The Nevada Wolf Pack got bowled over Saturday night at Mackay Stadium.
The San Diego State Aztecs ran past the Wolf Pack 46-16, sending Nevada to its fourth consecutive defeat and sixth in its last seven games. The loss also means the Wolf Pack will fall short of the required six victories to qualify for a bowl game.
The Wolf Pack is now 3-7 overall and 1-5 in the Mountain West with just two games remaining. San Diego State, which has already clinched the West Division and a spot in the conference championship game, improved its Mountain West winning streak to 17 games and is now 9-1, 6-0. The Aztecs have also won six games in a row and 9 of their last 20.
The Aztecs simply ran over the Wolf Pack.
“For the first time all season I just felt at times in the ballgame that we just were not competitive enough,” Wolf Pack coach Brian Polian said.
This will be just the second season in the last 12 that the Wolf Pack will not qualify for a bowl game. The other time was Polian’s first year as head coach in 2013 when the Wolf Pack finished 4-8.
“I would not have imagined that would be the case at the beginning of the year,” Polian said. “But that’s where we are. Look, I know our fans are frustrated. I understand that.”
San Diego State rushed for 474 yards on 44 carries as Rashad Penny had 208 on just 10 carries. Donnel Pumphrey, the nation’s leading rusher in the Football Bowl Subdivision, ran for 198 yards on 26 carries.
“We didn’t tackle and I’m frustrated,” Polian said. “It was basic stuff. We were awful trying to stop the run.”
Wolf Pack running back James Butler was held to just 32 yards on 14 carries but the junior did go over 1,000 yards for the second consecutive season. Butler, who now has 1,021 yards this year, is also just two yards short of 3,000 for his career.
“We knew it would be difficult to run the ball against them,” Polian said. “But we did feel like there was a couple matchups in the passing game that we could take advantage of.”
Wolf Pack quarterback Ty Gangi completed 21-of-37 passes for 276 yards but was intercepted three times, leading to three San Diego State touchdowns. Gangi was trying to be the first Wolf Pack quarterback to pass for 300 or more yards in three consecutive games since Zack Threadgill, who did it for four games in a row in 2002.
“Ty did some good things tonight but we have to protect the football,” Polian said, referring to Gangi’s three interceptions. “But he knows that. We just need to continue to grow with him.”
“I just tried to force it too much,” Gangi said. “Just trying to do too much. There were a couple times when I should have just tucked it and ran.”
The game was all but over at the half.
The Aztecs scored the final 20 points of the first half to take a commanding 26-7 halftime lead.
As expected, the Aztecs did most of its damage in the opening half on the ground. Pumphrey ran for 129 yards and a 3-yard touchdown in the first half. Penny also had 92 yards in the opening half and a 40-yard touchdown run.
“I couldn’t imagine it (the Pack’s run defense) being any worse than it was tonight,” Polian said.
The Aztecs, who ran the ball for 221 yards in the first half on just 25 carries, didn’t waste anytime finding the end zone. With Pumphrey leading the way, the Aztecs went 75 yards in six plays to take a 7-0 lead. Pumphrey, who has now run for at least 100 yards in nine consecutive games, carried the ball four times on the drive for 35 yards and Penny capped the drive with a 40-yard touchdown run up the middle of the Pack defense.
The Wolf Pack offense, though, came right back to tie the game. Gangi keyed a 75-yard, 11-play scoring drive by completing 6-of-7 passes for 88 yards. He found Wyatt Demps for 35 yards on a post pattern and also connected twice to Hasaan Henderson for a pair of 12-yard gains. The Wolf Pack touchdown play was started by a Gangi shovel pass to tight end Jarred Gipson, who went 20 yards down to the 1-yard line before fumbling the ball into the end zone, where Henderson fell on it for the touchdown.
The Aztecs then kept the Pack off the scoreboard for the remainder of the first half.
San Diego State took a 10-7 lead on a 28-yard field goal by John Baron on its second drive. Pumphrey carried the ball seven times on the drive for 64 yards on the drive, including 34 on one run down to the Pack 33-yard line. The Pack defense, though kept Pumphrey out of the end zone on first and second down from the 2-yard line. Free safety Asauni Rufus then sacked Aztecs quarterback Christian Chapman on third down for a 10-yard sack, forcing the Aztecs to settle for the field goal.
The Aztecs, who outgained the Wolf Pack 620-366, then broke the game open thanks to a pair of Gangi mistakes. The sophomore quarterback was intercepted by Aztecs cornerback Ron Smith and safety Parker Baldwin on successive drives in the second quarter, setting up a pair of San Diego State touchdowns.
Smith’s interception came off a deflection by the Aztecs’ Kameron Kelly as Gangi tried to connect with Demps from the Wolf Pack 14-yrd line. It took the Aztecs just three plays to find the end zone as Pumphrey scored from three yards out for a 17-7 lead with 10:19 to go in the second quarter.
Baldwin’s interception gave the Aztecs the ball at the Pack 32-yard line less than two minutes later. This time it took the Aztecs six plays to get into the end zone. Chapman competed two passes on the drive including a 6-yard touchdown to wide receiver Mikah Holder in the left corner of the end zone for a 23-7 lead.
“Those two turnovers changed the entire momentum of the game,” Polian said. “You can’t give the best team in the Mountain West and, in my opinion, one of the Top 25 teams in the nation, two short fields. But that’s what we did.”
Baron added a 31-yard field goal with three seconds to go in the half as the Aztecs took a 26-7 lead at the intermission. Starting at their own 9-yard line with 1:45 to go in the half, the Aztecs methodically marched down the field on Chapman’s right arm. He completed five passes on the drive for 53 yards.
Things didn’t get much better for the Pack in the third quarter.
The Aztecs scored on their first drive of the second half on a 17-yard pass from Chapman to tight end David Wells. The 75-yard drive was keyed by a 19-yard Chapman pass to Nick Bawden and an 18-yarder to Wells. Wells’ touchdown gave the Aztecs a 32-7 lead but the Pack’s Gabe Sewell blocked Baron’s extra point attempt. E.J. Muhammad picked up the loose ball and ran back to the opposite end zone for two Wolf Pack points, cutting the Aztecs’ lead to 32-9.
“That was a great play, a positive on a night when there weren’t too many positives,” Polian said.
It took the Aztecs just two plays, though, to score on their next drive. Penny exploded up the middle and down the right sideline for a 72-yard touchdown run as the Aztecs upped their lead to 39-9 with 2:50 to go in the third quarter.
The Pack cut the lead to 39-16 as Gangi found Demps on a 40-yard touchdown pass on the third play of the fourth quarter, capping an eight-play, 75-yard drive.
Gangi, though, tossed his third interception of the game (by Kelly) with nine minutes to play at the Aztecs’ 40-yard line. And, once again, the mistake turned into an Aztecs’ touchdown.
The Aztecs went 54 yards on just three plays to take a 46-16 lead with 7:34 to go. Juwann Washington, a 5-foot-7, 190-pound freshman, did the honors, scoring on a 45-yard run.
The Aztecs’ 46 points are the most allowed by the Wolf Pack since a 51-46 loss to Boise State in 2014.
“I am going to do everything in my power to guide these guys the next two weeks,” Polian said. “The goal now is to send these seniors out in the manner in which they deserve.”
The Wolf Pack will host Utah State this Saturday starting at 1 p.m. in the final home game of the season. The Pack will then close out the season at UNLV on Nov. 26.
“I know those guys in the locker room and not going to give up and our coaches aren’t going to give up,” Pack linebacker Alex Bertrando said.
“We are going to go out there and play for our brothers in the locker room,” Gangi said.