Nevada A No-Show
by Dave Congrove
December 24, 2009
Vai Taua, Nevada's leading rusher, didn't make the trip to the Hawai'i Bowl after being ruled academically ineligible. Apparently, the rest of the team didn't bring its desire to play. The Wolf Pack was wiped off the field by the computer's 19-point underdog, SMU, 45-10.
SMU head coach June Jones returned to his former stomping grounds and stomped Nevada from the outset. The former coach of Hawai'i needed just two seasons to get the Mustangs to their first bowl game since defeating Notre Dame here in the 1984 Aloha Bowl. His team needed just 3 plays to take a lead it would never even come close to relinquishing.
To say the outcome was a surprise would be a severe understatement. Nevada was a two-touchdown favorite by Vegas oddsmakers and lost by 35. Perhaps a sign in the stands said it best - "Even Santa Picked Nevada".
Instead, true freshman quarterback Kyle Padron faced Nevada's 119th-ranked pass defense and picked it apart. Padron finished the game 32-of-41 for 460 yards. The box score says he only had two touchdown passes, but a 71-yard completion to Cole Beasley on the second play of the game set up Shawnbrey McNeal's 9-yard run on the next play for the first score. A 58-yard pass to Emmanuel Sanders on the first play of SMU's second drive set up McNeal's 2-yard run that gave SMU a 14-0 lead.
SMU scored on 6 of its first 7 possessions while Nevada was getting in a lot of punt coverage practice. After the Wolf Pack's first possession ended on downs at the SMU 39-yard line, their next six possessions ended with punt, punt, punt, punt, end of half, punt. By the time Nevada finally got on the scoreboard with a 21-yard field goal (why bother to kick it?), it was 38-3.
Nevada's top-ranked rushing offense was held to 137 yards on the ground. In addition to missing Taua (1,345 yards and 10 TD's), it also had to operate without Luke Lippincott (1,034 yards, 9 TD's) who was sidelined with a toe injury. That left QB Colin Kaepernick, the team's second-leading rusher (1,160 yards and 16 TD's) all by himself from the trio of players that set an NCAA record by eclipsing 1,000 yards in the same season. Kaepernick had just 23 yards on 13 carries and didn't fare much better through the air as he completed 15-of-29 for 177 yards and one late, meaningless touchdown pass with 1:04 left in the game.
For SMU, Sanders finished his college career in high fashion with 7 catches for 124 yards and a touchdown. He leaves as SMU’s all-time leader in career catches (285), career TD catches (34) and receiving yards (3,791). He also owns the marks for single-season (98) and single-game (18) receptions, and single-season receiving yardage (1,339).
Junior wide receiver Aldrick Robinson had 9 receptions for 176 yards.
The loss was Nevada's 4th straight in a bowl game and dropped its overall bowl record to 3-7. The Wolf Pack end the season on a 2-game losing streak after reeling off 8 consecutive wins.
SMU's bowl record improved to 5-6-1 as it closed the season with victories in five of its last six games to turn in a final record of 8-5. The Mustangs had a total of 8 wins from 2006 through 2008.