The Nevada Wolf Pack is heading to Doak Campbell Stadium to play the Florida State Seminoles with the purpose of winning a football game.
“You go into every game with the intent to win,” said coach Brian Polian, whose Wolf Pack (1-1) will meet the No. 10 Seminoles (1-0) on Saturday afternoon (12:30 p.m., ESPN) in Tallahassee, Fla. “If you go in and just try to keep it close, you’ll be defeated before you step off the bus.”
The Wolf Pack, which lost 58-20 in the Rose Bowl to the UCLA Bruins two weeks ago, is 5-23 against teams currently in Bowl Championship Series conferences since 1992. Three of those wins (over California twice and Boston College), though, have come since 2010.
“It’s going to be a challenge, for sure,” Wolf Pack offensive tackle Joel Bitonio said of the Wolf Pack’s first game ever in the state of Florida. “But we’re not going to go in there and think, ‘This is a lost cause.’ We’re going to go in there and try to win every play.”
The Seminoles of the Atlantic Coast Conference won almost every play in a 41-13 victory at Pittsburgh on Sept. 2. Red-shirt freshman quarterback Jameis Winston was nearly perfect, completing 25-of-27 passes (16-of-16 on first down) for 356 yards and four touchdowns in his first college start.
“He couldn’t have had a better college debut,” said Polian, whose own quarterback (Cody Fajardo) is nursing a knee sprain and might be limited on Saturday. “I got to know him a little bit when we were recruiting him at Stanford. He’s a very mature, very smart and well-grounded young man.”
Winston seemingly has kept his eye-opening college debut in perspective.
“I know I have a lot to work on,” Winston said. “That first game, I put that in the past. It’s just one game.”
Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher, who is 32-10 since replacing Bobby Bowden as head coach, reminded everyone this week that the Seminoles are not a one-man show.
“Quarterbacks get a lot of glory and they get a lot of blame,” Fisher said. “And a lot of that has to do with how well people play around them. He has to go out and execute and, don’t get me wrong, I take nothing away from how he played. He played extremely well. But I think the guys around him did, too.”
Winston found tight end Nick O’Leary for three of his touchdown passes against Pitt. Wide receiver Rashad Greene caught eight passes for 126 yards and a score. Running backs James Wilder and Devonta Freeman combined for 19 carries and 110 yards.
“They are more talented, top to bottom, than UCLA,” Polian said. “Look, we know UCLA and Florida State have a lot of great, talented players. I’m not shocked by that. We won’t see talent and speed from top to bottom in our league (Mountain West) like what we saw against UCLA and are going to see from Florida State.
“But it’s not the decathlon. It’s a football game. Our focus is about competing on every single play and that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to compete our tails off.”
The Wolf Pack is just 1-12 in games played east of the Mississippi River in their long football history. And just three of those games were against BCS teams (all losses at Wisconsin, Notre Dame and Northwestern). The Pack’s lone victory east of the Mississippi came at Northern Illinois (35-31) in 1994.
“This is sort of likie a West coast against East coast thing,” smiled Pack wide receiver Brandon Wimberly, who is from Los Angeles. “Me and Cody talk about that all the time.”
The Wolf Pack has played schools from the state of Florida three times before and all three games, oddly enough, were decided by one point. The Pack beat Central Florida 49-48 in the 2005 Hawaii Bowl, lost to Miami 21-20 in the 2006 MPC Computers Bowl in Boise and were beaten 32-31 by South Florida last year at Mackay Stadium.
The Seminoles this year, though, are much more talented than any of those other Pack foes from Florida.
“That team is definitely a well-oiled machine,” Wolf Pack defensive lineman Jordan Hanson said of Florida State. “We know it’s going to be a physical game. But that’s the type of game defensive linemen live for. We can definitely hang with those guys.”
“They breed athletes down there (in the state of Florida),” Wimberly said.
The Seminoles’ offensive live averages 6-foot-5, 317 pounds. The Pack defensive line averages 6-3, 268.
Polian’s job this week, he said, is convincing his team that they indeed have a chance to win on Saturday. The Wolf Pack is a four-touchdown underdog against the Seminoles.
“Every week you are playing the role of psychologist as a coach,” Polian said. “That’s one of the things we do. A lot of what we do is making sure we set the tone and get our message across every week.”
The Wolf Pack is coming off a 36-7 victory over UC Davis in its home opener last weekend. A crowd of 27,052 showed up to see the dedication of Chris Ault Field before the game. The Pack, though, could be playing in front of three times that many fans this Saturday.
The win over Davis – a Football Championship Series program – restored a bit of Pack’s swagger that was lost at UCLA.
“Our confidence is high right now,” Hanson said. “We know there are a lot of things we have to do better, especially against a team like Florida State. But we’re going into the game with a lot of confidence.”
“It’s 50-50 on who is going to win,” said Wimberly, whose first game with the Pack was at Notre Dame in 2009.
Florida State is 33-2 in its last 35 home openers. The Seminoles have been to a bowl game the past 31 seasons, the longest such streak in the nation. The Pack has been to eight bowls in a row.
Fisher, though, is also playing the role of psychologist this week.
“Nevada has a great tradition and has great coaching,” Fisher said. “They’ve played in a lot of big games. They won’t be intimidated coming in here. We have to play our A game.”
Polian said this week that Fajardo won’t play this week if his banged-up knee doesn’t allow him the ability to escape Florida State’s defense. Fisher is preparing as if Fajardo will play every snap.
“He’s very athletic and he can create plays with his arm and his legs,” said Fisher of Fajardo. “They will challenge us. The quarterback is key to everything.”
Fisher also reminded his team this week that the Pack trailed UCLA just 17-13 at halftime.
“It was a much better game than the score indicated,” Fisher said.
Playing in the Rose Bowl in front of 60,562 fans (many of which were Wolf Pack family members, friends and supporters), the Pack players said, has prepared them for Doak Campbell Stadium. The Seminoles’ stadium, though, seats 82,300 fans and very few of them will likely be wearing silver and blue.
“It’s kind of like the Rose Bowl,” Hanson said. “But take that to another level. The atmosphere is something every college kid wants to play in.”