Veteran players pull together offense
August 20, 2013
Richy Turner could barely contain his enthusiasm.
“Our offense is going to be amazing this year,” the Nevada Wolf Pack wide receiver said. “It’s going to be beyond belief.”
That’s just the start.
“There’s nothing we can’t do,” Turner said.
Optimism connected to the offense is nothing new at Nevada. Former head coach Chris Ault’s pistol attack, after all, has been one of the most potent offense in the nation since it debuted in 2005. Last year under Ault the Pack finished eighth in the nation in total offense at 515 yards a game and 18th in scoring at 38 points a game.
So why the increase in excitement heading into the 2013 season?
“First of all, we all have come together as a family,” Turner said. “A lot of us were new here last year and we had a good season. Now, with so many of us coming back, everyone is determined to take the next step and have a great season.”
Back for another year in Silver and Blue will be starting wide receivers Brandon Wimberly, Aaron Bradley and Turner. Quarterback Cody Fajardo returns for his junior year as does starting center Matt Galas and tackle Joel Bitonio. Backup running back Kendall Brock is also back as are tight ends Kolby Arendse and Stephen Jeffers.
The most important member of the 2012 team to come back this year, though, might be offensive coordinator Nick Rolovich. Rolovich, who left the Pack briefly last January to become the offensive coordinator at Temple, takes full ownership of the offense this year after serving his pistol apprenticeship last year under Ault.
“The pistol grows every year,” said Fajardo, who is 11-9 as a starter over the last two seasons. “The pistol always keeps evolving.”
That evolution just might get kicked into high gear under Rolovich this year. The former Hawaii quarterback and offensive coordinator promises to combine Ault’s run-heavy pistol with his Mouse Davis-June Jones run-and-shoot roots.
“It’s still in me,” Rolovich said. “You can’t change your history.”
Rolovich was lured back to Nevada last January by new head coach Brian Polian.
“I’m not stupid,” Polian said. “I know how good this offense has been here.”
Rolovich’s pass-happy history at Hawaii explains all of the new excitement and energy surrounding the Pack offense this year, despite the loss of the offense’s architect in Ault. As a quarterback at Hawaii in 2001, Rolovich once threw for 543 yards and eight touchdowns against BYU.
“I would assume he’s going to put his little touches in there,” smiled Turner.
Wimberly, Turner and Bradley combined to catch 175 passes last season for 2,064 yards and 11 touchdowns.
“We’re definitely going to have a lot more pass plays this year,” said Turner, who had 60 catches last year for 752 yards an three touchdowns.
Turner said he wouldn’t be shocked if someone on the roster becomes the first Pack receiver to catch 100 passes in a season since Ault invented the pistol after the 2004 season. The last Pack player to catch 100 passes was Nate Burleson with 138 in 2002.
“I could do it,” Turner said, “if I had enough balls thrown to me.”
“Why not?” said Wimberly, who caught 70 passes last year for 845 yards and four scores. “That’s only 30 more balls.”
Rolovich called the plays at Hawaii for three season (2009-11) and averaged 348 passing yards a game. Hawaii wide receiver Greg Salas caught 119 passes in 2010 under Rolovich and teammate Kealoha Pilares had 88.
“I don’t know,” said Rolovich, when asked if a Pack receiver will flirt with 100 catches this season. “We’re ready to do that. You never know.”
The Pack offense a year ago was based on running back Stephon Jefferson and the junior turned in arguably the greatest season ever by a Pack back with a school-record 1,883 yards and 25 touchdowns, Jefferson also had a school-record 375 carries.
That, Rolovich and Polian have already declared, is not going to happen this year. Jefferson, who declared early for the NFL draft last spring (he was not drafted) is gone and has been replaced by sophomore newcomer Don Jackson (from Iowa Western College) and 5-foot-8 holdover Kendall Brock.
“We’re still going to run the ball,” Rolovich said.
Just not as much.
“Stef was very durable,” Fajardo said. “But there were times when he would get winded. We don’t want to put that type of pressure on one back this year.”
“He took a lot of carries for us last year,” said Rolovich of Jefferson. “I don’t know if he was as fresh at the end of the year, though. He was a workhorse for us and we appreciated it. But that was a lot of carries for one player.”
Rolovich said that Jackson and Brock will be used a bit differently than Jefferson was used a year ago. Jackson, and especially Brock, will be a vital part of the passing offense this year, Rolovich said. “They are both weapons in space,” Rolovich said. “Both can catch the ball very well out of the backfield.”
The pistol, though, earned its reputation by grinding defenses up with its running game.
“We have The Union,” said Wimberly, referring to the Pack’s offensive line. “They always get the job done. I always say that anybody can run the ball well behind The Union.”
Fajardo, though, who completed 246-of-367 passes last year for 2,786 yards and 20 touchdowns, said he expects to put the ball in the air more often in 2013. But, he warned, don’t expect to see Rolovich’s run-and-shoot roots.
“The tight end is very significant in the pistol offense,” Fajardo said. “Coach Rolo never had a tight end at Hawaii. They just spread everybody out and threw it. I don’t think we’ll do that here. I know we haven’t practiced that.”
Rolovich said his year under Ault learning the pistol was beneficial.
“I learned how running the ball makes us a better, more efficient passing team,” Rolovich said. “I was surprised by the limited coverages we saw last year and it was all because teams were afraid of how we could run the ball.”
Rolovich, though, admitted that Fajardo biggest improvement this year will be in the passing game.
“He has grown so much in the passing game,” Rolovich said. “I have definitely seen him develop his own style throwing the ball.”
The era of Rolo Ball is about to begin at Nevada.
“I feel so grateful to Coach Ault for bringing me here,” Rolovich said. “I was on the verge of being labeled a run and shoot guy.”
Rolovich’s pistol, though, could look very different from Ault’s pistol when the Pack opens its season Aug. 31 at UCLA.
“You know, this game is a crazy game,” Rolovich said. “It is always changing. Coach Ault’s greatest strength was that he was always evolving as a coach. He tight me that if we get complacent, people will figure us out. You have to keep growing.”