Who has the edge? Nevada Edition Part II
LARAMIE — People like to say that the game of football is
not played on paper.
They are right — but it’s still fun to look.
Today, we will breakdown the defenses of the Nevada Wolf
Pack (4-3, 1-2) and Wyoming Cowboys (5-2, 2-1). The two squads will meet tomorrow
at noon at War Memorial Stadium.
So, who has the edge on defense?
The Pokes were without the services of Mario Mora last Saturday when the New Mexico Lobos were in town. That left the interior defensive line with Javaree Jackson and Cole Godbout to carry most of the load. All they did was help hold a potent Lobo rushing attack to just 4.6 yards per carry. Fast forward to this week. Mora is back. And he’s bringing his 11 tackles and 1.5 sacks with him. That will only help. Garrett Crall, Wyoming’s leader in sacks, added one more against New Mexico and now has four on the season. Josiah Hall had a nice game, too, recording three tackles, two of which were behind the line of scrimmage. Wyoming’s young defensive front has been a real bright spot this season under the leadership of Pete Kaligis and AJ Cooper. Wyoming leads the Mountain West Conference in sacks with 22. Even more impressive, these guys up front are helping hold opponents to just 100 rushing yards per game. That’s good enough for 19th in the nation. Wyoming is also tied for 17th overall in tackles for loss with 54 through seven games. That is also tops in the league. The line alone isn’t responsible for all these numbers, but it is the Cowboys first line of defense. A unit many thought would be a liability heading into the year.
Defensive end Dom Peterson was lumped in with some of the top defenders in the Mountain West heading into the season. The sophomore pass rusher is showing why. Peterson, who stands just 6-foot tall and weighs in at 295 pounds, leads the Wolf Pack with four sacks. He also has a forced fumble and 24 stops from his end position. Peterson is one of two returning starters from the 2018 squad which ranked seventh in total defense in the 12-team league. The other is Hausia Sekona. The senior nose tackle has 15 stops on the season. The Wolf Pack run a three-man defensive front. The third member of the group is defensive end, Kameron Toomer. He has 19 tackles and a sack to his credit. This isn’t all on this unit, but Nevada has only registered 11 sacks as a team through seven games. The Wolf Pack rush defense has been solid this season, allowing just 134 yards per game on the ground. Last week at Utah State, the Aggies exposed Nevada on the ground, rushing for 244 yards on 44 carries. That could be good news for a Wyoming offense that makes no bones about it – they will run. A lot.
Some of those pretty stats above belong to these guys. Logan Wilson was supposed to have a big final campaign in Laramie. The senior from Casper is doing just that. Wilson is second on the team with 54 tackles. He also has six pass breakups and an interception. How good has Wilson been – as far as active tacklers go, he is No. 2 in the nation with 358 stops. Chad Muma has been a big surprise for this unit so far this season. The Lone Tree, Colo., native has 36 tackles and a sack under his belt. The sophomore is third on the squad in tackles. Cassh Maluia is also having a breakout senior campaign, recording 28 tackles and a pair of interceptions. These guys have been the backbone of the defense this season. They are the veterans in a sea of youth. The trio combined for 10 tackles in the 23-10 win over the Lobos. That is considered an off-day for this group.
Last week’s lopsided loss to the Aggies also came at the expense of the Nevada linebacking corps. Utah State running back, Gerold Bright, averaged a game-high 8.4 yards per carry while racking up 126 yards on just 15 carries. Lawson Hall led all Nevada defenders with six tackles and a tackle for loss in the 36-10 setback in Logan. Hall is the Wolf Pack’s second-leading tackler this season with 35 stops and a sack. Gabriel Sewell, a speedy senior from St. George, Utah, was listed among the best linebackers during the preseason award handouts. He is the team’s fifth-leading tackler with 28 stops and a pass breakup. Kyle Adams and his 15 tackles this season round out this unit that has been stout against the rush and the opposite of that against the pass. Nevada gives up passing yards in droves. We will get to that in a minute. If these guys can’t contain Xazavian Valladay and the Pokes’ aggressive, athletic offensive line, it could be a long day in Laramie for the visitors Saturday.
These two secondaries have a lot on common. We will get to that in Nevada's graph. For now, enjoy the fact that the Wyoming secondary brings the pain each and every outing. Last week, it was Keyon Blankenbaker making plays all over the field. The sophomore nickel back led the team with nine tackles in the victory over the Lobos. Then, there’s Alijah Halliburton, arguably the top safety in the MWC. His 69 tackles are good enough for 13th overall in the nation and second most in the league behind only Utah State’s David Woodward, who has 82. That’s the good news. The bad – the Cowboys are still giving up way too many yards through the air. Wyoming allows 294 passing yards per outing. That’s 124th out of 130 FBS teams. Against the Lobos, Tyler Hall and Azizi Hearn had a rough outing, allowing 203 yards on just 14 completions. That is an average of 14.5 yards per catch. Wyoming has shown improvement in this category until last week’s outing. This week, they will need to be much better. Elijah Cooks, Kaleb Fossum and Romeo Doubs could make it a long afternoon for the Pokes. If Wyoming can shut down – or at least contain – this trio of wide outs, it should be able to control the game. Nevada quarterbacks turn the ball over at an alarming rate. If the Cowboys can make them one dimensional, takeaways could follow.
When it comes to the back end of the Nevada defense, it looks a lot like Saturday’s foe. They have hard-hitting safeties that don’t miss, are great against the run and give up way too many big plays in the secondary. Nevada’s version of Halliburton is Tyson Williams. The 5-foot, 9-inch, 195-pound safety leads the team in tackles with 44. He has picked off a pass and battled down four others. EJ Muhammad is another sledgehammer in the Wolf Pack secondary. He is third on the squad with 32 tackles and three pass breakups. Daniel Brown could be compared to Hall. He is the team’s best cover corner and already has three interceptions this season. This pass defense is not a good one, allowing 279.4 yards through the air per outing. That’s 116th out of 130 FBS teams. However, they do find a way to get around the ball. Nevada’s back four has eight interceptions. Just by those stats alone, it reeks of feast or famine. Last Saturday, Nevada held Utah State in check as far as the passing game goes. The Aggies completed just 15 passes for 174 yards. Who needs to pass when the ground game is clicking? That sounds familiar in the locker room in Laramie.