The Nevada Wolf Pack isn’t feeling all that good about itself right now.
“We got our tails handed to us,” Wolf Pack head coach Brian Polian said of last Saturday’s 38-17 stunning loss at Hawaii. “For the first time in my career at Nevada it is hard to find positives in this one.”
The 21-point whipping at Hawaii — the Pack trailed 38-3 in the fourth quarter — is arguably Polian’s most embarrassing loss in his four-year Nevada career. It equals the Pack’s largest loss in a Mountain West game (with another 21-point loss at Colorado State in 2013) since joining the conference in 2012. And it came against a Rainbow Warriors team that had not won a Mountain West game since Nov. 22, 2014 (against UNLV).
“They kicked our butts,” Polian said.
“We just laid an egg,” defensive tackle Korey Rush said.
Polian showed the horror film that was the Hawaii game tape to his team earlier this week. “If it was still the VHS era and not the digital era after watching the tape I would have put them all in the trash can and lit them all on fire,” Polian said. “But if I did that to the laptops now it would be a very expensive venture.”
The Wolf Pack (2-3, 0-1), which will host the Fresno State Bulldogs today (4 p.m.) at Mackay Stadium, did pay a hefty price by losing to lowly Hawaii. The team’s confidence, Polian admitted, is a bit wobbly right now.
“It is probably shaken a little bit, to be honest,” said Polian, who has a record of 20-23 as Pack head coach and just 16-23 against FBS teams. “But, realistically speaking, how can you not have your confidence shaken after what happened last Saturday?”
Hawaii, which is coached by Polian’s former offensive coordinator (Nick Rolovich) at Nevada, dominated the Wolf Pack with 566 total yards (344 on the ground). The Rainbow Warriors, who are now just 5-28 in Mountain West games since joining the conference in 2012, had lost five games in a row to Nevada.
“There’s no excuses for the way we played,” Pack linebacker Alex Bertrando said.
“It’s my job to get this team ready to play and clearly we were not,” Polian said.
A loss on Saturday to Fresno State could send the Wolf Pack into a freefall and might even prove to be more embarrassing than the loss at Hawaii, considering the game is at home. The Bulldogs are just 1-4 overall this season and 0-1 in conference play after a 45-20 trouncing at UNLV last week. Fresno State, which is coached by another former Wolf Pack coordinator (Tim DeRuyter, who headed the Pack defense in 2005 and 2006), has just two victories in its last 19 games against FBS teams.
“Obviously both teams could use a win right now,” Polian said.
The loser on Saturday at Mackay Stadium will likely face an uphill battle the rest of the season.
“We both started (Mountain West games) 0-1 on the road,” DeRuyter said. “If you start 0-2 it makes it awfully difficult to win the conference. They have their backs against the wall and our backs are against the wall.”
The Bulldogs and Wolf Pack muddled through the first five games of the season in similar fashion. Both teams’ offenses have struggled mightily so far. The Pack is last in the 12-team Mountain West in scoring (21.8 points a game) and 11th in total offense (366.8 yards a game). Fresno State is ninth in scoring (23.8) and 12th in total offense (363).
The Bulldogs also are in the bottom third of the league in defense (allowing 38.2 points and 464 yards a game) and are last in rushing offense at 104.6 yards a game. Their offense has also punted a Mountain West-high 42 times this season.
“We’re going to continue to be a work in progress until it finally clicks,” DeRuyter said. “There’s no magic elixir to this thing. You have to fight your way out and continue to work hard.”
Fresno State, which has endured a quarterback carousel since Derek Carr left for the Oakland Raiders after the 2013 season, is led on offense by quarterback Chason Virgil. The 6-foot-1, 190-pound freshman is second in the Mountain West with 233.8 yards a game and has thrown for eight touchdowns and four interceptions. He’s surrounded by three talented receivers in KeeSean Johnson (31 catches, 331 yards, three touchdowns), Aaron Peck (26-462-3) and Jamire Jordan (21-355-2).
“Anytime you have a freshman quarterback playing Division I football for the first time, there’s a process,” DeRuyter said. “He’s making progress and we have to continue to progress him. We all believe in Chason.”
Virgil, who will go up against a Wolf Pack defense this week who has just three sacks all season, seems to be improving each week. The last two games he has passed for 296 yards and two touchdowns against UNLV and 276 yards and one score against Tulsa.
“He’s really dangerous” Wolf Pack free safety Asauni Rufus said. “If you make a mistake he’s going to find it, either with his arm or his legs.”
The Bulldogs’ offense, though, might be just what the Pack defense has been looking for. The Wolf Pack defense has struggled against the run all season long, allowing 272.6 yards a game on the ground. Fresno State is the worst rushing team in the Mountain West at 104.6 yards a game. Bulldogs running back Dontel James has 299 yards and two scores but 121 of those yards came against Sacramento State, an FCS team. The Sacramento State game is also the only one this year when James averaged more than 3.1 yards a carry.
“I’m not hiding from the fact that we’re not stopping the run,” Polian said. “We need to do a better job. I acknowledge that. We’re not tackling. We’re not getting off blocks. It’s fundamentals. It’s basics. It’s back to the little details. Until we handle it (the opponent’s running game) we’re going to keep seeing it. We‘ve got to stop the run.”
“We didn’t play with enough effort (against Hawaii),” Rush said. “We did not play to our standard.”
The losses the last two weeks at Purdue and Hawaii have seemed to drain the Pack of all of the momentum and optimism it received from its Arizona Bowl victory over Colorado State last year.
“There’s enough blame to go around and it all starts with me,” Polian said. “All that matters right now is that we have to get it fixed and we have to get it fixed in a hurry. We have to get our own house cleaned up.
“We need to show resiliency and we need to show toughness. We have to stand up and go fight now.”
The Wolf Pack players, it seems, have gotten a clear message from their head coach this week.
“I just want to see our character come out,” Rufus said. “I know we have a lot of fight in each one of us.”