While experience will still be a concern along the line, Jones and Yates have shown that maybe a little youth is just what the unit needs.
4. What are your biggest worries coming out of spring ball for the fall?
As good as Fajardo often was last year, it was clear he still had a lot to learn, and having a senior "safety net" in Tyler Lantrip to fall back on when he struggled was a big advantage for the team. He also battled his way through several injuries and didn't become the full-time starter until almost halfway through the season. My concern now is whether Fajardo can stay healthy for an entire year with Lantrip gone and no FBS experience behind him. Any chance the team has of remaining competitive and continuing its streak of bowl appearances starts with these assumptions.
The next-biggest concern I have is the offense's consistency. The extent to which the team benefited from Kaepernick's poise and leadership was made painfully clear during many of Fajardo's "growing pains" moments last year. Long scoring droughts, frequent turnovers and general ineffectiveness at crucial times (particularly in the red zone) directly led to three losses in their final four games (all of which were by seven or fewer points). It was the difference between finishing the season at 7-6 and finishing the season at 8-5, 9-4 or 10-3.
There's also been no true starter named at the running back position yet, but given the team's variety and depth of players at the spot and history of finding effective runners to fit into the pistol scheme, this is less of a concern.
5. Project your season. Contender? Pretender? Middle of the pack?
The combination of turnover in the coaching staff, big questions to answer on both sides of the ball and the move to the Mountain West makes this season one of the hardest to project that I can ever recall. But generally, I trust Ault's judgments when it comes to his staff appointments, and the schedule seems to be set up pretty favorably, with many of the tougher conference games (Boise State, San Diego State and Wyoming) at home, where Nevada traditionally plays very well. I also think the talent on the team is also starting to get to a level where Nevada can replace big losses more easily than they could before. There are a lot of variables at play, but my hunch says an 8-4 season is close to what we can expect, with equal potential for 6-6 or 10-2, depending on how things unfold.
6. Any frosh you can't wait to get on campus?
Definitely Randy Uzoma. He'd be a great receiver to sign in any recruiting class, but his abilities combined with the lack of depth the Pack will have at the position give him a great chance to play as soon as he gets here. Oregon made a big push to land him late in the recruiting process, but he stayed true to his verbal commitment. The last receiver Nevada signed who almost went to Oregon was Rishard Matthews, and he was just drafted by the Dolphins a few weeks ago.
7. Who will you miss the most from last season? Who will be stepping up to fulfill those shoes?
I'm going to miss tackle Brett Roy and what he brought to the defense -- not just his knack for disruption and getting into the backfield, but his swagger and confidence, which will be just as hard (if not harder) to replace. It doesn't hurt that the guy was also the most quote-worthy member of the team (even while praising Fajardo last year, for example, he didn't shy away from affectionately calling him a "pretty-boy"). Look for either Cortez Woods or Rykeem Yates to take over his position on the interior defensive line.
8. Any particular Pac12 match-up/rivalry you are looking forward to this Fall?
Aside from Nevada at Cal, you mean? I'd have to say USC's games against Stanford and Oregon are both intriguing. Just below that I would put Washington State against...pretty much anyone. Seriously, Mike Leach is friggin' nuts and his teams are always fun on a bun. That, and former Nevada assistant Jim Mastro is on his staff and our fans will always root for him to succeed.
9. What are the specific injury concerns coming out of this spring?
Aside from relatively minor things like concussions and the occasional stinger, I don't believe the team has sustained any major injuries heading into the summer and fall.
10. Based on what you've seen, who is ready to take a major leap this fall?
Zach Sudfeld and Cody Fajardo on offense (again, if he stays healthy), and DeAndre Boughton and fellow linebacker Albert Rosette on defense. Rosette, in particular, is moving back to his original position in the backfield after an pretty unremarkable year on the line.
11. Who do you want to punch in the face?
Interesting change of pace here. Assuming we're just talking about the college football world at large, I'd say it's a tie between Jim Delany and Bill Hancock.
The complete and utter contempt Delany shows for non-AQ programs in much of what he says is nothing short of extraordinary. So much so that I often imagine him speaking to the media while wearing a monocle and holding a snifter of brandy while using words like "riff raff" and "unwashed masses" to describe any program that dares to challenge the status quo. He is to college football what Judge Smails is to "Caddyshack" ("You'll get nothing and like it!").
Hancock deserves one for being the biggest BCS apologist the system has ever produced. In a way, you kind of feel bad for him having to tow the company line of such a flawed system -- it can't be an easy job pretending the BCS doesn't suck eggs, after all -- but that sympathy disappears the second he opens his mouth. He is college football's equivalent of a tobacco company lobbyist -- part used car salesman, part spin doctor and all sleazebag.
12. Who's got the best nickname on the team?
I'm partial to Batman personally, so I'm going to go with running back Kendall Brock's nickname out of high school: the Joker.
13. Which one of your assistant coaches is in the hot seat?
Given that pretty much everyone of note on the staff outside of the head coach is new, I doubt anyone is "on the hot seat" in the traditional sense. If there was a particular coach under more pressure to be successful than the others, however, I guess it would be Bradeson. Ault delegated his normal OC and quarterback coaching duties to Rolovich in part to keep a closer eye on the defense, meaning Bradeson might be under a little more scrutiny than his counterparts.
14. Nevada killed Cal with the Pistol last time out. How successful do you see the Pistol being this year?
As I alluded to before, the new competition of the Mountain West makes these projections even harder than they would normally be, and this becomes doubly true when bringing in a new offensive coordinator from a very different (but nonetheless effective) system. Odds are the team won't field another 1,000-yard rusher, but if that starter gets some help from Fajardo and one other running back -- and they have the depth at the position to do just that -- they may not have to rush for that much in order for the offense to be effective. We know the pass will take on new importance, but when the top three receivers on the team are a guy coming back from a near-fatal gunshot wound (Wimberly) and two tight ends (Sudfeld and Kolby Arendse), how fully will that goal be reached?
The team doesn't have the personnel to run a "pistol plus run and shoot" offense, but I'm not sure that's their goal, anyway. I think what's closer to what we'll see is a pistol formation still slightly weighted towards downhill running, but with passing wisdom and expertise imparted by a coordinator with a real talent for meshing his quarterbacks and receivers together. This marriage of styles has the potential to be a great offense, but that's still at least a year or two away from being realized. The only certainty is that this won't be the same pistol that Cal saw in 2010.
15. The pistol was pretty potent last year, but struggled against some of the tougher teams on the schedule. Is the experience and talent there to exploit the best defenses Nevada will face this year?
Talent? Absolutely. Experience? Not so much. As far as their proficiency on the field, a lot of their problems stemmed from the usual freshman mistakes and confidence issues you'd expect a young quarterback to have. It's almost as if playing four straight road games to open a season isn't a good idea (sorry, a little bit of residual bitterness from last year's schedule). In that facet, at least, I'm inclined to believe they'll be better. The fact that the schedule is a lot more manageable than last year's will greatly help as well. With those two things in mind, I'd say they will, in fact match up well (or at least reasonably well) with the better teams they'll face.