Junior quarterback Malik Henry resurged Nevada’s offense, and kicker Brandon Talton’s game-winning field goal capped-off a 41-38 thriller over San Jose State on Saturday at Mackay Stadium.
Henry was solid in his first collegiate FBS start. The former “Last Chance U” star completed 22-of-37 passes for 352 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.
Henry made flashy plays out of the pocket, but Talton put the nail in the coffin with a game-winning 40-yard field goal as the clock expired. Talton has two game-winning field goals and is a perfect 12-for-12 on his attempts this season.
“I don’t think there was anybody in the stadium who thinks he was gonna miss that kick,” head coach Jay Norvell said. “That’s the kind of confidence our team has in him. He’s played six games and has already kicked two field goals must guys don’t even get in their careers.”
Following its worst home loss since 1966, Nevada bounced back with a dominant offensive display The Wolf Pack had 541 yards of total offense and 25 first downs.
Nevada kept it simple with a potent ground attack. Sophomore running backs Toa Taua and Devonte Lee had 44 carries for a combined 184 rushing yards and three touchdowns. Lee scored his first two touchdowns of the year with a pair of two-yard goal line scores. He missed the first four games recovering from offseason knee surgery.
Taua had a career-high 34 carries for 160 rushing yards and one touchdown. Norvell came into the game with Taua as a featured piece to the offense, and his explosiveness between the trenches helped Nevada charge down the field.
“If he wanted to give me the ball 34 times then that’s what I gotta do,” Taua said. “All the credit goes to the linemen for making holes up front and getting some blocks downfield.”
For most of the contest, Henry took advantage of the Spartans’ leaky secondary with accurate strikes across the middle of the field. On occasion, he set up the play action and showcased his big-play ability throwing downfield.
His first completion was a 55-yard gain to Elijah Cooks en route to a six-play 66-yard drive for the first score of the game. Henry opened the second half with a 75-yard touchdown to Romeo Doubs, the longest play of the year.
Nevada’s coaching staff put together a game plan to showcase Henry’s strengths.
“I’m very comfortable with the offense,” Henry said. “There are some plays I’ve never ran before just not being out there. But the coaching staff really put together a package for me this week, just putting together some plays I like and some I don’t. I just think we did a great job of it today.”
Along with Henry’s big plays, he forced the issue with a pair of interceptions to give the Spartans possession deep in Nevada territory and fuel a second half comeback.
“There’s always things to work on, but I have so much confidence in us as a team to really improve.” Henry said.
Doubs was the primary receiving threat on the day. The sophomore hauled in five catches for a season-high 146 yards and one touchdown. His straight-line speed gave the Spartans headaches defensively. Cooks had six receptions for 94 yards.
“I thought Romeo really showed up today,” Norvell said. “We’ve been looking for Romeo and the guys for the last few weeks and they showed up to make some big plays.”
Defensively, the Wolf Pack did just enough to limit San Jose State’s passing attack. Junior defensive back Austin Arnold jumped on an errant pass for his first career interception and returned it 40 yards for a touchdown.
San Jose State quarterback Josh Love caught fire in the second half and kept the Pack on its heels late in the fourth quarter. Love shredded Nevada’s secondary with 405 passing yards and three touchdowns. He tied the contest on two different occasions in the fourth quarter.
Norvell made sure to congratulate Love post-game after his impressive performance.
“I am so impressed with Josh Love and I told him that after the game,” he said. “He was just playing at a very high level, he’s so confident and dialed into what he’s doing. He’s an awfully good football player.”
Nevada led 14-3 after the first quarter. The Pack tallied 10 more points in the second, but a late touchdown pass from SJSU quarterback Josh Love trimmed the deficit.
The Wolf Pack led 24-10 at the half. Nevada scored its third touchdown to begin the second half, but the Spartans kept it close with 14 points. Nevada scored 10 more points to secure the victory.
Nevada, 4-2, hits the road to face the Utah State Aggies on Oct. 19 at 7:15 p.m. Utah State is 3-2 overall and 2-0 in conference.
Notes: The Wolf pack wore their silver and blue uniforms with a pink-tinted helmet in support of breast cancer awareness. … Both teams combined for five turnovers.
— Isaiah Burrows