The Nevada football team started conference play on the wrong foot in a 54-3 homecoming loss to Hawaii on Saturday at Mackay Stadium.
Nevada couldn’t string together any offensive drives and the Rainbow Warriors took advantage a potent offensive attack. It’s the worst home loss in the current Mackay Stadium built in 1966.
“We made so many mistakes early on in this game and that was very difficult to recover from,” head coach Jay Norvell said. “Give Hawaii credit, they’re a good football team and they did their job tonight.”
The Wolf Pack mustered just 205 yards of total offense with 16 first downs and three turnovers. Redshirt freshman quarterback Carson Strong made his fourth start of the season after he sat out last week with an undisclosed injury.
“We did very little on offense tonight and couldn’t move the ball effectively,” Norvell said. “We didn’t score any points of note. … But we have to be accountable for what happened out there.”
Strong completed 7-of-14 passes for 46 yards and one interception. Looking for a spark, Norvell inserted fifth-year senior Cristian Solano for the second-straight game.
Solano completed 11-of-17 passes for 59 yards with one interception and fumble. Strong returned to the action to start the fourth quarter when Solano fumbled on Nevada’s previous possession. Solano returned after Strong threw his first interception of the game.
“We went into the game wanting to play Cristian a little bit along with Carson,” Norvell said. “I think both of those guys are capable of playing good football for us, but obviously we didn’t get enough out of them tonight.”
The frigid 37-degree conditions in Reno couldn’t cool down Hawaii’s hot offense. Quarterback Cole McDonald completed 25-of-30 passes for 312 yards and four touchdowns. The redshirt junior showcased his strong arm with four 30-plus yard completions down the field.
McDonald connected with wide receiver Cedric Byrd for two scores to build a comfortable lead in the first half. He poured it on with two more touchdowns in the second half.
The Rainbow Warriors’ passing attack has given another area of weakness for Nevada to work on.
“We have to find a way to play better pass defense,” Norvell said. “They really took advantage of our mistakes and that was one of them.”
Running back Fred Holly II had a team-high 64 rushing yards. Byrd had seven receptions for 87 yards and three touchdowns. Jason Sharsh added nine catches for a game-high 123 yards and one touchdown.
Hawaii led 7-0 at the end of the first quarter. The Rainbow Warriors scored 28 points in the second quarter. Nevada came away with a field goal and trailed 31-3 at the half. Hawaii poured it on with 14 more points in the third quarter while the Pack failed to record a first down. Hawaii scored nine points including a safety in the fourth quarter.
Nevada, 3-2, has a bye week. The Wolf Pack face the San Jose State Spartans at Mackay Stadium on Oct. 12.
“I want this taste in our mouths to last longer than one week,” senior linebacker Lucas Weber said.
Notes: Wolf Pack running back Toa Taua had a game-high 72 yards on 17 carries. … Sophomore running back Devonte Lee made his first appearance of the season with one rush for four yards. Lee missed the first four games recovering from off-season knee surgery.
— Isaiah Burrows