RENO — Somebody has to win today at Mackay Stadium.
The Utah State Aggies and Nevada Wolf Pack know what each other have suffered through this college football season. Both teams will bring 3-7 overall records into the 1 p.m. match-up in the home finale for Nevada. Both teams’ lone Mountain West victory this season has come against Fresno State and they’ve both lost six of their last seven games.
“We are similar teams right now,” Wolf Pack coach Brian Polian said. “I’m sure they are frustrated like we are.”
“(Nevada) is a team that is similar to us in a lot of ways,” Utah State coach Matt Wells said. “We are both searching for a win.”
That search will finally come to an end for one of these struggling Mountain West teams. Utah State, 1-6 in conference play, has lost three games in a row and hasn’t won since beating Fresno State 38-20 on Oct. 22. The Wolf Pack, 1-5 in league play, has lost four in a row and hasn’t won since beating Fresno State 27-22 on Oct. 8.
“We’re in a position where every game is a challenge,” Polian said. “This game is no different.”
The challenge this week, Polian said, is to make sure the 20 seniors on the Wolf Pack roster celebrate a victory in their final home game. “My hope is that we can play real well, win the game and send the seniors out of Mackay with a good taste in their mouth,” Polian said.
Polian’s Wolf Pack teams are 1-2 on Senior Day. Former coach Chris Ault was 22-6 on Senior Day with the last four losses coming to powerful Boise State teams in 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2012. Utah State has also won its last two games on Mackay’s Senior Day, beating coach Jeff Tisdel’s Wolf Pack in 1997 and 1999 when both teams were in the Big West Conference.
“This will be like the ultimate homecoming,” Wolf Pack senior offensive lineman Jeremy Macauley said. “Pretty much everybody I know is coming to the game.”
“To win the last game at Mackay will be awesome,” senior linebacker Alex Bertrando said.
Both teams are coming off difficult losses. The Wolf Pack was blown out by San Diego State 46-16 last Saturday at home while the Aggies were beaten 24-21 at home by New Mexico.
“The way that game ended was tough emotionally,” said Wells of the loss to New Mexico.
Utah State went for a 4th-and-goal from the 1-yard line in the fourth quarter with the game tied and failed to get in the end zone. After New Mexico took the lead with a field goal, the Aggies were then called on their next drive for an offensive pass interference penalty on what appeared to be a game-winning touchdown pass.
“This team, though, as the days and weeks have gone by, is a team I’ve grown to respect more and more, seeing how they persevere,” Wells said. “They just keep fighting.”
The Wolf Pack, despite falling short of qualifying for a bowl game for just the second time in the last dozen years, is saying the exact same thing as the season winds down.
“There is no quit in us,” Macauley said. “Nobody on this team is going to go out there on Saturday and just lay down.”
The Wolf Pack will also have revenge as a motivator on Saturday, coming off a stunning 31-27 loss at Utah State a year ago. The Pack led 27-7 in the third quarter before the Aggies scored the game’s final 24 points.
“We watched the film of that game and I was just so mad watching it,” Macauley said. “We’re up (27-7) and we just blow our lead. It was just a collapse of epic proportions.”
The teams are quite a bit different this year. Both the Aggies and Wolf Pack went to a bowl game last year with Utah State losing to Akron 23-21 in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl and the Pack beating Colorado State 28-23 in the Arizona Bowl. This year both the Aggies and Wolf Pack will end their seasons next week against their intrastate rivals with the Aggies at BYU and the Pack at UNLV.
“Our focus is week to week,” Polian said. “That doesn’t change, whether things are going well or when they are going poorly. All we are focusing on now is Utah State.”
The Aggies, who are winless (0-4) on the road, are ninth in the Mountain West in points scored (24 a game) and yards gained (379.4). Their running game has struggled (just 155.3 yards a game), thanks to a season-long leg injury to running back Devante Mays. The Aggies have been led on the ground this year by Tonny Lindsey (548 yards) and quarterback Kent Myers (317 yards rushing). Myers is also third in the Mountain West with 2,164 passing yards. Myers’ backup, Damion Hobbs, has rushed for 106 yards and five touchdowns and has completed 8-of-19 passes for 68 yards.
“They do a lot offensively,” Polian said. “There will be a look or two on Saturday that they didn’t show on film.”
The Wolf Pack, Polian said, is welcoming the challenge of playing a team who seems to mix the run equally with the pass. The last three weeks the Pack has played three teams (San Diego State, New Mexico and Wyoming) who try to run the ball down an opponent’s throat. The Wolf Pack allowed an alarming 1,248 yards and 13 touchdowns combined in those last three games and is now allowing a Mountain West-high 300 yards a game on the ground.
“We’ve had our problems with the run,” said Bertrando, the Pack’s leading tackler with 84. “So it is good they (Utah State) spread it out and throw it more. But we know they’ll have a plan to run the ball, too. We need to do everything we can to stop that.”
Mays, who’s questionable to play on Saturday, had 133 yards and two touchdowns against the Wolf Pack last year. He had 208 yards and three touchdowns in the season opener this year against Weber State but injured his leg the next week against USC and has just 27 yards on 11 carries over the last eight games. He didn’t play in the loss to New Mexico last week but did play in the previous two games against Wyoming (two carries for six yards) and San Diego State (19 yards on eight carries).
“Devante Mays is a really talented running back,” Wells said. “We’re a different offense with him. When healthy he is in the upper echelon of running backs in this league.”
One of the upper echelon running backs in the Mountain West this season will definitely play on Saturday.
Wolf Pack running back James Butler is fourth in the Mountain West this season with 1,021 yards and will need just two yards against Utah State to become the ninth player (seventh running back) to reach 3,000 for his career. Butler had 139 yards and two touchdowns against Utah State last year.
“He’s got strong legs and he runs with good balance,” said Wells of Butler. “He’s been a very productive back and he’s a very durable kid, too.”