Despite record, Fajardo second-best Pack QB
December 26, 2014
Sports fodder for a Friday morning . . .
Cody Fajardo never had a chance. The talented and likeable quarterback faced a mountain of obstacles from the moment he stepped on the University of Nevada campus. He spent the fall of 2010 as a wide-eyed red-shirt watching Colin Kaepernick set a standard that no quarterback could ever live up to. In his first two seasons as a starter his head coach (Chris Ault) questioned his toughness and then left him after his sophomore season. He played the bulk of his junior year on one good knee behind arguably the worst offensive line at Nevada in the last three decades. His senior year was spent running for his life behind a patched-up offensive line that really didn't get any better from the year before and he was also throwing to a group of inconsistent receivers who couldn't stay healthy, catch the ball consistently or hang onto it. The result for Fajardo was a 21-22 career record as a starter, no conference titles and no bowl victories. It really wasn't all his fault.
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Fajardo would never publicly admit it because of his close relationship with offensive coordinator Nick Rolovich, but it didn't help him that Ault left after his sophomore year. Fajardo had his best season under Ault as a sophomore when he passed for a career-high 20 touchdowns and 2,786 yards and rushed for a career high 1,121 yards. The Wolf Pack scored an average of 36.3 points a game in his 20 starts under Ault his first two years. The last two years under Rolovich the Pack scored 28.9 a game in Fajardo's 23 starts. Fajardo also went 11-9 his first two years under Ault and was just 10-13 under Rolovich the last two years. Kaepernick clearly blossomed his last two years under Ault in the Pistol as did Jeff Rowe. It's too bad Fajardo didn't get those last two years.
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Despite the 21-22 career record as a starter and no league titles or bowl victories, I'd still rank Fajardo as the second-best Pack quarterback in history. His 878 completions are the most in Wolf Pack history. His 9,659 passing yards are the third most and his 57 touchdowns are eighth. His 44 rushing touchdowns and 3,482 rushing yards are the second most for a Pack quarterback behind you know who's 4,112 and 59. The fight for the No. 2 spot behind you know who is a close one. Stan Heath, Chris Vargas, Eric Beavers, John Dutton and Mike Maxwell are all in the conversation. You could justify putting any of them No. 2, especially if you put a greater emphasis on winning. Fajardo, you can argue, just didn't win enough. But it wasn't all his fault. He simply got the least help of any of the other No. 2 candidates and still put up amazing numbers.
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Is it time for the Wolf Pack to start moving away from the Pistol? Every offense runs its course and the Pistol, well, it's just not as dominating as it used to be. The Pack scored just three points in their bowl game and was shut out in the second half at home in the biggest game of the season against Fresno State. The offense also tripped over its own feet early in the game against Colorado State and looked flat against Washington State, Southern Utah, San Jose State and Hawaii. Nobody is suggesting that the Pistol be put in mothballs. But now that Fajardo is gone it might be time for head coach Brian Polian and Rolovich to establish their own identity. Rolovich just hasn't made the offense his own yet. He just looks like a guy running somebody else's offense. The key to the Pistol when Ault was around was that it constantly evolved and changed. The last two years it has stagnated. Polian and Rolovich should be given the freedom to come up with their own catchy nickname for their own offense.
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Blame all of the Pistol's problems on the offensive line. The last two years, even with all-world Joel Bitonio in 2013, have been the worst two years for the Pack offensive line since it started calling itself The Union three decades ago. The Pack's offensive front was simply manhandled by Louisiana-Lafayette in the bowl game. The Pack couldn't run the ball at all and Fajardo was getting happy feet by the end of the game. It's not offensive line coach Ron Hudson's fault. Other than Bitonio and the courageous Matt Galas, he just hasn't had much to work with the last two years. It is a mess held together with glue, string, tape and spit. And most weeks they haven't even had the glue, string or tape. Just a bunch of spit. Nobody on the line, it seems, can stay healthy for two weeks in a row. And, frankly, even when they are healthy, there really isn't a ton of Division I talent there to start with. We'll chalk it up to youth and injuries for now but it needs to be fixed or else Fajardo won't be the last pistol quarterback with a losing career record.
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What does the Wolf Pack do at quarterback now that Fajardo is no longer around? Panic? Give up football and turn to rugby like they did before World War I? All they have to do is give the job to junior Tyler Stewart and they will be fine. Stewart showed an incredible amount of poise, confidence and courage when he was thrown into the fire as a freshman when Fajardo got hurt in 2013. He stepped in and threw for 202 yards and three touchdowns and even had a 42-yard run in a 31-9 win over Hawaii. Stewart was a highly-recruited quarterback in high school (he originally committed to San Jose State) in Southern California. He came to the Pack in 2012 and is Ault's last quarterback gift to the university. At 6-foot 4, 220 pounds with a strong arm and three years in the Pistol, Stewart can win at Nevada. He also doesn't run as well as Kaepernick or Fajardo (few quarterbacks do) so Rolovich will likely incorporate a bit more Hawaii spread attack with a guy like Stewart. It could be just the change the Pack needs on offense.
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Is going to a bowl game a reward or a punishment? At Nevada it's hard to tell. The bowl game used to be something to get excited about with the Wolf Pack. Now, after seven losses in the last eight bowl games, it's just a way to spoil the holidays and put a damper on the end of the season. The 2014 Wolf Pack season would have been much better off ending with the convincing win over UNLV, with the Pack taking the Fremont Cannon off into the sunset. But the Mountain West had to drag the Pack into the postseason. Don't forget, the Pack might not have even received a bowl invite had Boise State not been selected to play in the Fiesta Bowl. Once again Boise State ruins another Pack season.