RENO — Jay Norvell is looking for a few good, confident men.
“Confident players start fast,” the Nevada Wolf Pack football head coach said this week. “I don’t know how else to say it. We need more self-confident players who are aggressive and believe in what they do.”
The winless Wolf Pack, which hosts the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors today (7:30 p.m.) at Mackay Stadium, has seen its confidence shaken with five consecutive losses to start the season. It is the Wolf Pack’s first 0-5 start since 1964 when the school was in the Far Western Conference.
“You don’t want to start off 0-5,” Wolf Pack offensive lineman Ziad Damanhoury said. “Nobody does. Some people right now might think the season is done. But as a team you can’t. You have to stay together.”
Hawaii, which is coached by former (2012-15) Wolf Pack offensive coordinator Nick Rolovich, is also in desperate need of a victory. Both teams will bring losing streaks (Hawaii’s skid is at 3) to Mackay Stadium on Saturday.
“We’re at a crossroads with our team,” said Rolovich, who is 9-10 as Hawaii’s head coach over the past two seasons. “Maybe because we had a nice win in the bowl game last year (52-35 over Middle Tennessee in the Hawaii Bowl), we might have thought it was just going to happen again. It’s not. We have to earn it.”
Both teams also will be in search of their first Mountain West victory this season. Hawaii has already lost to Colorado State (51-21 last week) and Wyoming (28-21 on Sept. 23) while the Pack was beaten 41-21 at Fresno State last week
“We’re 0-2 in conference,” Rolovich said. “That has to change pretty quick.”
The Wolf Pack has not started 0-2 in conference play since 2007 in the Western Athletic Conference.
“We can easily rattle off a couple (victories) right now,” Damanhoury said. “A streak starts with one.”
The Wolf Pack has not scored first in any of its five games this season. The Pack has also already allowed more points (51) in the first quarter this season than it did all of last season (47). The Wolf Pack has trailed after one quarter, getting outscored 44-3 after the first 15 minutes combined in those four games. The only time the Pack didn’t trail heading into the second quarter was the season opener at Northwestern when it was tied 7-7.
“We have to find a way to play better at the start of games,” Norvell said.
Hawaii, which beat the Wolf Pack, 38-17, last season in Honolulu, might be exactly what the Wolf Pack needs right now. The Rainbow Warriors have allowed an average of 19 points in the first half of each game this season. Hawaii has also led after one quarter just once all year, taking a 7-0 lead into the second quarter against Western Carolina. Last week the Rainbow Warriors trailed 14-0 after one quarter against Colorado State.
“This should be an evenly matched game,” said Norvell, who is the first Pack coach to lose consecutive games by 20 or more points (45-7 at Washington State, 41-21 at Fresno State) since Chris Ault in the final two games (54-17 at Fresno State, 58-21 to Boise in Reno) in 2004.
“It’s kind of frustrating wondering what has gone wrong,” running back Jaxson Kincaide said. “We look at film and we see that we’re so close to being a great team. As time goes by we have to remember how hard we’ve worked, how much talent we have. We can pull off a seven-game win streak.”
Hawaii is led on offense by 6-foot junior quarterback Dru Brown, who has passed for 1,414 yards and 10 touchdowns. Brown passed for 222 yards and two touchdowns, completing 15-of-18 passes against the Pack last year. Brown’s favorite target is 5-8 wide receiver John Ursua, who is one of the most productive receivers in the nation with 37 catches for 527 yards and four touchdowns. Diocemy Saint Juste, a 5-8 senior, has rushed for 651 yards and three touchdowns. He ran for 205 yards against Nevada a year ago in Honolulu.
“The quarterback (Brown) is a good little operator,” Norvell said. “He (Saint Juste) is a good back. Athletic. They are kind of like us, trying to find consistency in their play.”
Wolf Pack quarterback Ty Gangi, who is expected to start against Hawaii, has passed for 729 yards and six touchdowns this year. Kincaide leads Pack backs with 267 yards rushing while receivers Wyatt Demps (32 catches, 327 yards, four touchdowns) and McLane Mannix (23 catches, 384 yards, three touchdowns) are also a big part of the Wolf Pack offense.
“We feel we have a lot of great athletes who can make plays,” Mannix said. “We have the athletes to do it. We’re just not executing right now. We just need a little momentum, a little confidence.”
The Wolf Pack is confident it can exploit Hawaii’s struggling defense. The Rainbow Warriors allow an average of 38 points a game (the Pack allows 37 a game).
“We always talk about stopping the run,” Rolovich said. “We didn’t do that (against Colorado State). We didn’t get off the field on third down. We have to tackle better. I would like a turnover (by Hawaii’s defense). It’s been three games now without a takeaway. That’s what we thrive on.”
Hawaii, like the Wolf Pack, loves to blitz on defense.
“We expect to see a lot of man coverage,” Mannix said. “We like that.”
“They blitz a lot,” Norvell said. “There’s going to be some opportunities for big plays.”
Wolf Pack quarterback Tyler Stewart completed 19-of-33 passes for 203 yards and one touchdown against Hawaii last year. Gangi got on the field for one play last year at Hawaii, running the ball for eight yards during the Pack’s first possession of the game.
“We’re going to have shots downfield,” said Kincaide, who scored on a 2-yard run last season against Hawaii. “I feel like this is going to be a big game for Gangi to get his confidence back up.”