RENO – For at least one week, the critics don’t have anything to gripe about.
The grumbles escalated after an uninspiring win over Cal Poly and a 39-10 loss at No. 18 Notre Dame last week in which the offense looked completely lost. Nevada (2-1, 0-0) responded on Saturday night with a start-to-finish 38-14 manhandling of Buffalo (0-2) in front of 20,457 at Mackay Stadium.
It was the most lopsided win over an FBS team in fourth-year Nevada coach Brian Polian’s tenure. The previous was a 30-14 home win over San Diego State on Nov. 1, 2014, Polian’s second year.
“I felt like we were capable of a dominant performance. And I think we got close to that tonight,” Polian said. “I felt like we needed that. It’s been a little while … We played pretty good in all three phases and I felt like we needed one of those for our confidence. It was a building block.”
Senior quarterback Tyler Stewart particularly struggled in the loss at Notre Dame, completing 10-of-23 passes for 113 yards and an ugly interception on the goal line. It was perceived his grip on the starting job was loosening. Backup Ty Gangi saw time in South Bend and even starting safety Asauni Rufus ran some triple option.
After Saturday, Stewart’s grasp on the No. 1 gig appears to have tightened.
Stewart completed 16-of-21 passes for 160 yards and a touchdown (155.9 rating). He also ran six times for 31 yards and a score.
“Tyler Stewart played very, very efficiently,” Polian said. “He completed more balls than he did against this team a year ago (a 24-21 win in Buffalo). I thought our bubble screen game was really good.”
Junior running back James Butler was not in a positon battle. He put on a show anyway. Butler ran the ball 28 times for 174 yards and a career-high three touchdowns.
As a team, Nevada ran for 352 of its 521 total yards, punting just three times. Freshman running back Jaxson Kincaide also showed well, filling in for typical backup Akeel Lynch, who missed the game with a concussion. Kincaide was one yard shy of his first 100-yard game on 18 carries.
Polian said he would have given Kincaide another carry had he known how close he was to the century mark.
Nevada’s young defense held Buffalo to 361 yards and flirted with a shutout. The last time Nevada shut out an opponent was Oct. 8, 2011 in a 37-0 home win against UNLV. And up until the 3:01 mark in the third, Buffalo had a zero on the scoreboard.
The shutout aspirations ended when Jordan Johnson took a Tyree Jackson screen pass 57 yards, getting the Bulls within 31-7.
“We just got caught in a blitz,” Polian said. “That stuff happens. They were in a good call.”
Jackson, a 6-7 redshirt freshman, was 7-of-22 for 130 yards and a touchdown. He ran the ball eight times for 87 yards.
Nevada led 24-0 at the half thanks to three rushing touchdowns and a 23-yard Brent Zuzo field goal.
Butler had two of the rushing touchdowns, a two-yarder, and a four-yarder with 1:13 left in the second for the final points of the initial half.
Stewart started the scoring with a nine-yard scramble less than six minutes in.
The Wolf Pack will now travel to Big 10 land next Saturday to play Purdue. The Boilermakers had a bye this week and are 1-1 with a win over Eastern Kentucky and a 38-20 home loss to Cincinnati.
“We are onto Purdue because we have to go to a Big 10 stadium,” Polian said. “People are going to point at their record and say ‘they’re struggling’ and all that stuff. I don’t care. That is a Big 10 football team.”