Nevada Football: First Look At The Incarnate Word Cardinals

Nevada Football: First Look At The Incarnate Word Cardinals

Mountain West Football

Nevada Football: First Look At The Incarnate Word Cardinals

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Nevada Football: First Look At The Incarnate Word Cardinals


The Wolf Pack won’t want to take the defending Southland Conference champions lightly in non-conference play.


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One of the conference’s tougher FCS tests.

Nevada Football: First Look at 2022 Non-conference Opponents

New Mexico State | Texas State | Incarnate Word | Iowa

After traveling to Las Cruces in Week 0 and opening its home schedule against Texas State, the Nevada Wolf Pack will close their two-game September homestand against the Incarnate Word Cardinals.

It could be a perilous contest. UIW made its second FCS playoff appearance ever on the strength of a powerful offense that, despite replacing some major pieces, could still be a difference maker on the field in 2022.

Location: San Antonio, Texas

Conference: Southland

Series History: This will be the first meeting between Nevada and Incarnate Word.

2021 Record: 10-3 (7-1 Southland)

Head Coach: G.J. Kinne (first year). Over the last several years, Kinne has had a pretty rapid rise in the coaching world. After serving on Doug Pederson’s Philadelphia Eagles staff in 2019, the former Tulsa quarterback then became Hawaii’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in 2020 before leaving for the same jobs at UCF last season. Then, UIW brought him on last December to replace Eric Morris, who jumped to Washington State.

He inherits a pretty good situation, but it isn’t a foolproof one. Kinne and his staff will need to find a replacement for Walter Payton Award finalist Cameron Ward and others while defending the program’s first conference title since 2018.

Key Players

Taylor Grimes, WR

Grimes was one of the FCS level’s best pass catchers in 2021, setting program records with 1,145 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns on 87 catches. It’s little wonder, then, that he was named a second-team FCS All-American at the end of last season and is one of two Cardinals to be named to multiple more preseason All-American squads. Chances are he’ll be one of the most dangerous playmakers Nevada will see all year.

Kelechi Anyalebechi, LB

Anyalebechi is the other Cardinal who’s received a good deal of recent national attention and with good reason. Like Grimes, he also set a program record with 130 total tackles but was as disruptive as any defender in the FCS, racking up six tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, two interceptions, and four forced fumbles.

Lindsey Scott Jr., QB

Replacing Cameron Ward at quarterback would be a tough ask of anyone, but doing so with an athlete like Scott, who threw for 2,083 yards, ran for 990 more, and accounted for 25 total touchdowns last year at Nichols State, makes the request seem a lot more manageable. According to Pro Football Focus, he was the most dangerous quarterback in the country, FCS or FBS, on the ground with a run grade of 90.4, so he could cause the Wolf Pack plenty of headaches if they aren’t prepared.

Kaleb Culp, DB

Culp made himself plenty busy in 2021 by being seemingly everywhere for the Cardinals on defense. He finished second on the team with 102 total tackles and pitched in with 2.5 tackles for loss, one sack, and one interception, as well, earning a spot on the all-Southland first team defense for his efforts.

Cameron Preston, DL

An all-conference selection two years in a row, Preston graduated from the second team in 2020 to the first team in 2021 on the strength of 26 total tackles and one tackle for loss.

Overview:

Offense

Kinne and offensive coordinator Mack Leftwich certainly have a high bar to clear after last year’s bonanza. They finished in a tie for seventh among all FCS teams in averaging 6.63 yards per play and fourth overall with 39.5 points per game, so while replicating all of that is a tall order, they have enough returning that it wouldn’t be a shock if they came close.

Replacing Ward with Scott Jr. at quarterback, and swiping him from a conference rival no less, could be monumental. He’ll have a wealth of talent at his disposal in the passing game with Grimes, Darion Chafin (59 catches, 771 yards, 11 touchdowns), and CJ Hardy (28-387-5) leading a very experienced unit, but replacing leading rusher Kevin Brown and his 1,268 all-purpose yards may be tougher. Marcus Cooper might take on a bigger role after posting 800 all-purpose yards on just 125 touches, but the Cardinals currently have only two other running backs on the roster. Depth could be an issue.

Along the offensive line, three players were recently named to the preseason all-conference two-deep: Nash Jones, Reid Francis, and Caleb Johnson. Even if pass protection becomes a problem, however, Scott Jr. might just have the athleticism to bail himself out often, anyway. This unit will be fun to watch in 2022.

Defense

For as lethal as UIW’s offense could be last year, new defensive coordinator Jonathan Patke will need to find more consistency in a unit that allowed 5.56 yards per play. He’ll also need to find a way to hold onto the disruption which allowed the Cardinals to create 26 takeaways, which tied for the sixth-most among FCS defenses.

Anyalebechi’s presence will be felt one way or another, but he and senior defensive linemen Sam Latham were the only UIW defenders with more than two sacks in 2021. That’s not to say the potential for a stronger pass rush isn’t there — Isaiah Paul paced the unit with 6.5 TFLs and had two sacks, as well — but that could be a sore spot if no one steps up.

That problem could compound itself, too, if the secondary also can’t find some improvements. They allowed opponents to complete 64.8% of their throws and average 6.8 yards per attempt, giving up perhaps too much ground from drive to drive. However, UIW also had five players with multiple interceptions, including Anyalebechi and Elliott Davison (55 tackles, four INTs). If they can be anywhere as opportunistic as they were in their run to the playoffs a year ago, that could help ease the personnel shuffling.

Early Predictions

The Cardinals may be replacing a few big pieces from last year’s roster, but they should remain plenty potent and will pose a stiff test for the retooled Wolf Pack one way or another. The home team’s saving grace in this contest, though, should be a veteran secondary that will enable the team to outlast a tough out.

Nevada 38, Incarnate Word 35

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