Even the professor couldn’t help Pack

Joe Santoro

Joe Santoro

It might be time for Governor Brian Sandoval to declare a state of football emergency in the Silver State.

Alert the National Guard, donate to the Red Cross, get the Washington politicians to tour the state, view the destruction and use federal funds to clean up the mess.

Wolf Pack football needs help.

The citizens of Florida were at least warned about Hurricane Irma. They saw it coming. We had no idea the Idaho State Bengals were a Category 5 storm about to level the Nevada Wolf Pack’s football season on Saturday.

Nobody saw it coming. Nobody told us to evacuate and get out of town before the winds picked up and the flooding started. The Bengals sauntered into Mackay Stadium wearing their brash orange uniforms and left a path of destruction that will take weeks and months to clean up.

“Obviously this was not a step forward,” Wolf Pack coach Jay Norvell said after the 30-28 loss to the Bengals.

Norvell was understandably still in shock late Saturday night and was simply trying his best to make sure there wasn’t going to be looting and rioting in the northern Nevada streets. Don’t forget he woke up on Saturday to a beautiful morning. Wolf Pack blue sky, a warm, inviting sun. Friendly faces all around him. It was to be the perfect day for a three-hour tour on his way to his first victory as a head coach.

The weather, though, started getting rough right from the start. The Wolf Pack ship was tossed. The Pack found itself down 10-0 a few minutes after it left the harbor. It was 23-7 halfway through the journey and 30-7 before the skies started to clear up.

But it was too late. The damage had been done. The Pack streets were flooded. Norvell, who started the day as a skipper brave and sure, ended it asking his little buddy Gilligan for answers. No phone, no lights, no motorcar, no first victory. Not a single luxury. Just stranded on an island with an 0-3 record with no way to get home.

“I’m not discouraged,” Norvell said. “I’m disappointed.”

Wolf Pack fans have to be disillusioned.

The loss to the Bengals is, without question, the worst and most embarrassing for the Wolf Pack since it made the jump to Division I-A for the start of the 1992 season. If Norvell doesn’t understand that, if he doesn’t make sure his players and coaches understand that, then don’t be surprised if we find them talking into coconuts this week or trying to make a computer out of bamboo, sea shells and twine.

The loss to Idaho State is the first for the Wolf Pack against a Division I-AA (FCS) school since 1994. The Pack had won 11 consecutive games against I-AA schools before Saturday. The Pack since 1992 is now 16-4 against I-AA schools but the first three losses (to Weber State in 1992 and 1993 and Boise State in 1994) took place when the Pack were a I-A school in name only. They were still operating with a I-AA budget, I-AA recruiting, I-AA roster and I-AA mindset. Losing to a I-AA school wasn’t stunning back in 1992-94. Those were the same schools, after all, the Pack was competing against for conference titles just 12-36 months before.

Fast forward to 2017 and, well, the Pack are now 26-season veterans in I-A. They’ve been to 13 bowl games. They were ranked 11th in the nation in I-A in 2010. They’re simply not supposed to lose to I-AA schools anymore. A loss in 2017 to an Idaho State isn’t exactly what athletic director Chris Ault dreamed of when he pushed the Pack into Division I-A in 1992.

That’s why this loss is the worst for the Wolf Pack since 1992. They’ve now sat at the adults’ dinner table of college football for 26 years and last Saturday they let a scrawny weakling from the kids’ table steal their steak and potatoes right off their plate. Idaho State is an awful I-AA football program. It had lost 27 games in a row to I-A schools going into Saturday’s shocker. Since 2004, it has lost three-fourths of its games against I-AA teams. The Pack used to whip the Bengals into submission when they were a I-AA team themselves, winning 11 in a row from 1982-91.

There are no excuses for this. And Norvell, to his credit, didn’t offer any. Some Pack coaches of the recent past would’ve sat there Saturday night and told us how Idaho State could beat Alabama on any given Saturday. Norvell just told us over and over how disappointed he was in his team.

Nevada, you see, only schedules home games against I-AA schools simply to get one victory closer to bowl eligibility. They also use them to artificially boost confidence around their program and within their fan base. The opposite happened on Saturday. Nevada now has to win six of its remaining nine games to become bowl eligible. It’s confidence now has the same legitimacy as a telephone made out of coconuts.

The confidence of the community in Norvell and this football program was already a bit flat and uninspiring going into Saturday’s natural disaster. Just 35,011 fans combined have bothered to show up for Norvell’s first two home games. It’s the lowest attendance for the first two games of a season since 2010 (34,411). Before that you have to go all the way back to 2004 for a lower two-game attendance (33,831) to open a home season.

Chris Tormey, who won just 16 games in four seasons (2000-03), never attracted less than 38,800 (2000) for his first two home games of a season. Brian Polian (2013-16) never coached in front of less than 39,595 (2016) in his first two home games in any of his four seasons.

The community is simply not excited about Pack football anymore and Saturday was the last thing it needed to rekindle the excitement. Dating back to last season, Nevada has now drawn less than 20,000 fans for five consecutive home games. The last time that happened was the last five games of 2011. It was just recently — the last four games of 2012 through the first four games of 2015 — that the Pack drew more than 20,000 fans for 20 consecutive home games.

Marketing conscious athletic directors, who are always trying to get their hands in the pockets of the Mr. and Mrs. Howells of the world, notice attendance. Uninspiring attendance figures are what get coaches fired. Norvell isn’t off to a good start.

“We can’t let this happen again,” offensive lineman Austin Corbett said.

If it does, well, the Wolf Pack will be looking for a new skipper the first chance such a move becomes economically feasible. Think sometime after the 2019 season if the situation doesn’t improve. Yes, he’s here for a long, long time. So we’ll have to make the best of things. It’s an uphill climb, to be sure. But until then this is Norvell’s ship, tattered and broken on the rocks as it may seem right now.

That’s why it’s important for all Wolf Pack fans to take a deep breath and come in off the ledge. It’s far too soon to start thinking about doing something dramatic. Calm yourself down and slowly remove yourself from the top of the Grand Sierra Resort and don’t even think about looking out over the edge of the Galena Creek Bridge. Things are not as bad as they seem right now. Yes, the loss to Idaho State was stunning, unacceptable and, before Saturday, unimaginable.

But better days are ahead. They can’t get any worse.

“We’re really not that far away from playing pretty good football,” Norvell said.

Remember, he was still in shock when he said that. So believe him, Pack fans. What other choice do you have? Norvell’s not going anywhere anytime soon. The Pack still have too many payments to make on him to even consider tossing him away. They paid for the Norvell three-hour tour and we have just left the shore.

There’s nowhere to go but up from here, Pack fans. Keep in mind sometimes you have to completely break things down before you build them back up again. Consider the Idaho State calamity as the complete obliteration of everything you’ve come to know about Wolf Pack football.

This isn’t the end of the Wolf Pack football world. We’ve been told it’s just the start of something big. We will trust the process because, well, the process is just three games old. Rome — and Boise State football — wasn’t built in a day or three weeks. Wolf Pack football is no different.

“This is a new era of Wolf Pack football,” Corbett said. “I’m still excited about this football team. It’s the best team since I’ve been here (2013). I really believe that.”

It’s definitely the deepest Pack team, maybe since 2010. Norvell has done a tremendous job of restocking the Pack’s talent cabinet. Now his job is to make them into football players and teach them how to win.

“I look forward to the future,” Pack linebacker Austin Paulhus said. “We believe in our coaches.”

The castaways on the S.S. Minnow never stopped believing they would get off the island also. Sure, they never did get off that island. But they never stopped having fun.

So enjoy the island, Pack fans. It’s not as bad as you might think.

For now.


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