RUSTON, La. - Air Wolf, the moniker for Nevada coach Chris Ault's high-powered offense, crash landed Monday afternoon before 21,127 fans and a national television audience.
The offense was a no-show, surrendering nine sacks, turning the ball over twice and failing to generate any sort of running game.
That and the 257-yard, three-touchdown rushing performance by all-WAC tailback Ryan Moats cost the Wolf Pack dearly in their season-opening 38-21 loss to Louisiana Tech.
"I thought Tech played well," said Ault, who was back on the sidelines as Nevada's head coach for the first time since the 1995 season. "Obviously they killed our front line. They dominated us up front, and I think that was the difference. I'm surprised the offensive line played that poorly, I really was.
"I'm going to take a look at the tape. I think they were just in their base defense. They didn't do a lot of twists (stunts). It was just 1-on-1 blocking."
What makes it even tougher to swallow, Louisiana Tech managed only 16 quarterback sacks all last season, but the Nevada front line made the Bulldogs look like the Pittsburgh Steelers' Steel Curtain defense with nine sacks.
Jemelle Cage led the charge with four sacks, all on Jeff Rowe (18 of 32, 181 yards, 2 TDs). Travon Brown and Barr Robertson added 1 1/2 each.
"We wanted to rattle him (Rowe) early, and that's what we did," Cage said. "After we got him early, he started making some bad throws and that was a big part of the game. It was big pride factor, and we wanted to come out and play well. If we keep the other offense off the field, they can't score."
Rowe felt he could have done a better job of getting rid of the ball and avoiding sacks, but in all reality he didn't have a chance much of the time. The fact that the running game managed only 7 yards on 20 attempts - including minus-41 yards on the nine sacks - didn't help matters.
And, you've got to defend the run. Louisiana Tech's offense, with untested juniors Matt Kubik and Donald Allen under center, wasn't a mystery. Give the ball to Moats and only throw when you have to. Moats was his usual tough, slippery self, and that was no surprise from Wolf Pack players.
"He runs hard," strong safety Nick Hawthrone said. "He's a good back, but we have to play our game, execute and make tackles."
The Bulldogs scored on their first possession, with Moats accounting for 69 of the 72-yard scoring drive, including a 12-yard TD run. Earlier in the drive, he had runs of 14 and 15 yards.
Disaster struck on Nevada's second possession. The Wolf Pack was in the midst of an eight-minute drive and had the ball at the Tech 13 when Rowe coughed up the ball after being hit by Byron Santiago.
"It certainly turned the momentum," Ault said.
Tech moved down to the Nevada 19 on its ensuing drive, but Kubik lofted a pass in the middle and it was intercepted by Hawthrone.
"We were in a certain coverage and I was just dropping back," Hawthrone said. "I was watching his eyes and he threw right to me."
Kubik was replaced by Allen on the Bulldogs' next possession. Allen guided them on a 76-yard, seven-play scoring drive. Most of the yardage came on two big plays - a 33-yard pass to Eric Newman for a first down at the Nevada 42 and a 35-yard run by Moats down to the 7. Moats scored three plays later from the 3. Brad Oestriecher's PAT made it 14-0 with 6:10 left.
The Bulldogs were in the end zone less than four minutes later after Nevada went three-and-out. Tech put together a nifty 54-yard drive, capped by Allen's 3-yard run to make it 21-0. The big play was Allen's 43-yard pass to Tramissi Davis, who made a nice catch on the under thrown ball in front of Kevin Stanley for a first down at the Nevada 3.
Harvey Dahl, who had missed the previous Nevada series because of dehydration, didn't return the rest of the half, and the line looked disjointed because of all the shuffling around.
Nevada started the second half with a bang, however, when Zach Walker shook the ball loose from Jon Holland on the kickoff and Chance Kretschmer recovered at the Bulldogs' 15.
On the next play, Rowe hit Caleb Spencer with a 15-yard scoring pass, but the play was wiped out when one of the Wolf Pack blockers was nailed for blocking below the waist.
Kretschmer carried down to the 11, then Rowe and Spencer hooked up again on a middle screen, and Spencer took it into the end zone. Damon Fine's extra point made it 21-7 with 14:11 left in the third quarter.
The Wolf Pack couldn't stand its new-found prosperity, however, as Kretschmer and Rowe had a mix-up on the exchange on the next possession at the Nevada 28. Corey Brazil recovered and returned to the 19-yard line.
After a gain of six by Moats and an incomplete pass, Allen found Julius Cosby on a shallow crossing pattern for a 13-yard score, but that was wiped out because of an illegal formation. Allen was forced into a third-down incompletion by a heavy pass rush, and Oestriecher came on to kick a 36-yard field goal to make it 24-7 with 11:29 left.
Moats tacked on a 45-yard scoring run on the next possession for a 31-7 lead midway through the third period. Turn out the lights - this one was history.
"I felt good today, especially with it being the first game of the year," said Moats. "Anytime you can get the running game going, it makes everything a lot easier for the entire offense, and that is what we did today. Nevada started trying to stop the run (more) and it opened up the passing game.
"I am happy with what I did today. I could not ask for anything more. It is a long season though and this is just the first game so our goal is to get better every week."
It was only fitting that Moats was the star. The school passed out jerseys with Moats' name on the back to youngsters attending the game.
Nevada went on to tack on two meaningless fourth-quarter scores. Rowe threw an 11-yarder to Dell McGee with 13:32 left in the game, and Travis Moore fired a 26-yarder to Talib Wise with 1:58 remaining.
Contact Darrell Moody at email@example.com or call (775) 881-1281.