Wolf Pack opens season this week against Purdue

RENO, NV - Game Notes from Nevada Athletics:

Week #1 - Purdue Boilermakers (0-0, 0-0 Big Ten) at Nevada Wolf Pack (0-0, 0-0 MW)
Date: Friday, Aug. 30
Kickoff: 6:33 p.m. PT
Stadium: Mackay Stadium
Location: Reno, Nev.
TV: CBS Sports Network
Radio: Wolf Pack Radio Network (Flagship: ESPN Radio 94.5 FM/630 AM); TuneIn app
Series: Purdue leads, 1-0
Last Meeting: Sept. 24, 2016; L, 24-14

It hasn't been a long series between Nevada and Purdue. In fact it's only been one game that the Wolf Pack and Boilermakers have played against one another. Back on Sept. 24, 2016 Nevada and Purdue met for the first time with the Boilermakers sneaking away with a 24-14 victory in West Lafayette, Ind.

The Wolf Pack is 62-46-3 in season openers all-time and has won four of its last five season-opening games. The last time that Nevada opened the season at home was last year when it scored a big win, 72-19, over Portland State. Head coach Jay Norvell is 1-1 in season openers, falling on the road at Northwestern to open the 2017 season and scoring the 72-19 win over Portland State in 2018.

Since becoming an FBS program in 1992, Nevada sports a 20-7 record in home opening contests at Mackay Stadium.

The Wolf Pack has not faced current members of the Big Ten very often in its history, just seven meetings. In those seven meetings Nevada is 1-6 with its only win coming on Sept. 22, 2006, a 35-26 home victory over Northwestern. Oddly enough the last time the Pack squared off against a Big Ten opponent was at Northwestern to open the 2017 season. The Wildcats took the win in that contest, 31-20.

Date Opponent Result
Sept. 2, 2017 at Northwestern L, 30-21
Sept. 24, 2016 at Purdue L, 24-14
Dec. 30, 2008 vs. Maryland L, 42-35 (Maryland not in the Big Ten at the time)
Sept. 1, 2007 at Nebraska L, 52-10 (Nebraska not in the Big Ten at the time)
Sept. 8, 2007 at Northwestern L, 36-31
Sept. 22, 2006 vs. Northwestern W, 31-21
Sept. 4, 1993 at Wisconsin L, 35-17

For the first time since 1998, a freshman will start at quarterback for the Nevada Wolf Pack. Redshirt freshman Carson Strong was named the starting QB for week one midway through fall camp, making him the first freshman since Mo Jones in 1998 to get the nod under center in week one. Strong saw limited time in one game last season, rushing the ball once for four yards in the win over Portland State.

Senior offensive lineman Jake Nelson has been a reliable component to the Union in each of the last two seasons. Not only has Nelson established himself as one of the top offensive linemen in the conference, earning preseason All-MW honors, but he enters 2019 having started in 25 consecutive games. For reference, Nelson has only played in 25 games with the Pack.

In his second season at the helm of the program, Jay Norvell turned the Wolf Pack around in a big way. Nevada went from three wins in 2017 to eight wins in 2018, the most it had won since joining the Mountain West. To put it in perspective, Nevada improved by 4.5 games in 2018 to rank as the seventh-best improvement mark in the NCAA. The Pack posted a 5-3 conference record as well to finish second in the West Division. Norvell and the rest of the team capped off the year with a thrilling come-from-behind overtime victory in the 2018 NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl, the program's sixth bowl win.

The Wolf Pack returns 43 letterwinners and 13 starters from last year's campaign.

Offensive Returning Starters (7): Junior OL Nate Brown, sophomore WR Romeo Doubs, senior OL Jake Nelson, senior WR Kaleb Fossum, senior WR Brendan O'Leary-Orange, junior WR Elijah Cooks, senior RB Kelton Moore
Defensive Returning Starters (5): Senior DB Daniel Brown, sophomore DE Dom Peterson, senior NT Hausia Sekona, senior LB Gabriel Sewell, senior LB Lucas Weber
Special Teams Returning Starters (1): Senior P Quinton Conaway

Senior offensive lineman Jake Nelson and sophomore running back Toa Taua were selected to the Mountain West's Preseason All-Conference team, which was voted on by coaches at MW media days in Las Vegas.

Taua was the Mountain West's Freshman of the Year in 2018 after bursting on the scene with 872 rushing yards last season. He's been named to the national watch lists for the Maxwell Award (national player of the year) and Doak Walker Award (top running back) for the upcoming season.

Nelson, a senior, was an honorable mention All-Mountain West selection a year ago. He's started 25 games in his career and last year led the Wolf Pack to a ranking of 14th nationally in pass protection as the Union allowed just 1.17 sacks per game.

The Nevada quarterback unit enters the 2019 season with a lot of experience to be gained. As the season begins, the most experienced quarterback in the group is senior Cristian Solano, who has 51 career passing attempts and no passing touchdowns. Sophomore Kaymen Cureton, who spent the past two seasons as a QB, did boast the most experience under center with two collegiate starts, but Cureton made the switch to defensive back in the offseason.

After earning a new role in the offseason to coach the Pack's running backs this year, assistant coach Vai Taua is now the only coach in the FBS to be coaching his brother, sophomore back Toa Taua. The Taua's are becoming a household name with Wolf Pack fans as Toa became Nevada's first 'of the year' award winner since joining the Mountain West, notching the conference's freshman of the year honor. Vai on the other hand has his name scattered throughout the Nevada record book, ranking second all-time in rushing yards and fourth in rushing touchdowns.

A total of nine Nevada football student-athletes have already obtained a college degree prior to the start of the 2019 season, with one player earning two degrees. That number ranks tied for 23rd in the nation along with Arizona State, Missouri, Central Florida, Virginia and Western Michigan. SMU leads the way with 22 players having already earned a bachelor's degree.

Graduate Bachelor's Degree Master's Program
Nate Brown Management Higher Education
Kelton Moore Management & Marketing Higher Education
EJ Muhammad Marketing Management
Jake Nelson Criminal Justice Justice Management
Brendan O'Leary-Orange General Studies Human Development & Family Studies
Spencer Pettit Information Systems Business Administration
Gabriel Sewell Kinesiology Higher Education
Cristian Solano Journalism Higher Education
Lucas Weber Public Health Secondary Education

Additionally, as part of a new Mountain West initiative this season, all student-athletes who have earned a degree will sport a new patch on their jersey with the MW logo and the word 'graduate' below.

Nevada senior punter Quinton Conaway has really made a name for himself as he enters his final season with the Wolf Pack. Conaway recorded a career year in 2018 and has begun scattering his name throughout the Nevada record book. Additionally, Conaway has posted strong academics during his time at Nevada as he was selected to the Google Cloud Academic All-District team last season.

Rk Player Years Punt Yards
5 Tom Kolesar 1973-74 6,032
6 Brad Langley 2008-10 5,278
7 Justin Bergendahl 2004-05 4,691
8 Quinton Conaway 2017- 4,629
9 Chase Tenpenny 2012-13 4,618
10 Jason McLean 1995-97 4,483

Rk Player Years Punt Avg.
1. Chase Tenpenny 2012-13 44.0
2 Armando Avina 1993-94 43.8
3 Alex Boy 2014-16 43.3
4 Tom Kolesar 1973-74 43.1
5 Brad Langley 2008-10 42.6
6 Quinton Conaway 2017- 41.7

Last season, Coach Norvell and his program chose three captains to lead the team, one from each unit of offense, defense and special teams. This year, Coach Norvell and the Wolf Pack have selected four team captains to lead the squad into 2019. The four team captains are seniors Kelton Moore, Kaleb Fossum, Hausia Sekona and Lucas Weber.


Key Returners: Carson Strong; Cristian Solano
Key Newcomers: Malik Henry
Outlook: There was a three-way battle for the QB1 job during the 2019 fall training camp, but after an injury to senior Cristian Solano, that battle dropped to two. Midway through camp, head coach Jay Norvell named redshirt freshman Carson Strong his starter for week one. Strong has a big arm and could fit nicely into the Air Raid offense after the Pack lost Ty Gangi in the offseason. A former four-star recruit and Florida State commit, Malik Henry will be a solid option at the back up spot should he be called upon.

Key Returners: Toa Taua, Kelton Moore, Jaxson Kincaide, Devonte Lee
Outlook: The running backs position is one of the most veteran and experienced units on the Wolf Pack this season. This group features two seasoned vets in seniors Kelton Moore and Jaxson Kincaide, along with the reigning Mountain West Freshman of the Year, Toa Taua. This core of backs punched the ball into the endzone 12 times last season on the ground and three more times through the air and should be just as dangerous in 2019.

Key Returners: Kaleb Fossum, Romeo Doubs, Elijah Cooks
Key Newcomers: Melquan Stovall, Henry Ikahihifo
Outlook: The receiving unit is perhaps the deepest group on the Wolf Pack once again. Nevada returns senior Kaleb Fossum, who led the Pack in 2018 with 70 receptions and leads all returners with 734 receiving yards. Fossum and fellow senior Ben Putman, who played hero in last year's Arizona Bowl victory, will be dependable options in the slot. On the outside Nevada has some weapons as well with the return of junior Elijah Cooks and sophomore Romeo Doubs. Cooks leads the returning receivers with six touchdown catches in 2018, while Doubs posted a breakout rookie campaign, hauling in 43 catches for 562 yards.

Key Returners: Jake Nelson, Nate Brown
Key Newcomers: Cole Watts, Trey Price, Tyler Orsini
Outlook: The Union features two returners who played in all 13 games last season with senior Jake Nelson and junior Nate Brown back for 2019. Nelson is expected to have a big senior season and anchor the O-line after being named to the Preseason All-Mountain West team. The other three starting spots on the offensive line should go to a few guys who do have in-game experience such as juniors Miles Beach and Nathan Edwards and sophomore Aaron Frost.

Key Returners: Hausia Sekona, Dom Peterson
Key Newcomers: Javasia Brunson, Breylon Garcia
Outlook: The defensive line did lose one of its most productive pieces in Korey Rush in the offseason, however it shouldn't miss a beat with sophomore Dom Peterson sliding into more of an active role. Peterson impressed in 2018, ranking third on the Pack with 10.5 tackles for loss. The D-line will also have the veteran presence of team captain Hausia Sekona, back for his senior season. Look for guys like juniors Kameron Toomer and Sam Hammond to also see increased playing time and production in 2019.

Key Returners: Gabriel Sewell, Lucas Weber
Outlook: The Wolf Pack linebackers lost their leader in Malik Reed in the offseason, but kept two of its most important pieces in seniors Gabriel Sewell and team captain Lucas Weber. In 2018 Sewell led the entire defensive unit with 92 tackles on the year. Sewell and Weber did swap positions though so look for Sewell to rush the quarterback more from the outside in 2019. A new name to crack the depth chart in week one is sophomore Trevor Price, who hasn't seen much playing time to this point but posted a solid fall camp.

Key Returners: Tyson Williams, Daniel Brown
Key Newcomers: Kaymen Cureton (position switch)
Outlook: The Wolf Pack will have some big shoes to fill after the departure of Asauni Rufus, Dameon Baber and Nephi Sewell, but returners Tyson Williams and Austin Arnold got their fair share of playing time in 2018 and are poised to fill the void left by Rufus, Baber and Sewell. Also in the defensive backfield the Pack boasts one of the top cornerbacks in the Mountain West in senior Daniel Brown. Last season Brown led the team and ranked fifth in the MW with 11 pass breakups and returned an interception 40 yards for a touchdown against Portland State.

Key Returners: Spencer Pettit, Quinton Conaway
Outlook: Nevada returns one of the top punters in the Mountain West in Quinton Conaway, who had a breakout year in 2018, averaging over 43 yards per punt. The Pack lost its starting placekicker from last year, but Spencer Pettit, who handled the kicking duties in 2017, returns for his senior year. The Pack also lost longtime long snapper Wes Farnsworth in the offseason. Look for sophomore Karson Thomas to fill that role.

There were not as many scholarships to award as there typically has been in the past, but one member of the Wolf Pack did hear his name called during fall camp. Junior offensive lineman Nathan Edwards, a local product out of Galena High School, was offered a scholarship midway through camp. Edwards is projected to become more of a force with The Union and get the start at center in week one against Purdue.

The Wolf Pack's depth chart on offense and defense consists of: 13 seniors, 16 juniors, 12 sophomores, three redshirt freshmen and two true freshmen.

Jay Norvell enters his third season at the helm of the Wolf Pack football program, his first stint as a head coach. A majority of the coaching staff from year two remains, with the exception of a couple of new faces.

Angus McClure, Asst. Head Coach/Offensive Line (2nd season)
Jeff Casteel, Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers (3rd season)
Matt Mumme, Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks (3rd season)
Mike Chamoures, Safeties (2nd season)
Timmy Chang, Tight Ends (3rd season)
Jackie Shipp, Defensive Line (1st season)
David Lockwood, Secondary (2nd season)
Tommy Perry, Special Teams (3rd season)
Eric Scott, Wide Receivers (3rd season)
Vai Taua, Running Backs (1st season)
Gunnar White/Chad Savage, Offensive GAs (2nd season)
Korey Rush, Defensive GA (1st season)
Jimbo Davis/Jack Ray/Ben Bezilla/Charlie Rizzo/Clayton Webb, Quality Control

Nevada had nine players earn preseason recognition from either a preseason trophy watch list or preseason all-conference list. The Pack's preseason honorees consisted of five offensive players and four defensive players.

Gabriel Sewell
• Chuck Bednarik Award preseason watch list
• Polynesian College Football Player of the Year Award watch list
• Preseason Second Team All-MW by Phil Steele Magazine
• Preseason Third Team All-MW by Athlon Sports

Lucas Weber
• Wuerffel Trophy preseason watch list
• Nominee for the AFCA Good Works Team
• Preseason Third Team All-MW by Phil Steele Magazine

Toa Taua
• Preseason All-Mountain West selection
• Doak Walker Award preseason watch list
• Maxwell Award preseason watch list
• Polynesian College Football Player of the Year Award watch list
• Preseason First Team All-MW by Athlon Sports and Phil Steele Magazine

Dom Peterson
• Ted Hendricks Award preseason watch list
• Preseason Second Team All-MW by Athlon Sports
• Preseason Third Team All-MW by Phil Steele Magazine

Jake Nelson
• Preseason All-Mountain West selection
• Outland Trophy preseason watch list
• Preseason First Team All-MW by Athlon Sports and Phil Steele Magazine

Romeo Doubs
• Preseason Third Team All-MW by Athlon Sports and Phil Steele Magazine

Kaleb Fossum
• Preseason Fourth Team All-MW by Athlon Sports
• Preseason Second Team All-MW by Phil Steele Magazine

Nate Brown
• Preseason Fourth Team All-MW by Athlon Sports

Daniel Brown
• Preseason Second Team All-MW by Athlon Sports and Phil Steele Magazine

Nevada has posted winning seasons in seven out of its past 10 campaigns.

Nevada is in its 113th season of collegiate football, seeking win No. 552 in the program's strong history. The Wolf Pack sports an all-time record of 551-488-33 (.549). Since joining the FBS in 1992, Nevada is 175-152 overall and 114-82 in conference play.

The conference coaches voted Nevada to finish third in the Mountain West's West Division in the preseason All-MW poll. The Wolf Pack earned 74 points, finishing ahead of Hawai'i, UNLV and San José State. Reigning conference champions Fresno State earned 17 first place votes and 122 points overall to lead the West Division. San Diego State garnered three first place votes and was picked to finish in the runner-up spot. Boise State earned 15 first place votes and was predicted to finish first in the Mountain Division ahead of Utah State.