Nevada sets sights on Lobos
LVN News Service
The Nevada Wolf Pack is tired of talking about the Fremont Cannon and the UNLV Rebels.
“We’re past it,” Wolf Pack coach Brian Polian said this week of last Saturday’s 23-17 loss to the Rebels at Mackay Stadium. “I’m past it. I’m done talking about it.”
“Everybody has moved on,” cornerback Elijah Mitchell said. “We can’t dwell on the past.”
The Wolf Pack (2-3, 0-1) now sets its sights on earning its first Mountain West victory of the season. The New Mexico Lobos (3-2, 1-0) come to Mackay Stadium on Saturday (4 p.m.) on the strength of its first two-game winning streak since 2012 after beating Wyoming (38-28) two weeks ago and rival New Mexico State (38-29) last week.
“We have to handle winning a rivalry game and they have to handle losing a rivalry game,” New Mexico coach Bob Davie said. “With each thing comes its own challenge.”
The challenge of staying focused after a big win is not something the Lobos are all that familiar with in recent years. New Mexico has not had a winning season since it went 9-4 and beat the Wolf Pack 23-0 in the 2007 New Mexico Bowl. Davie, who had a record of 35-29 in five seasons (1997-01) as Notre Dame‘s head coach, took over the Lobos’ starting in 2012 and has a record of 14-28 overall and just 5-20 in Mountain West games.
“We have to work for everything we get,” Davie said. “We are what we are and we have to get better to win games in the Mountain West Conference.”
The Lobos are also just 2-26 in Mountain West road games since 2008. The last time they came to Mackay Stadium they went home with a 49-7 loss in 2011. The Wolf Pack also won the last meeting between the two teams, winning 31-24 at Albuquerque in 2012 in what turned out to be Chris Ault’s final victory as the Wolf Pack’s head coach.
New Mexico, though, is one of just two teams (Boise State is the other at 4-1) with a winning overall record in the Mountain West right now. Their three victories, however, have come against teams (Wyoming, New Mexico State and Mississippi Valley State) that are all still winless this year. A win on Saturday in Reno, though, will give New Mexico its first three-game winning streak since 2007.
“It’s hard to win one, let alone win three,” Davie said. “But we’re going to give it a shot.”
The Lobos run-oriented option offense is currently second in the Mountain West in scoring at 34.6 points a game. New Mexico is also fifth in the conference in total offense at 410.2 yards a game and second in rushing yards at 290 a game. Their 19 rushing touchdowns lead the conference as does their 5.7 average gain on the ground.
Quarterback Lamar Jordan, a 5-foot-10, 190-pound sophomore, leads the Lobos in rushing with 404 yards. But running backs Jhurrell Pressley (347 yards), Teriyon Gipson (255) and Richard Macquarie (127) also give the Lobos running attack depth. Jordan, Gipson, Pressley and McQuarley all scored a rushing touchdown last week against New Mexico State. Jordan had 157 yards and a 70-yard touchdown, Gipson had 142 yards and a 36-yard touchdown, Pressley gained 99 yards and a 32-yard score and McQuarley had 14 yards and a six-yard touchdown.
The Lobos fell behind 29-14 midway in the third quarter and outscored New Mexico State 24-0 the rest of the way. Gipson’s touchdown broke a 29-29 tie. “The hole was there,” Gipson said. “I just had to hit it and run. That’s what the offensive line was telling me the whole game. They said, ‘It’s going to be there. Just trust it. Trust it.’ I trusted it and I hit it and it was there.”
The Lobos’ philosophy on offense is simple – to wear down the opponent on the ground. Jordan has attempted just 57 passes all year, completing 29 for 418 yards and two touchdowns.
“We have a competitive football team that has a lot of heart,” Davie said. “We may not be a great team but we’re fun to watch. You know, there’s a certain pecking order in the food chain in recruiting. The reality is that we’re down that food chain and always will be down that food chain. We have to do things a little bit differently.”
The Wolf Pack has lost four of its last five Mountain West home games. The Pack is just 5-8 at Mackay Stadium against Mountain West opponents since joining the conference in 2012. “We’re going through some adversity now but we just have to hang together,” Polian said.
The loss to UNLV, Polian said, doesn’t put any added pressure on his struggling team. “In my world every game is life and death,” he said. “They are all very, very important.”
“We shouldn’t have to be motivated by something negative like a loss,” Wolf Pack quarterback Tyler Stewart said. “That’s not how I live my life.”
Stewart completed just 20-of-44 passes for 202 yards with an interception and a touchdown against UNLV. Over his last two games, against Buffalo and UNLV, he is 32-of-65 for 292 yards and one touchdown after passing for five touchdowns in the first three games combined against UC Davis, Arizona and Texas A&M. “We’re confident in ourselves,” Stewart said. “We know what we can do. In the second half (against UNLV) we started to get it going. But we just can’t have penalties and turn the ball over. That starts with me.”
New Mexico’s defense is led by linebacker Dakota Cox, who has 3.5 sacks and 6.5 tackles for a loss. The Lobos take a lot of chances on defense and it has paid off at times with big plays. Their 19 sacks lead the Mountain West.
Linebacker Maurice Daniels also has 3.5 sacks and 6.5 tackles for a loss. Linebackers Ryan Langford (4.5 tackles for a loss), Kimmie Carson (4.5 tackles for a loss, 1.5 sacks) and Donnie White (two sacks) also have gotten the Wolf Pack’s attention this week.
“They are not afraid to bring pressure in unusual ways,” Polian said. “They are athletic and they are physical. They throw their bodies around.”
“They blitz a lot more than any other team we’ve seen so far this year,” Stewart said. “There are a lot of moving parts we have to handle.”
The Wolf Pack will likely have to handle those moving parts without junior guard Jeremy Macauley, who suffered a knee injury against UNLV. Macauley is expected to be replaced Saturday by Ziad Damanhoury and Daren Echeveria. The Pack is already missing its other starting guard Adam Khouri, who was replaced by Joey Anglemire against UNLV.
“We will miss him,” said Polian of Macauley. “But this is football. Next man up One of our rules is, ‘Be prepared and ready when your number is called.”
“They (Damanhoury and Echeveria) know what they are doing,” Wolf Pack center Nathan Goltry said. “It’s just a matter of they’ll be doing it also on Saturday this week instead of just Monday through Friday.”
The Wolf Pack tried to downplay its injuries this week. Wide receiver Hasaan Henderson is also nursing a sore shoulder and linebacker Bryan Lane hopes to play with a sore ankle.
“Every week there’s adversity,” Goltry said. “Whether it’s flying into Texas or Buffalo or just first-game jitters, there’s always adversity you have to deal with. We’ll handle it.”
The battle of the wolves (Lobos and Wolf Pack), it seems, is all about overcoming adversity.
“Adversity is what we’ve built this thing on,” Davie said.