New year, some new faces, same old story.
Chris Ault had a familiar battle cry Tuesday as the Nevada Wolf Pack football team met the northern Nevada media for this first time this season.
“It all starts with our defense,” the Wolf Pack head coach said. “Where we have to go, where we have to make the biggest jump is on that side of the ball.”
Ault’s Wolf Pack finished 8-5 last season, giving up 89 points combined in its final two games of the year (both losses) to Boise State and SMU. The Pack, which opens the 2010 season Sept. 2 at Mackay Stadium against Eastern Washington, allowed an average of 28.5 points and 409 yards a game last year and featured the second-worst pass defense in the nation.
“We were a little better last year (on defense),” Ault said. “But we weren’t good enough to win a championship.”
Ault stood in front of the media a year ago at this time and promised his Wolf Pack would have the most improved defense in the Western Athletic Conference. It didn’t happen. And he wasn’t making any such promises this year.
“I don’t expect miracles,” Ault said. “And I don’t expect we’re going to have the best defense in the country. I don’t expect us to just snap a finger and suddenly our defense is going to be better. But I do expect us to play with confidence, to play with enthusiasm and to fly to the ball.”
The Pack defense heading into the 2010 season has a lot more questions surrounding it than the 2009 version did. Gone from last year’s defense are veteran starters Jonathan Amaya (free safety), Mike Bethea (middle linebacker), Kevin Basped (defensive end), Mo Harvey (strong safety) and Nate Agaiava (defensive tackle).
Amaya led the team with 89 tackles, Bethea was second with 70, Harvey was tied for third with 61, Basped led the team with 9.5 sacks and Agaiava was solid inside with 27 tackles and two sacks.
“We have a lot of competition this year for spots and I’ve always believed that competition makes you better,” Ault said.
Ault made two important changes on his defensive coaching staff this past spring, hiring Andy Buh as coordinator and Mike Bradeson as his secondary coach. Bradeson coached the Pack secondary in the early 1990s and Buh was a Pack linebacker in the mid-1990s.
“It all starts with coaching,” Ault said.
Buh, Bradeson and the rest of the defensive staff will have some talent to work with as the Pack opens its summer practice schedule on Wedneaday. It all starts with defensive end Dontay Moch, the WAC Defensive Player of the Year in 2009.
“We’re progressing as a defense,” said Moch, who had 61 tackles, 6.5 sacks and 20 tackles for a loss a year ago. “We’re just growing and growing.”
Moch said Buh has already made an impact.
“So far, he has brought a whole different attitude,” Moch said. “He’s a great coach. He’s only going to make us better.”
Wolf Pack quarterback Colin Kaepernick has also seen a change in attitude from the Pack defense.
“I can just see that those guys are excited,” Kaepernick said.
The Wolf Pack will open the season with three home games. The opener on Sept. 2 against Eastern Washington will be followed by games against Colorado State on Sept. 11 and California on Sept. 17 at Mackay Stadium.
It will be the first season since 1991 (its last season as a Division I-AA school) that the Pack opened with as many as three home games.
“That’s a huge advantage for us,” Ault said. “We can now get all of our young players valuable experience right away. When you go on the road you can’t travel as many players. This way we’ll be able to get those players ready to player a lot faster.”
The Pack started out 0-3 last year, losing to Notre Dame and Colorado State on the road and Missouri at home.
“Our schedule is more suited to starting out better,” Kaepernick said.