Bob Davie has a score to settle with the Nevada Wolf Pack.
“What happened last year in Reno, Nevada was personal,” the New Mexico Lobos football coach said this week. “They whipped us. When you get whipped like we got whipped last year, nothing else matters other than playing this game this week.”
Davie and the Lobos (5-3 overall, 3-1 in the Mountain West) hope to get revenge against the Wolf Pack (3-5, 1-3) Saturday night (7:21 p.m., ESPNU) at University Stadium in Albuquerque.
“They soundly, soundly beat us up last year in Reno,” Davie said. “The score (35-17 Wolf Pack) was not an indication of how badly they beat us. They dominated us. They decisively beat us up there.”
The Wolf Pack rushed for 351 yards and outgained the Lobos 517-273 last Oct. 10 at Mackay Stadium. The Pack had 30 first downs to the Lobos’ 14. Wolf Pack running backs Don Jackson (152 yards) and James Butler (145) pounded the Lobos. Quarterback Tyler Stewart had arguably his best game in a Pack uniform, completing 16-of-19 passes for 166 yards and two touchdowns and rushing for 57 yards and two more touchdowns.
“That game is still very fresh, still very vivid in my memory and our team’s memory,” Davie said. “They really dominated us on both sides of the line of scrimmage, to be brutally honest. It was just a beat down.”
The Lobos, though, came within a yard in the fourth quarter of taking the lead last year at Mackay Stadium. Lobos’ wide receiver Dameon Gamblin fumbled the ball away into the end zone with the Wolf Pack leading just 21-17 with eight minutes to play. Stewart then connected with tight end Jarred Gipson and wide receiver Jerico Richardson for two late touchdown passes to give the Pack its 18-point victory.
“They were bigger than us, stronger than us and more physical than us,” Davie said of the Wolf Pack.
Both programs, though, have gone in opposite directions since that game at Mackay Stadium a year ago. The Pack has gone 6-8 in the regular season since beating the Lobos last year while the Lobos have gone 9-5. New Mexico, which needs one more victory to become bowl eligible, will bring a three-game winning streak into Saturday’s game. The Pack has lost four of its last five games.
“Things haven’t been going well,” Wolf Pack guard Jeremy Macauley said. “But you just can’t call it quits when things get tough. You have to keep fighting and believe you will turn it around. If we do that we’ll be facing a 6-6 record and maybe 7-5 and going to a bowl. I’m very certain about that. You have to have the same confidence for every game, knowing that you are 100 per cent prepared. If not, it’s going to be a long Saturday.”
The Lobos have the potential to make it a very long and frustrating night for the Wolf Pack. The Lobos lead the nation in rushing at 357 yards a game and also lead the 12-team Mountain West in scoring with 38.5 points a game. The Pack defense is 11th in the Mountain West, allowing 268.2 rushing yards a game. Wyoming ran for 401 yards on the ground in beating the Wolf Pack 42-34 two weeks ago at Mackay Stadium.
The Lobos feature an option-style, run-heavy offense with running backs Tyrone Owens (821 yards), Teriyon Gipson (696) and Richard Macquarley (358 yards, 11 touchdowns) as well as dual-threat quarterbacks Austin Apodaca (124 yards rushing) and Lamar Jordan (345).
“They are the number one rushing team in the country,” Wolf Pack coach Brian Polian said. “Clearly, for us, stopping the run is something that gives us problems and it is the single biggest point of emphasis on defense this week.”
The Wolf Pack defense will get a boost this week with the return of linebacker Alex Bertrando. Bertrando, who leads the Wolf Pack with 67 tackles, missed the Wyoming game with a concussion.
“They are a downhill running team,” said Bertrando of the Lobos. “Their triple-option offense always gives defenses trouble. But I think we’re ready.”
Cal Poly’s, a FBS team, used the triple option to run for 383 yards against the Pack in the season opener. The Pack, though, held Gipson, Owens, Jordan and Apodaca and the Lobos to just 135 yards rushing last year in Reno.
“We really couldn’t run the ball,” Davie said.
New Mexico is last in the Mountain West in passing at 107 yards a game. The Lobos also have a league-low seven touchdown passes. Gamblin is New Mexico’s leading receiver with just 15 catches all season. The Lobos, however, did find some success throwing the ball a year ago in Reno as the Wolf Pack focused on stopping the run. Apodaca was 10-of-12 for 82 yards and Jordan was 9-of-12 for 56.
“We are in position in November to potentially play our best football,” Davie said. “I really believe that.”
The Wolf Pack will head to Albuquerque with a new starting quarterback. Sophomore Ty Gangi came off the bench against Wyoming because of a season-ending shoulder injury to Stewart and completed 27-of-43 passes for 300 yards and a touchdown.
“He’s our guy,” Macauley said. “He has to lead us now. I am real excited to see what else he has in store for us because I know (what he did against Wyoming) that’s not all he has.”
Gangi’s 404 yards passing this season is more than either New Mexico quarterback (Jordan has 403, Apodaca has 398).
“He was noticeably in charge (this week in practice),” Polian said. “His communication was good. He threw the ball good. I don’t fear this is too big for him. I don’t have any fear that the lights will be too bright for him.”
Gangi is the 10th Wolf Pack quarterback since 1991 to make his first career start on the road after Chris Vargas (1991, Montana), John Dutton (Oregon, 1996), Mo Jones (Oregon State, 1998), David Neill (Fresno State, 1998), Zac Threadgill (Colorado State, 2001), Andy Heiser (San Jose State, 2003), Nick Graziano (Nebraska, 2007), Colin Kaepernick (Boise State, 2007) and Tyler Lantrip (Oregon, 2011). Only Vargas, Neill and Heiser came out a winner.
“We have a lot of confidence in Ty,” Bertrando said. “He brings a different energy to the offense when he’s out there.”
The Wolf Pack needs to win at least three of its final four games to become bowl eligible. The Pack has been bowl eligible in 10 of the last 11 seasons.
“I’m optimistic because I am always optimistic,” Polian said. “I always think we can do better and I always think we can improve.”
The Wolf Pack, which is coming off a bye, has won its last three games against New Mexico, including a 31-24 decision in Albuquerque in 2012.
“I do feel like there’s a little bit of a bounce in our step right now,” Polian said. “There’s four games left. We’re not sitting here at 0-8. It’s not where we want to be but there’s a lot of football left to play.”
“I have four games left in my college career, hopefully five,” Bertrando said. “I am going to play every play like it could be my last.”