Youthful Tigers enter year two of Skeans era
Coming off a two-win season in which the Nevada Tigers lost their final seven games in a row, second-year head coach John Skeans is looking for vast improvement from his football team this year.
"We've got to play as well as we can play," Skeans said. "We've got to play unselfish, and we've got to limit penalties."
Skeans knows when rebuilding a program, results often aren't seen over night. To that end he has been trying to establish a mindset with the players that will help them speed up the rebuilding process.
"We continue to talk to the kids about focusing on their own effort," Skeans said. "It takes 11 guys on a unit to be successful. It's not just one person. I think our players have a better sense of that this year."
The team-first approach is something Skeans hopes will help the Tigers overcome any shortcomings in experience. With youth dominating the Nevada roster, there are only 10 seniors and one junior on the roster. The lone junior is hurt and may not see the field, meaning there are a high number of sophomores that will have to step up.
One sophomore will be starting quarterback Ronnie Herda, who takes over the reigns of the Tiger offense after splitting varsity time with Justin Reed as a freshman. Reed isn't back, so Herda will be the unchallenged signal-caller this season.
"Offensively we've got to score, make explosive plays and make first downs," Skeans said.
Herda flashed his potential last year and if he can gain consistency the Tigers should be improved at quarterback from last season.
The Tigers also return their top two rushers from 2004. Seniors Heath Baker (440 yards on 79 carries) and Keith Overton (76 carries, 345 yards) provide contrasting styles that complement each other and fit into Skeans' spread offensive attack. Baker is a shifty, speedy back, while Overton is more apt to break a tackle and sets up his blocking well.
One important part of the spread offense is the receivers, and that is somewhat of a question mark going into 2005. Nate Uttinger returns and could be the go-to guy this season, but the team must replace graduated receivers Willie Bailey, Eric Atkinson and Ben Wilson. Andrew Quest also has experience and likely will start opposite Uttinger on the outside.
Both Baker and Overton have good hands and will be used as receivers as well.
The wild card could be RB/WR Thorne Penrod, who might be the fastest of the skill players and who Skeans says has worked to improve his hands in the offseason.
Up front the Tigers are inexperienced. Skeans said that the line play should be better based on sheer effort this season.
"Up front we've got a good group of younger kids," he said. "Not a lot of varsity experience, but they play hard."
The defense is similar to the offense. Seniors and experience in the secondary, but youth and effort in the front seven.
Baker and Overton will see a lot of time as corners. The two safeties in the 4-3-4 scheme will likely be a rotation of Uttinger, Quest and Logan Moore.
The linebackers will be a whole new unit in 2005. Graduated is all-district and all-conference performer Tyler Shouse. Also gone is Opie Tipton. In their place providing a good blend of size and speed is Penrod, Ryan Herda and Jerrod Alexander. Penrod is a senior and Herda and Alexander are both sophomores. Another sophomore linebacker who has been a terror in practice and should see time is Jacob Anderson.
Up front the d-line will be led by Brad Gash. Gash is a senior and brings the only resemblance of experience the front four has. He also started in 2004. After Gash will be a mixture of younger players who have been battling for time in preseason practices.
The kicking game will be handled by Kyle Quick.
Nevada opens the season with Lamar on Friday, but Skeans said it was more important for the players to focus on their own assignments than to worry about the other team.
"We just have to believe in what we're doing," he said. "In terms of what other team have or what they've done in the past, we don't focus on that. We focus on what we can do to be the best we can be."