Devin Combs sure knows how to finish.
The Nevada Wolf Pack’s backup quarterback beat the Wyoming Cowboys 35-28 in overtime on a 24-yard touchdown pass to Aaron Bradley on his final pass of the game. And later Saturday night he celebrated by going bowling in Reno with some friends from his hometown of Oakdale, Calif.
“I bowled a strike on my last ball, too,” smiled Combs.
Combs has enjoyed a whirlwind few days since his breakout game against the Cowboys, when he entered the game late in the first half for an injured Cody Fajardo and completed 11-of-19 passes for 217 yards and two touchdowns. The passes were his first since he played for Modesto Junior College in 2010.
“I have a lot of room for improvement,” said Combs after watching film of the Wyoming game.
Combs, though, earned the respect of his coaches and teammates for pulling the Mountain West game out of the fire and helping the Pack improve to 5-1 and 2-0 in league play.
“As the game went on, he grew more comfortable and really managed the game well,” Pack coach Chris Ault said.
“I always knew he was kind of a tough kid,” offensive tackle Jeff Nady said. “In fact, he reminds me a lot of (former Pack quarterback Nick) Graz (Graziano). He’s just going to turn the corner, put his head down and try to run over you.”
“If you are on defense you better watch out when he’s coming at you with the ball,” tight end Zach Sudfeld said. “He’s going to lower his shoulder and hit you.”
Combs, who ran for 38 yards on 11 carries, could be called on to play again this Saturday at UNLV. Fajardo, who is suffering from muscle spasms in his back and hip, isn’t expected to practice again until Wednesday.
“I really think I’ll be a lot more comfortable in this game if I play than I was last game,” Combs said. “I have no idea whether I’ll play or not but I’m going to prepare like I am going to play.”
The 22-year-old Combs — he took two years away from football after high school — almost was on the other sideline on Saturday.
“Wyoming offered me a scholarship the day before Nevada did,” said Combs, who played one season at Modesto. “I was going to take a trip there. But once Nevada offered me, I knew that’s where I wanted to be.”
The two years away from football after high school were supposed to be spent on a Mormon mission.
“But I didn’t go,” he said. “That was always the plan in high school but I just decided I would just use the time to get a job and work for a while. I did all sorts of things. I worked on a ranch, I sold knives, I worked for the Parks and Rec department for the city of Oakdale.”
Although Combs is just a sophomore, he is one of the oldest players on the team at 22-years-old.
“I think being older helps me,” said Combs, who lost 20 pounds this past off-season on the orders of Ault. “When you go through life experiences it helps you mature. I know that helps me handle things that take place in a football game.”
Part of Combs’ toughness comes from his hometown of Oakdale, which calls itself the “Cowboy Capitol of the World.”
“I’m not a cowboy by any means but I do like my jeans and my flannel,” he smiled. “And I do love being around horses. My grandma has a ranch and I’ve spent some time there. And I like being there.”
Oakdale, Combs says, also has a no-nonsense motto.
“It’s “Toughen up. No excuses,'” he said. “That’s what we say in Oakdale.”
FAJARDO DAY TO DAY: Ault said Monday that Fajardo is not expected to practice until Wednesday at the earliest. Fajardo was at practice on Monday and seemed to be moving around without pain. He spent the afternoon most just watching but he did throw one pass.
The Wolf Pack’s starting quarterback injured the right side of his back and hip a couple weeks ago in practice the week before the Texas State game (Sept. 29) and had to leave Saturday’s game against Wyoming with five minutes to play in the second quarter.
“He’s day to day,” Ault said. “He has a severe muscle spasm in his lower back on the right side and it goes down into his hip. So we’re just going to have to wait and see how it responds.”
Ault said Fajardo would have to practice at some point this week in order to play against UNLV on Saturday.
“To play you have to practice,” Ault said.
Ault added that Fajardo can throw the ball with his injury but his mobility would be limited.
“If he can’t run he’s not going to play,” Ault said.
Combs, Ault said, could get his first college start at UNLV.
“We’re going to prepare Devin as if he has to go out there,” Ault said.
GROUND GAME SLOWS: Wyoming held the Wolf Pack to just 127 yards rushing on Saturday in 37 attempts. It was the lowest rushing output by the Wolf Pack in a game since the fourth game of last season — a span of 14 games — when the Pack had just 59 rushing yards on 35 carries at Boise State.
That Boise game was also the last time before Saturday that the Wolf Pack failed to have at least one player with at least 100 yards rushing. Stefphon Jefferson led the Wolf Pack with 78 yards against Wyoming on 23 carries.
Jefferson had rushed for at least 100 yards in each of his first six career starts before Saturday. The junior running back also fell to second place in the nation in rushing at 159.17 yards a game. Air Force’s Cody Getz ran for 204 yards against Navy last week and now leads the nation in rushing at 177.4 yards a game.
Jefferson, though, still leads the nation with 955 rushing yards overall. Getz, who has played in one less game (five) than Jefferson, is second with 887 yards.
Ault attributed the lack of production in the running game to the Wolf Pack’s desire to throw the ball against Wyoming. The Pack threw for a season-high 438 yards, their most through the air since Week 5 last season against UNLV (455 yards).
“They (Wyoming) did a nice job,” Ault said. “But when Cody went out, our game plan went out the window. We lost our continuity. But they were loading it up in there, trying to stop the run and we had to throw it.”
AULT PRAISES TURNER: Richy Turner caught seven passes for 150 yards against Wyoming for the most receiving yards by a Pack player since Rishard Matthews had 205 against Utah State last season on Nov. 26, 2011.
“He’s really done a great job,” said Ault of the 5-foot-11, 180-pound wide receiver from Fullerton College. “Every game he gets better and better.”
Turner, a sophomore, led Fullerton with 37 catches last year for 539 yards and five touchdowns.
“He’s really added another element to our offense,” Ault said. “He understands the game so well. I’ve been very impressed with his knowledge of the game. He’s been a blessing in disguise for us.”
ROSETTE, BOUGHTON ACTIVE: Linebackers Albert Rosette and DeAndre Boughton had their best games of their Wolf Pack careers on Saturday with 14 tackles each.
Rosette also forced a fumble and Boughton recovered a fumble and had a half-tackle for a loss. Rosette’s previous high for tackles in a game was 13 against South Florida and Boughton’s high was nine against Northwestern State.
“That game just gives me more confidence,” said Rosette, who started on the defensive line last year. “I’m where I want to be (at linebacker) and it’s where I feel comfortable. But I haven’t had a lot of live snaps at linebacker before this year. The more I play the more I’ll play better.”
Boughton missed all of last season with a leg injury.
“I’ve been banged up this year,” said Boughton, who now has 41 tackles (Rosette has 46). “I’ve had to just keep fighting.”