James Butler (20) carries the ball against Buffalo on Saturday, Sept. 17. Butler finished with three touchdowns in a win against the Bulls.

James Butler (20) carries the ball against Buffalo on Saturday, Sept. 17. Butler finished with three touchdowns in a win against the Bulls.

by Jack Rieger

Led by the dominant performance of running back James Butler, Nevada football played its best game of the season on Saturday night, winning by a final score of 38-14 over Buffalo. Mackay Stadium’s 50th anniversary was celebrated at halftime with a firework show and students were given gold(ish) T-Shirts to honor the occasion.

James Butler is a beast

Nevada’s most talented and important player is junior running back James Butler, who ran for 174 yards on 28 carries and three touchdowns on Saturday. Butler’s NFL equivalent is Frank Gore, an undersized back with good power and excellent pad level. Although Butler is just 5-foot-9, he has an ability to earn yards after contact thanks to his 210 pound frame and relentless energy. Butler’s physical, downhill running style wore down the Buffalo defense as the game moved along, averaging 7.7 yards per carry in the second quarter and 5.6 yards per carry in the third quarter.

True freshman Jaxson Kincaide was the second string back on Saturday night, replacing Akeel Lynch, who suffered a concussion against Notre Dame last Saturday. Kincaide was impressive, rushing 18 times for 99 yards, including a 48-yard scamper in the first quarter. Kincaide has quickness and an ability to make people miss that Butler doesn’t possess.

“His skill set is not anything we have in the running back group,” quarterback Tyler Stewart said after the game. “Not any disrespect to any of the other running backs but he’s a little bit different. More of a jitterbug type of guy.”

Kincaide’s NFL equivalent is Jacquizz Rodgers, an electric, speed back with an elusive jump cut. Kincaide will almost certainly become a larger part of the game plan going forward and may replace Akeel Lynch as the second string running back.

Buffalo’s quarterback was a disaster

Local journalists will be singing Nevada’s praises this week, but shouldn’t the quality of the opponent matter when evaluating Saturday night? The Buffalo Bulls looked more like a Reno high school squad than a college football team. Worst of all was their quarterback, Tyree Jackson, who finished 7-22 with 130 yards. But the stat line doesn’t do his lack of a performance justice. Jackson was so consistently inaccurate, I’m convinced he was either taking shots of tequila with students at the pregame tailgate or he bet his scholarship money on Nevada minus nine. And for some reason, Buffalo’s coach kept calling downfield passing plays that Jackson constantly overthrew.

While Nevada earned a much needed dominant win, I don’t think this game proves much of anything except that you should take Army minus 15.5 at Buffalo next week. Nevada’s defense still gave up 6.6 yards per carry and their front seven doesn’t have much depth. Next week, Nevada travels to Indiana to take on Purdue, a Big Ten opponent that will reveal much more about the progress, or lack of progress, the Wolf Pack has made this season.

Mustard shirts and fireworks

Mackay Stadium turns 50 years old this year and Nevada Athletics celebrated the occasion on Saturday with a badass firework halftime show and hideous mustard shirts. I’m a sucker for fireworks, but the halftime explosion was by far the most entertaining part of the game. Nevada invested in some big league explosives that lit up Mackay Stadium for five glorious minutes and left the field covered in a thick layer of smoke that almost certainly gave every person in attendance terminal cancer.

As great as the firework show was, the commemorative shirts nearly ruined everything. The shirts read “Mackay Stadium 50th Anniversary” and were a goldish mustard color, which makes no sense whatsoever. What does gold have anything to do with Mackay Stadium, the University of Nevada, or Reno? I understand this is a minute detail but this shirt is so distracting it’s pretty much not wearable. Usually these shirts are perfect for the gym, but the 50th anniversary mustard T doesn’t qualify for more than pulling weeds in the backyard.

So while Nevada fans and students left Mackay Stadium with a big smile on their faces and mustard shirts on their back, there is still much to be determined about 2016’s football team. A Big 10 opponent and the upcoming conference schedule will paint a much clearer picture regarding how good this team is.

Jack Rieger can be reached at jrierger@sagebrush.unr.edu and on Twitter @JackRieger.