Joe Santoro: Hey, still (slight) chance for a bowl
October 12, 2017
The Nevada Wolf Pack football team needs to treat Saturday night's game at Colorado State as if it's a bowl game. The Pack, now 1-5, has to win five of its last six games to become bowl eligible. You could argue the Pack has already wasted its chance of going to a bowl by losing to Idaho State and Fresno State. But, hey, there's still a chance. As things stand now the Pack has to beat either Boise State or San Diego State on the road and win its other four games. Nothing that has happened so far would suggest that's possible. But three of those games — home games against Air Force, San Jose State and UNLV — shouldn't be a problem. If you can't beat those teams at home, well, you don't deserve to go to a bowl anyway. It's the other three games — road trips to Colorado State, Boise State and San Diego State — that will define the rest of this season.
Did the Wolf Pack turn its season around by beating Hawaii 35-21 on Saturday night at Mackay Stadium? We'll find out this Saturday night. Hawaii is a mediocre team on its good days and an awful one on the road. The Rainbow Warriors under head coach and ex-Pack offensive coordinator Nick Rolovich are an undisciplined bunch (11 penalties on Saturday) who can't play defense. So beating Hawaii at home is nothing you want to put in a time capsule. But it's a start. And when you're 0-5 there's no victory so small you will take it off the hook and throw it back in the lake. The Pack now knows good things are indeed possible this year. And if good things are possible then great things, well, we'll see on Saturday.
Ty Gangi is the type of kid you root for. The Wolf Pack quarterback didn't even start in high school until his senior year. He was a walk-on red-shirt freshman at Colorado in 2014. He had to go to a junior college (Ventura College) the next year to get a chance to play at the college level. He then needed an injury to Tyler Stewart to get a chance to start at Nevada late last year. He somehow won the Pack's starting job this summer despite the presence of ex-Alabama quarterback David Cornwell on the roster. He then lost the starting job after two games this year to a true freshman. For some reason hardly anyone has ever believed in Ty Gangi as a dependable starting quarterback. But all Gangi does is continue to compete at the highest level and improve each time he steps on the football field. He shredded Hawaii for 278 yards and four touchdowns. You don't have to worry about the position of quarterback at Nevada as long as Gangi is around.
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Gangi is never going to push Colin Kaepernick out of the Wolf Pack record book. And nobody is ever going to confuse him with former Pack greats Chris Vargas, Stan Heath, John Dutton, Cody Fajardo, Eric Beavers, Mike Maxwell and others. Gangi is more Fred Gatlin and David Neill than he's Kaepernick and Fajardo. He'll likely always be great one play, good the next and cover-your-eyes the next. But in this pitch-and-catch Wolf Pack offense he's going to put up some pretty impressive numbers. If Gangi simply eliminates the oh-my-did-he-just-do-that mistake — he tossed an ugly interception against Hawaii — he should be the Pack starter through next season. There's no way Norvell and offensive coordinator Matt Mumme are going to want to start all over again this off-season and teach a new quarterback this complicated offense for the start of the 2018 season opener. Gangi has earned this job through 2018.
It's time we all start to appreciate Pack wide receiver Wyatt Demps. The 6-foot-4 senior has quietly become one of the best Wolf Pack wide receivers in recent years. And he's done it the last two years while the Wolf Pack has had a revolving door (Stewart, Gangi, Cornwell, Kaymen Cureton) at quarterback. Demps is third in the Mountain West in catches (39), first in receiving touchdowns (six) and fourth in receiving yards (438). He's caught at least five passes every game this year and has scored a touchdown in four of the six games. He's big (6-4, 200 pounds), strong, tough, competitive, confident and can catch the ball anywhere on the field. Little cornerbacks can't cover him, especially on slants into the end zone. He led the team last year with 53 catches for 686 yards and nine touchdowns in a run-heavy offense. Right now he's the Wolf Pack's Most Valuable Player this season.
The strangest statistic on this Wolf Pack football team just might be at running back. The Wolf Pack's top two running backs, Kelton Moore and Jaxson Kincaide, have yet to score a touchdown this season. Moore and Kincaide have combined for 113 carries but they can't seem to locate the end zone. Moore even rushed for 216 yards last week and had runs of 66 and 43 yards and he still didn't score. The Pack has just five rushing touchdowns all season, two by Gangi and three by backup backs Blake Wright and Maliek Brody, who have just 24 carries combined all season. A team can't live by passing touchdowns alone.
It might be time for the Mountain West to start sending friendly text messages to the BYU football program. The Cougars, who left the Mountain West after the 2010 season, are 1-5 this season and headed to their worst season as an independent. The Cougars, who dumped most of their other sports into the West Coast Conference, have gone 53-31 as a football independent since 2011 but most of those victories have come against struggling Mountain West teams. BYU football has become meaningless. Mountain West football has become irrelevant. The two need each other.
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