The outlook for Nevada’s upcoming football season was already relatively bleak. Over/Under win totals for the Wolf Pack are sitting at or around 3.5.
Coaching changes at the collegiate level bring a complete overhaul of staff and philosophy as well as a churning of personnel. That group is then essentially asked to start over and compete against solidified programs. In Jay Norvell’s case, the list of foes includes San Diego State and Boise State, which is back on the schedule this fall after a two-year hiatus due to the Mountain West’s unbalanced schedule.
Hope deflated further last week when stud to-be senior running back James Butler announced he will compete at Iowa this fall as a grad transfer.
Now, losing the best football player (Butler was the team’s MVP last year) going into a season that has the makings of “one of those years” will be defined as a positive by no one. But if you must dig …
Butler is a traditional downhill runner that Pro Football Focus calculated to break more tackles than anyone in the country last year (72), along with Penn State’s Saquon Barkley. His style of play fits much better in the previous regime’s, uh, less than exciting style, or at Iowa, which averaged more running yards per game than passing yards a season ago.
What is a between-the-tackles runner, who was voted a preseason first teamer, supposed to do in an offense that flings the football around the field three out of every four plays? Play decoy for four quarters? Get excited about pass protection? Nobody on first-year offensive coordinator Matt Mumme’s Div. III LaGrange (Georgia) team averaged even six carries a game last year.
And no, Mumme didn’t have anyone nearly as talented, or relatively effective as Butler, but that’s the point. Had Mumme tried to get Butler the ball even just 10 times a game (he averaged over 21 carries a game last fall), he would be getting away from what he was brought to Reno to do: Throw the ball.
Butler’s departure represents a break between the previous staff and the new one. Butler was one of the few things that went right for Polian on the field during his four years in Reno. However, Butler would have been an underutilized superstar trying to learn a new offense as a senior, the final year to put together film for NFL scouts.
The Chicago native now gets to play closer to home, with more recognition, in an offense tailored to his skillset and limited competition at the running back spot.
Nevada now gets its fresh start. Mumme doesn’t have to worry about changing philosophy to get Butler involved.
He can throw the ball.
Nathan can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. His weekly column, ‘Shoup Shots,’ was named the best column in the state of Nevada (community division) by the Nevada Press Association. It runs in the hard copy of the Sparks Tribune every Tuesday morning. Nathan’s weekly radio show airs Fridays at noon on ESPN Radio 94.5 FM.