Brian Polian is going back home this weekend.
“I have a very warm place in my heart for Buffalo,” the Nevada Wolf Pack head football coach said this week.
Polian’s Wolf Pack (1-2) will take on the Buffalo Bulls of the Mid-American Conference Saturday (12:30 p.m. kickoff) at UB Stadium. Polian went to high school in Buffalo (1988-92) at St. Francis High and used to hold the sideline headsets for former Buffalo Bills head coach Marv Levy during NFL games while his father Bill was the pro personnel director and general manager of the Bills from 1984-92.
“This is my home,” the 40-year-old Polian said. “It will be special for me.”
For the Wolf Pack players, it will be merely their final non-conference game of the regular season and the first game they are expected to win (after losses to Arizona and Texas A&M) since beating UC Davis in the season opener three weeks ago. Polian, who also coached for the Bulls in 1998 and again from 2001-03, scheduled a brief trip this week to nearby Niagara Falls and a lunch at a Buffalo Italian restaurant to give his team a little taste of his youth.
“But it’s not their deal,” said Polian, whose wife Laura was also born and raised in Buffalo. “They don’t care where I was raised. I will manage the distractions. And, for the most part, they (the payers) won’t even be affected by it at all.”
The most important part of the weekend for the Wolf Pack, Polian said, is to come home a winner. Polian, now in his third season as Nevada head coach, has just nine victories against Division I-A (Football Bowl Subdivision) teams on his resume. The Bulls, who have a shorter Division I-A history than the Pack (Buffalo made the move from I-AA in 1999, seven years after the Pack), have had just one winning season in the last six years. That was when they went 8-5 in 2013 with future NFL players Kahlil Mack and Branden Oliver and went to just their second bowl game in school history.
“We definitely need a win,” Wolf Pack senior defensive end Lenny Jones said. “We want to start a 9-0 win streak going into the (Mountain West) championship game. But you have to start with one win before you can start a streak and this is as good a week as any to get one.”
The 2,125-mile trip for the Wolf Pack is the sixth longest journey an FBS team is taking this season. The Pack will also be just the third school west of the Mississippi River to ever play at UB Stadium after UTEP in 2008 and Baylor in 2014.
“If we play our overall A game I think we’ll be fine,” Wolf Pack wide receiver Hasaan Henderson said.
The atmosphere at the 29,013-seat UB Stadium will be a bit different than the environment the Pack experienced last week in a 44-27 loss at Texas A&M’s Kyle Field in front of a crowd of 102,591. The Bulls have never attracted a crowd of even 30,000 fans at UB Stadium.
“It’s not going to be 100,000,” Polian said. “The energy in the stadium will be different. Like I told my team, if you are looking for 100,000 people and wanting to feed off the energy, you are not going to get that.”
The Wolf Pack, Polian said, might miss the environment they experienced at Kyle Field. “There were times our team did feed off the energy,” Polian said. “They kind of liked it. We just have to make sure we bring our own energy on Saturday. I expect we will get a nice crowd (against Buffalo) but it‘s certainly not going to be Kyle Field. I don’t know if that’s good or if it’s bad.”
Buffalo, which has won 12 of its last 14 home games, features quarterback Joe Licata (556 yards, four touchdowns), running back Anthone Taylor (313 yards, two touchdowns) and wide receiver Ron Willoughby 12 catches, 147 yards, one score). All three are seniors.
“The quarterback is a veteran,” Polian said. “No doubt he’ll be ready to play. They have some playmakers and we have to be aware of them.”