In a week that seems to be dragging on forever (are we REALLY on a two game losing streak? Ugh.), we have a few more bits of quack up our sleeves to hold you over until gameday. We are joined by Andrew Maurins of the Nevada board Silver and Blue Sports. Andrew gives us the Nevada perspective on the matchup at Autzen this weekend:
1. Nevada loses Colin Kaepernick, who is one of the greatest players in Nevada history. Can Nevada come anywhere close to last season's success without him?
When you're coming off of what was literally your best season ever, anything short of busting the BCS this time around is a step back. As far as yard-for-yard and point-for-point production and another 12+ win season this year, the short answer is most likely "no." But while it's true that Kaep's skill set was a perfect fit for the pistol, this isn't to say another quarterback with slightly different skills couldn't thrive in it just as easily as he did. Coach Ault has shown a great ability to adapt his offenses to fit his quarterbacks and vice versa, so it's all a matter of how the skills of his players mesh together and how he wants to utilize them.
2. Nevada's offense gets all the accolades, but tell me about the Wolf Pack defense. Do you have any hope of them slowing down Oregon?
For all the attention the offense got last year, defense was the biggest reason Nevada was finally able to break through. Andy Buh's 4-3 scheme was just the change the defense needed to become more of an asset than a liability. They weren't lights-out all the time, but generally they gave up fewer rushing yards, fewer passing touchdowns and -- most importantly -- fewer points than previous units had.
But with all of that said, this will still be the stiffest test the unit will have faced since Boise State last year. There are depth issues at defensive end and in the linebacking corps that weren't there before, but the secondary is the best it's been in years and the starters in place across the entire unit are plenty talented. I'm unsure whether the unit can keep the score close late in the game, but I'm far more confident with Coach Buh calling the shots than I ever was when his predecessor was here.
3. Give me on player on each side of the football that Oregon fans should really take notice of.
Coach Ault has raved about his running backs since the spring, but for the offense I think wide receiver Rishard Matthews (#15) stands out. He's the big play threat the receiving corps has sorely missed the last few years -- great hands, great route runner and a killer instinct for getting in just the right position to haul in tough passes. He's also quite effective on punt returns.
On defense, I'm tempted to say James-Michael Johnson (#52), but as your readers might already be somewhat familiar with him from other entries, I'll instead go with Duke Williams (#20). He's a very strong and disruptive safety who's always looking to deliver the big hit on an unsuspecting receiver. He's also listed as a kick returner on this week's depth chart, though we've never seen him try it before.
4. I have to ask, four straight road games to start the season? Home opener not until October 8? What's up with that?
Not a day goes by where we don't ask ourselves the same question. The Cliff Notes version of the story is that Nevada's Mountain West invitation further complicated a schedule that had already proven difficult to modify. They (the MWC) moved the New Mexico home game to October 15th from September 3rd at the Lobos' request, neither Oregon nor Texas Tech were willing to move their dates, the WAC relished the opportunity to keep Nevada on the road next week, and an informal agreement to play in Boise (somehow) became part of it all. Throw in a slew of back-up plans that never came to fruition and you have the unholy monstrosity we're currently saddled with.
5. This is Nevada's last season in the WAC, and there is no Boise State (although you play them in the non-conference). Is the expectation another WAC title?
I'd say that's still the expectation, for the most part. Unlike in previous years, there's no clear-cut favorite to win the WAC, and the three teams perceived to be in the top tier (Hawai'i, Fresno State and Nevada) all have major questions to answer. However, we believe getting both Hawai'i and Fresno at home -- where Nevada has won 12 games in a row dating back to 2009 -- coupled with what will still be a very talented team on both sides of the ball, give Nevada the edge.
Many thanks to Andrew for joining us. You can read my responses to his questions over at Silver and Blue Sports.