The Nevada Wolf Pack’s frustrations the last two weeks boiled over late Saturday night after the latest loss, a 31-24 heartbreaker to the Colorado State Rams.
“The most difficult part of Saturday night came after the game,” head coach Brian Polian said. “One player in particular came up to me and he was crying. He kept saying, ‘Coach, we’ve bought into everything you’ve asked us to do. We’ve done everything you’ve asked of us. So why does this keep happening to us?’”
“I understand the frustration. Frankly, my only answer to him is that we just have to keep fighting. We have to keep swinging the axe and keep chopping wood.”
The Wolf Pack, losers of three of their last four games, head to Provo, Utah tonight (7:15 p.m., ESPN2) to take on the Brigham Young Cougars in a non-league game. BYU came to Mackay Stadium last season and beat the Pack, 28-23.
“We still control our fate,” Wolf Pack quarterback Cody Fajardo said. “We don’t need a miracle to happen to reach the Mountain West championship or a bowl game.”
The Mountain West is a forgiving conference this season. The Wolf Pack, despite two gut-wrenching conference losses at home the last two weeks to Boise State (51-46) and Colorado State, are still very much alive in the race to get to the league title game on Dec. 6.
The Pack, 3-3 overall and 1-2 in league play, trails Hawaii (1-0 in Mountain West play), San Diego State (2-1), Fresno State (2-1) and San Jose State (1-1) and are tied with UNLV (1-2) in the West Division. The Wolf Pack, though, has already beaten San Jose State and still gets to play Hawaii, Fresno State, San Diego State and UNLV.
“The season is not done,” defensive end Brock Hekking said. “There’s still a lot of ball left. We still control our destiny.”
“Our goals are still very much ahead of us,” Polian said.
The Wolf Pack’s three losses have come by a combined total of 19 points. And all three losses followed a frustrating and familiar path. The Pack trailed big in all three games (21-6 to Arizona, 37-21 to Boise State and 31-3 to Colorado State) and staged a furious comeback, only to fall short.
“I am proud of the fact we scored 21 unanswered points (against Colorado State),” Polian said. “We fought hard and had a chance to tie the game. Unfortunately, we didn’t finish.”
Polian, who said he had numerous conversations with Mountain West officials about the officiating in the Colorado State game, has a simple solution to the Pack’s problem.
“We need to start faster and not play from behind,” he said. “Why is it we don’t come out faster and why do we always have to play in desperation mode? That’s something we’ve made a point of emphasis this week. It would be nice to play from in front for a change.”
Despite the losses to Arizona, Boise State and Colorado State, the Wolf Pack insists it has learned valuable lessons.
“We keep fighting,” Fajardo said. “We know we can move the ball and score. We just have to do it from the first snap to the last snap.”
The Wolf Pack hasn’t lost any confidence.
“As far as our minds concerned we’re 0-0,” Hekking said. “I’m completely confident in this team. I hate losing but we could have won all of those games. There’s no reason for anybody in this program or for the people in the community that support us to lose any faith.”
“There is progress being made here,” said Polian, whose Wolf Pack is now 0-5 in the month of October the last two seasons combined. “It certainly is not coming as fast as I had hoped but there’s no denying progress is being made.”
The Pack would also like its supporters to know it’s as frustrated as anyone.
“Everyone has the mindset that we expected to be 6-0 right now,” Fajardo said. “3-3 is a little hard to swallow.”
“We don’t have any room for error anymore,” Hekking said. “We’re 3-3. But we got our three little hiccups out of the way and now it’s time to move on.”
The Wolf Pack, though, does have some room for error this week. A loss to BYU, a former Mountain West member who now plays an independent schedule, won’t hurt Nevada’s Mountain West title chances. But the Wolf Pack also needs a victory to help get the bitter taste of the frustrating losses to Boise State and Colorado State out of its mouth.
“This game can give us confidence to go into the final part of our Mountain West schedule,” Fajardo said.
BYU is also looking for a win to turn its season around. The Cougars have lost their last two games to Utah State and Central Florida to fall to 4-2 and they also lost their starting quarterback (Taysom Hill) to a season-ending injury.
Hill, who still leads BYU in rushing (463 yards, eight touchdowns) and passing (975 yards, seven scores), led the Cougars to four consecutive wins to open the season and was considered a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate. Hill, who rushed for 154 yards and passed for 98 and two touchdowns to beat the Pack 28-23 last season, was injured before halftime against Utah State and the Cougars have yet to win since.
“The loss of Taysom Hill is a devastating loss,” Polian said. “He is one of the most, if not the most dynamic player in the country. Clearly, They are not the same without him.”
Hill has been replaced by senior Christian Stewart. Stewart has completed 32-of-66 passes this year for 325 yards and three touchdowns this year. He was 22-of-37 for three touchdowns in a 31-24 overtime loss at Central Florida last week in his first start. He also ran for 52 yards on 13 carries.
“I don’t think the quarterback (Stewart) can beat you with his legs alone the way Hill could,” Polian said. “You are more likely to see them hand the ball to one of their big backs now. But he (Stewart) can still run the ball.”
The Cougars have also used numerous running backs this year, including Jamaal Williams (396 yards), Algernon Brown and Paul Lasike. Williams, who had 219 yards against the Pack last year, played just one snap last week against Central Florida before injuring his ankle. Brown stepped in and had 80 yards last week and Lasike had 51. Stewart also had 52 yards rushing against Central Florida
“He’s not Taysom Hill,” said Polian, of Stewart. “That doesn’t mean I don’t respect Stewart. He’s a good player. But Taysom Hill was the starter for a reason.”
Stewart threw all three of his touchdown passes against UCF in the third quarter.
“I was a little nervous at the start,” he said. “But I really settled into myself and was able to play football the way I play football. The progression through the game shows that its only up from here. There are a lot of things to get excited about.”
Both the Cougars and Wolf Pack hope to start fast on Saturday.
“I need to set the tone early, “Hill said. “We need to start fast. I can’t take two quarters to get rolling especially with this being my offense now and me being the leader.”
Hill, who passed for 2,881 yards and 37 touchdowns at Snow College in 2012, clearly does not lack for confidence. “It’s a terrible thing that Taysom went down,” Stewart said. “Nobody wanted to see that. But if there’s a guy ready to step up to the challenge, it’s me. That’s why I came here. That’s what I’m about. I’m a leader.”
The Wolf Pack beat BYU in 2002 in Mackay Stadium (31-28) as Zac Threadgill passed for 410 yards and four touchdowns. The Pack also beat the Cougars in 2010 in Provo (27-13) as Vai Taua rushed for 133 yards. BYU leads the series 5-2-2 but the Pack is 1-1-2 at BYU. The Pack is using last season’s loss to BYU at Mackay Stadium as a confidence builder for Saturday night.
“It was our last game and we were playing for nothing and we were still in it,” Fajardo said. “We know we can play with them and have some fun doing it.”