Bad things usually happen to the Nevada Wolf Pack football team when it dares to venture outside of northern Nevada.
“It¹s been a while since we won a road game around here and we need to get that fixed,” said Brian Polian, who is 0-6 on the road as Wolf Pack head coach.
The Wolf Pack has lost its last seven games played outside of Mackay Stadium, dating back to late in the 2012 season. The last Pack win on the road was 31-24 over the New Mexico Lobos at Albuquerque, N.M. when Chris Ault was the head coach and Polian was the special teams coach at Texas A&M.
“It¹s a big deal,” said Polian of trying to end the Pack¹s longest road losing streak since it lost nine away games in a row from Nov., 2003 to Sept., 2005. “If you want to be a good football team, you have to win on the road.”
Polian and the Wolf Pack will get its first opportunity for a road victory this season Saturday night (8 p.m.) at Tucson, Ariz., against the Arizona Wildcats (Radio: 630-AM, 94.5-FM; Television: Pac-12 Network). It was a 49-48 loss to Arizona in the New Mexico Bowl in Albuquerque on Dec. 15, 2012 that started the Pack on its seven-game losing streak away from home. The Wolf Pack gave up 13 points in the final 46 seconds to lose to the Wildcats.
The Wildcats of the Pac-12 Conference and the Wolf Pack of the Mountain West will both bring 2-0 records into the game. The last time a 2-0 Pack team played a 2-0 team was in 2010 and it also happened to be against a Pac-12 team. The Pack stunned California 52-31 on Sept. 17, 2010 at Mackay Stadium.
“I¹m sure they are going to have a lot of confidence being 2-0 coming into our place,” Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez said of the Wolf Pack.
Much of the Wolf Pack¹s confidence was earned last Friday night at Mackay Stadium with a 24-13 win over Washington State of the Pac-12. This is the first season since 1931 the Pack, which regularly played at Stanford and California in consecutive weeks before 1932, has played Pac-12 teams on consecutive weekends. They have never beaten Pac-12 teams in consecutive weeks.
The biggest challenge this week, Polian said, is harnessing all of that new-found confidence.
“I think it was a little bit of a wake-up call when the players came back in on Sunday (after a day off on Saturday),” Polian said. “I think they came in thinking we were going to hand out milk and cookies and it was going to be all kumbaya. But we opened the meeting by congratulating them for a job well done and we said, ‘We¹re proud of you but when you see the game film you¹ll see where we can improve.”
Washington State outgained the Wolf Pack 427-324 and had more first downs (25-17). The Pack did rush for 214 yards but take away quarterback Cody Fajardo¹s 55-yard run in the second quarter and the Pack averaged just 2.9 yards a carry on its other 55 carries.
“This team now knows it can compete with a Pac-12 team,” Pack QB Cody Fajardo said. “But, at the same time, we don¹t want to get too complacent. We¹ve only played two games. We still have a lot of big games left. We have to get better in order to win some more football games.”
Arizona, which has finished 8-5 in each of the past two seasons under Rodriguez, might be the toughest team remaining on the Pack¹s schedule. The Wildcats have beaten UNLV (58-13) and Texas-San Antonio (26-23) this year and are averaging 621 yards and 42 points a game on offense. The Wildcats run the ball at 6.3 yards a carry and 6-foot-2, 205-pound freshman quarterback Anu Solomon, from Bishop Gorman High in Las Vegas, has passed for 656 yards and five scores.
“They are explosive on offense like Washington State but they are more multiple in their attack,” Polian said. “They both run the spread offense but (Washington State) Coach (Mike) Leach gets into the spread to throw while Coach Rodriguez gets into the spread to run it.”
Solomon has rushed for 61 yards in the first two games.
The Wildcats attack all starts with Solomon.
“In our offense the quarterback has to think on every play,” said Rodriguez, who has also been the head coach at West Virginia (2001-07) and Michigan (2008-10). “He has to think about what he¹s going to do with the ball. But he can handle it.”
Solomon, who redshirted at Arizona last year, was 57-3 in four seasons as Bishop Gorman¹s starter and won four consecutive state titles. He passed for 35 touchdowns and was intercepted just five times his senior year in 2012 and threw for 2,849 yards. In his first college game two weeks ago, Solomon torched his hometown UNLV Rebels for 425 yards and four touchdowns as the Wildcats piled up a school-record 787 yards of offense.
“Coach Rodriguez is an innovator on offensive football,” Polian said. “He is not going to put a bad quarterback back there. We can¹t make it comfortable for (Solomon).”
Arizona, which is 10-0 against non-conference teams in the Rodriguez era, struggled last week on offense at Texas-San Antonio, needing four field goals by Casey Skowron to pull out the victory. Polian, though, believes that game makes the Wildcats even more dangerous this week, especially since they are returning home to Tucson.
Polian said Arizona will pose a greater physical test than Washington State, which threw the ball on 57 of its 75 plays last week. ³We¹re going to have to put our big-boy pants on,” Polian said. “It¹s going to be a physical football game and it¹s going to be a litmus test for us, no doubt.”
Fajardo remembers well the last time the Pack played Arizona. Fajardo, then just a sophomore, had one of his best games in a Wolf Pack uniform against the Wildcats in the New Mexico Bowl, rushing for 140 yards and a touchdown and passing for 256 yards and three touchdowns. The Pack led the Wildcats 21-0 in the first half and 45-28 in the fourth quarter.
“That game is obviously still a little bitter for me,” Fajardo said. “Everything was going so perfect for us. It would have been a big win, our first bowl win since Kap¹s (Colin Kaepernick) last game (in 2010). But it was two years ago. You can¹t hold onto it that long.”
Fajardo said this week¹s game all comes down to one thing — ending the road woes.
“The biggest difference between last week (against Washington State) and this week is this game is on the road,” Fajardo said. “A Pac-12 team is still a Pac-12 team. It doesn¹t matter who it is. We know we can beat a Pac-12 team now.”
Fajardo engineered the Pack¹s last win on the road against a Pac-12 team, a 31-24 win at California to open the 2012 season. He ran for 97 yards and a touchdown and passed for 230 yards in that game and led his teammates on a 61-yard drive to break a 24-24 tie with 36 seconds to play.
“Winning on the road and silencing 80,000 people,” Fajardo said, smiling. “There¹s nothing better.”