Nevada comes back to South Bend for the first time since 2009 when a lanky quarterback named Colin Kaepernick couldn't even score against a defense destined to hemorrhage points for the rest of the season. That was Manti's Te'o's first career game--it feels just like yesterday yet so far away now.
Starters Returning: 11/11
Key Losses: RB Don Jackson, TE Matt Moen, OL Adam Khouri, OL Joey Anglemire
Key Returnees: QB Tyler Stewart, RB James Butler, WR Hasaan Henderson, WR Jericho Richardson, TE Jarred Gibson, plus the entire offensive line.
FEI Offense Rank: 97
S&P Offense Rank: 91
S&P Rush Rank: 81
S&P Pass Rank: 103
Turnovers: 12 (7 INT)
Another New OC
The Irish open up their home campaign against an offense breaking in a new coordinator. That makes the first two games against new OC's for the 2016 schedule.
Nick Rolovich had been with Nevada for a few years and decided to leave the continental United States and become the head coach at Hawaii. He was a former Hawaii player and previously spent 6 years as an assistant at his alma mater so the move made some sense.
The Wolf Pack now welcome Tim Cramsey who spent the previous 3 seasons as the OC at Montana State. As a former New Hampshire quarterback, Cramsey is a disciple of the Chip Kelly offense as he worked as an assistant at his alma mater for 9 years, the final two as offensive coordinator.
Feature on Nevada's OC Tim Cramsey, the man in charge of returning the Pack's offense to its once lofty heights. https://t.co/sxhLAmLGD1— Chris Murray (@MurrayRGJ) April 15, 2016
Cramsey's up-tempo spread offense utilizes a heavy dose of the Pistol which gets Nevada back to some Ault-era roots. He's known more for throwing the ball in comparison to Chip Kelly but the Wolf Pack's strengths are destined to be on the ground in 2016. During the spring game they ran the ball on 60 out of the total 79 snaps.
Nevada is basically returning their entire offense. Don Jackson technically started 11 games at running back but was the less productive player compared to James Butler. Both reached the 1,000-yard mark last year thanks to really good explosiveness. Up front, Khouri and Anglemire were veterans who made a few starts in 2015 but couldn't finish the season due to injury. They've since medically retired.
Adding depth at running back is a big off-season goal for Nevada as they only produced a shocking 6 carries in 2015 to players that weren't running backs Jackson and Butler or quarterback Tyler Stewart.
Former St Francis star Akeel Lynch lands at Nevada after leaving PSU https://t.co/rOm7afHUfj— Josh Reed (@4JoshReed) February 4, 2016
Akeel Lynch should help out in that department. The graduate transfer from Penn State had a decent career in Happy Valley (1,318 yards, 7 touchdowns) and is likely to move up into the backup role behind Butler. Nevada also got 117 rushing yards from redshirt freshman Kelton Moore in the spring game, as well as 63 yards from redshirt sophomore Blake Wright. Those players should round out the depth chart.
Prior to spring there were some rumblings that Nevada would be looking to replace returning starting quarterback and 5th-year senior Tyler Stewart. He's decently athletic (322 yards on 98 carries) but his throwing ability was really poor at times last year.
Stewart finished 2015 with 57.1% accuracy on 2,139 yards and just 15 touchdown passes. Worse still, his 6.6 YPA was the lowest among all qualifying Mountain West quarterbacks.
The Wolf Pack aren't short any options with 5 other quarterbacks on scholarship. JUCO quarterback Ty Gangi could mix the depth chart up as could Wisconsin transfer Austin Kafentzis who is the highest rated recruit on the roster. Kafentzis reported to Madison last summer as a freshman but transferred to Reno before the season started.
Coming out of spring, head coach Brian Polian seemed content with Stewart and barring something popping up in fall camp it looks like the 5th-year senior will enter 2016 as the starter again. Stewart finished the spring game going 5 of 7 for 79 yards plus a couple of long runs that were whistled dead due to no-contact.
Nevada's offense wasn't particularly impressive last year but they had a weird consistency about them. The Wolf Pack never scored more than 37 in any game but they did reach at least 20 points in 11 of their 13 contests.
It's clear the run game will be the strength of the offense. James Butler had an impressive true sophomore year with 1,345 rushing yards at 6.47 per carry and could be the best tailback in the Mountain West conference this upcoming season. Adding a quality Power 5 transfer and getting a likely upgrade at offensive coordinator will also help.
So will working with the same starters. All receivers are back, 3 tight ends who made starts return, and the offensive line welcomes back all primary starters. Each of those offensive linemen are at least entering their fourth year on campus and they include 3 seniors in terms of eligibility.
The Wolf Pack really need improved play from Stewart, though. The output in the regular season finale at San Diego State (35 rushing yards) was an eye sore but Nevada seemed to have found a groove late last season with 200+ rushing yards in 5 out of their last 6 games. They just need to get something, anything more from the quarterback position.
In 2015, Nevada didn't throw for 300 yards in any single game as Stewart averaged just over half that mark through the entire season. They could have a spunky offense that has some success moving the ball at times against Notre Dame but Stewart can't throw for 80 yards in the first half in South Bend and expect to score many points for his team.