Nevada 2021 head coach Jay Norvell, if you didn’t know, was a linebacker on all those Chuck Long Hawkeye teams between 1982 and 1985, cutting his college football chops in practice trying to fight through the blocks of an offensive line coached by a Kirk Ferentz. Norvell earned a run as a graduate assistant at Iowa and UNI and a brief stint as an NFL linebacker before hitching his wagon to Barry Alvarez at Wisconsin. After spending a few decades as an assistant and coordinator, Norvell formed his own gnarly branch on Hayden Fry’s coaching tree when he became Nevada head coach in 2017, sending the Wolfpack bowling in its second year and every year after.
If I was writing this article last fall, it would have been impossible not to present this game as a kind of “Geezer vs. Gunner” match. You know, real clash-of-the-styles stories. Ol’ Grandpa Kirk, with his love of writing with a quill, his hatred of the forward pass and the belief that Werther’s Original is “too soft” compared to the “young gun” and Hawkeye alum Jay Norvell and his new “texting machines” and his belief that scoring is “cool”.
That’s because the 2021 iteration of the Nevada Wolfpack was all on board with the college football school’s “shit, we’ll just score more points” thinking. Led by a future backup quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles Carson Strong and two future NFL Draft picks in Timbers reception Romeo Doubs and tight end Cole Turner, Nevada had the best passing offense in the West Mountain and the sixth-best passing game in all college football per game, averaging 347 yards per game through the air. (cough cough, competition level, cough cough) With a defense that landed somewhere between “solid” and “usable”, their success depended quite heavily on their ability to move the football, which they usually did. (If you want a comparison, think of them as a Purdue diet – “the whole explosive Purdue pass without any defenses!”)
Loaded as they were with offensive talent, Nevada had hopes of winning a Mountain West title, but close quarters losses to Fresno State and San Diego State left them short of a trip. for the title match, landing an 8-4 record before a blistering loss. west of Michigan in the Quick Lane Bowl. Now, I know I’ve been there long before, but I’m diving into it again, because Nevada, like Iowa and South Dakota State, also played Colorado State in 2021. The only gory detail I will point out is that Nevada, Mountain West’s worst rushing team at 77 yards/game, rushed for 226 yards at 5.8 yards/rush against Colorado State. Iowa, a Big Ten team that would be “proud” to run football, went for 54 yards on 1.7 yards/rush against Colorado State.
Speaking of the state of Colorado, I mentioned how this article would have been written differently if I had written it last fall. You may have noticed that it’s not last fall now. In late 2021 Colorado State asked Jay Norvell if he’d like more than double his current salary and not have to live in Reno, Nevada, to which I’m assuming he responded with the professional equivalent of “female dog‘.” Not only did Jay Norvell travel to Fort Collins, but he took 20(!) of his current players with him as transfers.
The replacement for Jay Norvell in Nevada is a guy named Ken Wilson, a journeyman assistant who gets his first big boss opportunity. It is impossible not to consider its situation a fairly substantial reconstruction. Virtually everyone responsible for Nevada’s prolific passing game, coaches, quarterback and top five pass catchers, is gone. Although there are a few leftovers, they have plenty of bodies to replace this season. In 2021, Nevada was probably basically the rough equivalent of a below-average Big Ten team. Even taking into account that college football is full of ways to make you look like a complete idiot, a generous prediction for the 2022 Nevada Wolfpack is that they have below average player talent. West Mountain crew. (In my raw research, I found an FPI prediction of 5.9 wins for the Wolfpack and a plus/minus 5 wins for this upcoming season.)
So while the whole schtick of this series finds ways to imagine Iowa losing the game, I can’t do it with a straight face on this one. I expect this to be Iowa’s easiest game of the season, with a fierce Iowa defense making life miserable for a fledgling Nevada offense still trying to find its footing in a very rude on the road. That alone should be more than enough for Iowa to win this game, if not in style, then comfortably.
No, my concern for this game comes entirely from the offense. It’s entirely plausible, if not likely, that Iowa will spend the first two weeks of the season pissing against the wind offensively against SDSU and ISU. At this point, the offense (read: Iowa’s running game) may be in desperate need of a “well done” play, and this is absolutely the best chance of getting one. Because if the Iowa offense can’t do that against this Nevada, you have to squint pretty hard and blow a lot of paint to find other meaningful opportunities for the offense in the Iowa schedule and all of a sudden reaching 8 wins might start to look like a fantastic fantasy…
Ben’s Anxiety Scale: 2 out of 10
Homer version: Nevada wolf pack? More like Nevada Wolf-Crap! These outclassed setters lose Kinnick by 30 points and bring a good dose of reality with them to Reno!
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