Nevada had reason for optimism after recovering a fumble late in the second quarter and pulling within 21-13 at halftime against Arizona with a field goal as time expired. The 20th-ranked Wildcats hit the boosters in the second half to quell Nevada’s optimism.
The Wolf Pack (1-1) fell by a 44-20 margin to Arizona (2-0) – which is ranked 20th in the Coaches’ Poll and 22nd in the AP Poll – after being outscored 23-7 in the second half Saturday afternoon. Nevada suffered its first loss of the season in front of 24,355 fans at a whiteout Mackay Stadium.
Junior QB Tyler Stewart completed a career-high 18 passes with a pair of touchdown strikes and junior RB Don Jackson tallied 91 yards on 24 carries. The Pack’s efforts came in vain, however, as Arizona remained unbeaten after racking 570 total yards of offense and 7.4 yards per play.
How It Happened: The Wildcats got off to a hot start, scoring twice in the game’s opening six minutes to take an early 14-0 lead. Nevada settled for a field goal in the first quarter after having a touchdown called back on a penalty. The Pack then pulled within 14-10 with 9:14 left in the second quarter as Stewart hit junior WR Jerico Richardson for a five-yard touchdown pass to cap a season-long 14-play drive.
Arizona expanded its lead to 21-10 and then drove the ball to midfield on its next drive. Senior DE Lenny Jones recovered a fumble – his fourth career fumble recovery – with 1:10 left in the half. Junior kicker Brent Zuzo split the uprights from 41-yards out as time expired, pulling Nevada to 21-13 at halftime.
It was all Arizona from there on out, as the Wildcats used a 23-7 edge in scoring and a 320-127 advantage in total yards in the second half to race past Nevada. The Wolf Pack’s lone score of the second half came with 10:08 left in the fourth quarter, as Stewart found junior Hasaan Henderson for a two-yard touchdown pass.
Player of the Game: It’s usually not a positive sign if a team’s standout player is its punter, and that was the case for Nevada tonight. Junior Alex Boy set three career-bests and punted eight times for a 47.0 average. Boy – who was a consensus preseason All-Mountain West selection – set career-bests in longest punt (63), total punt yards (376) and 50+ yard punts (3). He also downed two punts inside the 20-yard line.
Nevada’s player of the game nod could also go to redshirt-freshman Asauni Rufus, who posted a game-high 10 tackles. The strong safety has posted double digit and game-high tackles in his first two collegiate games and now leads the Wolf Pack with 22 tackles on the season.
Play of the Game: With Arizona threatening to expand on its 21-10 lead late in the second quarter, the Wolf Pack defense had its backs against the wall. Nevada responded by forcing its first turnover of the season with just over a minute left in the half, setting up a Zuzo field goal as time expired. The Wildcat’s Nick Wilson ran for a first down on 3rd-and-1, but senior LB Jordan Dobrich stripped the ball loose on the tackle. The ball bounced around before senior DE Lenny Jones fell on it for his fourth-career fumble recovery.
Quick Facts: Henderon joined the 1,000-yard receiving club, catching six passes for 58 yards with one touchdown … He now has 85 receptions, 1,023 yards and six touchdowns in 24 career games … Stewart went 18-of-32 for 159 yards with two touchdowns, while also rushing six times for 38 yards … Stewart set a career-high in completions (18) and tallied his second career multi-touchdown passing game … Rufus tallied a game-high in tackles for the second straight games with 10 stops … Zuzo went 2-of-2 and split the uprights from 28 and 41 yards, pushing his career totals to 31-of-38 … Zuzo is now 9-of-10 on field goal attempts between 40 and 49 yards … Nevada’s 44 points allowed were its most since a 51-46 loss to Boise State on Oct. 4, 2014.
What it Means: The Wolf Pack will takes its loss against No. 20 Arizona as a learning experience, as Nevada now has No. 16 Texas A&M next up on the schedule. Nevada’s back-to-back games against ranked opponents is undoubtedly its most daunting stretch of the schedule, and Saturday’s loss to the Wildcats proved why.
Up Next: Nevada travels to College Station, Texas for a meeting with 16th-ranked Texas A&M (2-0) on Saturday. Kickoff is scheduled for 9 a.m. PT (11 a.m. local time) at Kyle Field, while the contest will be televised live on the SEC Network. This will be the Wolf Pack’s first-ever meeting against an SEC foe. Nevada is 0-1 all-time against the Aggies as the school’s lone meeting came occurred in 1950 at Texas A&M (L, 48-18). Texas A&M downed Ball State, 56-23, today after opening the season with a victory No. 15 Arizona State.