Cody Fajardo knows who to blame for the Nevada Wolf Pack's 52-36 loss to the Fresno State Bulldogs last Saturday night.
"I cost us the game," the Wolf Pack's sophomore quarterback said. "I gave them 14 points."
Fajardo, who will lead Nevada against the New Mexico Lobos this afternoon (12:30 p.m.) in Albuquerque, committed two turnovers that Fresno state returned for a pair of touchdowns. Fresno's Derron Smith picked off a Fajardo pass and carried it 34 yards into the end zone to give the Bulldogs a 14-7 lead in the second quarter and Tyeler Davison picked up a Fajardo fumble in the end zone for another touchdown and a- 28-21 Bulldogs lead in the third quarter.
"That was the first time I threw an interception that went for a touchdown since Oregon last year," said Fajardo, referring to his first Wolf Pack game as a freshman on Sept. 10, 2011. "It was one of those nights."
Once again, though, Fajardo will take full responsibility for the mistakes.
"You can't throw that pass like I did," Fajardo said. "I broke the golden rule for quarterbacks. I threw the ball back across my body to the middle of the field."
Pack head coach Chris Ault couldn't believe his eyes.
"He's never done that before," Ault said. "But when he came to the sideline he knew right away what he did. He said right away, 'I shouldn't have thrown it.' He knew."
Fajardo said he was just trying to make a play on the 3rd-and-9 pass from the Wolf Pack 30-yard line.
"I saw him (Smith) back there," Fajardo said. "I've made that throw before. I thought I could get it in there. It's a confidence thing, I guess. I've done it before so I knew I could do it. But, I guess, he (Smith) was a lot faster than I thought."
Fajardo has now been intercepted three times over his last 40 passes after getting picked off three times over his first 249 attempts this year. He was nearly perfect in the Pack's first four games against California, South Florida, Northwestern State and Hawaii, completing 71 percent of his passes (87-of-123) for four touchdowns, 958 yards and just one interception as the Pack went 3-1. Since then, though, he's completed just 63 percent of his passes (105-of-106) and has been picked off five times as the Pack has gone 2-3 in games Fajardo has played in.
The offense is still scoring plenty of points - the Pack has scored 31 or more points in every game this year with or without Fajardo -- but the efficiency level has dropped off.
Since suffering a hip and back injury right before halftime against Wyoming in Week Six Fajardo's efficiency as a runner has also suffered. Before the injury he was averaging 6.6 yards a carry (521 yards on 79 carries) over five and a half games and since then he has averaged just 3.6 a carry (193 yards on 54 carries over three games).
Part of the decline can be attributed to sub-par performances by the offensive line the last few games. Fajardo has been sacked seven times over the last three games after enduring just 10 sacks over his first five-plus games before the injury.
"I have all the confidence in my offensive line and still do," said Fajardo, who was sacked three times each by Fresno State and Air Force the last two games.
Fajardo's passing numbers have also diminished a bit since the injury. Before the injury he was completing 69 percent (127-of-183) passes. After the injury he has completed just 61 percent (65-of-106). He's also been picked off once every 35.3 passes since the injury after tossing an interception just once every 61 passes before the injury.
The injury, though, is not being used as an excuse by either Ault or Fajardo.
"He was 100 percent healthy for the last game," Ault said. "Before the bye week (after the Air Force game on Oct. 26) he was a little sore. But he was completely healthy this time."
Fajardo could have a big game at New Mexico. The Lobos are last in the Mountain West and 111th out of 120 teams in the nation against the pass, allowing 283 yards a game through the air.
New Mexico coach Bob Davie said Fajardo is the type of quarter he'd like to have in Albuquerque.
"Everybody would want that because he's really fast and he can really throw it," said Davie, whose Lobos are 4-7 overall and 1-5 in the Mountain West.
The Wolf Pack (6-4, 3-3), which was eliminated from the Mountain West race with the loss to Fresno State, is hoping to avoid its first four-game losing streak since it lost the final game of the 2008 season and the first three in 2009. The last time the Pack lost four in a row in the same season was 2001 under head coach Chris Tormey. Ault's Wolf Pack teams have lost four in a row in the same season just twice in his 28 seasons (1982, 1988).
"We just want to finish strong," Fajardo said. "We can still finish with a 9-4 record. The most important thing is I want to finish strong for the seniors. We just want to make sure nobody in our locker room checks out on the season and I don't think that is going to happen on this team"
The Wolf Pack could be making its first of two trips to Albuquerque this year on Saturday. The Wolf Pack could find itself playing in the New Mexico Bowl on Dec. 15 against a Pac-12 team.
"We want to win our last two (against New Mexico and against Boise State on Dec. 1 in Reno) and roll into our bowl game on a winning streak," Fajardo said.
The Wolf Pack defense, which has allowed an average of 41 points a game during its three-game losing streak, is hoping to slow down a New Mexico ground game that is fifth in the nation, averaging 311.5 yards a game and 5.7 yards a carry. The Lobos are led by running back Kasey Carrier, who is second in the Mountain West at 126.5 rushing yards a game. The Wolf Pack's Stefphon Jefferson leads the conference and the nation at 143.6 yards a game.
The Lobos, though, are the worst passing team in the nation. New Mexico has attempted just 131 passes all year and has thrown for only 690 yards and four touchdowns.
"We run a triple option," said Davie, explaining the run-dominated Lobos offense. "It's somewhere between what Air Force does with their triple option and what Nevada does with the pistol."