It’s that time of year again: I crack open my trusty laptop which still has Yahoo! as the default search engine and begin the football previews. Up next are (is?) the Nevada Wolf Pack, which is a game that’d have a lot more juice if former Hawkeye Jay Norvell was still the head man.
Who: Nevada Wolf Pack (Reno, NV; Mountain West Conference)
Head Coach: Ken Wilson 0-0; first season as head coach
What: Iowa’s third non-conference game
When: September 17th, 2022; 6:30p God’s Time
Where: Kinnick Stadium; Iowa City, IA
Why: Because Iowa is not about to turn down a 7th home game
131st (out of 131) in returning production: Not only did the Pack lose Norvell to greener pastures, but a lot of their stars packed their bags and left Reno. The most notable departure was QB Carson Strong, who went undrafted despite gaudy numbers (74 TDs to 19 INTs & a career 68% completion), though they do return their top 2 rushers.
79.5% career FG percentage: Nevada’s three-year placekicker, Brandon Talton, has made 58 of 73 kicks in his career. If Iowa cannot put some distance between them and the Pack, the margins are going to matter and Talton is very likely the better kicker.
0: This will be the first time Iowa & Nevada face off.
Toa Taua (#35, RB, 5th yr, 5’9”, 210 lbs): Taua returned to Reno to try and lead Nevada in rushing for a fifth consecutive year. He’s accumulated nearly 4000 scrimmage yards and dabbles as a kickoff returner as well.
He’s got some shiftiness in his stout frame and can burst through holes as a single-cut back. In some ways, he reminds me of Jordan Canzeri in his running style. He’s very likely going to be called upon as the workhorse if Nevada comes away with a victory and it’s easy to see his running out of a read-option scheme get them on the board early before Iowa adjusts.
BJ Casteel (#4, WR, Grad, 6’0”, 190 lbs): The top five receivers for Nevada departed after last season so they went to the portal to find Casteel, who accumulated 880 yards over 4 seasons at Arizona. His 326 last season were the most of any Nevada player on the roster (Taua is second).
He’s the type of player who can make you pay if you don’t wrap him up, with some breakaway speed against Pac-12 teams.
Tyson Williams (#6, CB, 5th yr, 5’9”, 200 lbs): Williams has six interceptions to his name, including one he returned for a touchdown against UNLV. His tackle numbers - decreasing from 86 his sophomore season to 47 last year - tell the story of someone who improved at locking down his side of the field and forcing throws away from the guy he was defending.
Best case: Iowa does what experienced teams do against inexperienced teams. They assert control early by spreading the ball around on offense and force mistake after mistake from Nevada’s QB. Despite running ball-control for the better part of the second half, Iowa is able to extend the lead to 30+ points for an easy victory.
Worst case: Nevada grabs an early lead and maintains control of the game behind Taua’s running. Iowa eventually gets it going but Nevada keeps it close enough for Talton to knock in a go-ahead field goal with little or no time remaining, sending the evening Hawkeye crowd into a dark and stormy evening.
Is the quarterback position settled coming after this game? In my quarterback write-up, I presumed the competition was akin to a 100-meter dash with Spencer Petras having a 50-meter head start. If it isn’t the case - or his play throughout the first two games warrants an extension of a battle for starter - and Kirk waffles in solidifying the guy under center then the longer it drags on is to nobody’s benefit.
I’m reminded of how 2008 played out, with it being a truly open competition for everyone except Kirk. Ricky Stanzi had slightly better stats through two games (JC6!) before bungling the ISU game with two interceptions and a sub-50% completion which kept the job open. Though he bounced back against Pitt, it wasn’t enough to offset Christiansen’s inaccuracy and eventual loss.
All’s this to say that, for better or worse, Iowa will need to have the QB position settled heading into conference play because the longer it drags on does nobody any favors.