Not all doom and gloom for Nevada
In the biggest game of the Brian Polian era, the Nevada football team fell flat.
With a chance to all but wrap up the Mountain West West Division title, the Wolf Pack were swallowed whole by Fresno State, 40-20, on Saturday at Mackay Stadium.
Nevada was shut out in the second half and watched helplessly as the Bulldogs now sit in the driver’s seat to play in the conference title game.
The Pack (3-4 MW, 6-5 overall) turned the ball over four times, couldn’t establish an offense and the defense was shredded by a quarterback who once was benched this season.
Nevada quarterback Cody Fajardo started hot with touchdown runs of 55 and 60 yards to give the Pack a 14-7 lead. He also threw for one score, but butterfingers by the Pack in the second half killed any hope.
But to take a big step forward, sometimes two steps back is necessary.
Polian has the program headed in the right direction. From three wins last season, to six already this season, Nevada is on the up-and-up.
The Pack parallels that of another conference foe just over the Rocky Mountains in Fort Collins, Colo.
Jim McElwain’s Colorado State Rams were in a similar position three years ago when he took the job after several seasons as the offensive coordinator at Alabama.
CSU went 4-8 in McElwain’s first season, then 8-6 last season with a dramatic win over Washington State in the New Mexico Bowl. Now the Rams are 10-1, ranked No. 21 in the AP poll and with a Boise State loss this weekend, will play for the Mountain West championship.
Like CSU last year, Nevada is middling through a season of “what ifs,” although can cap the 2014 campaign with a win over rival UNLV and in a bowl game.
With a string of star seniors set to move on from the program, though, the Pack must replace Fajardo, defensive stars Brock Hekking and Jonathan McNeal.
The silver lining, however, reveals the West Division is not stacked with a powerhouse, unlike the Mountain Division with CSU, Boise State and talented teams such as Air Force and Utah State.
And like CSU, Nevada’s younger players are learning how to win. That process comes with head-scratching and heartbreaking losses.
But to become a strong program and threat to win the conference, the Pack must become more consistent on both sides of the ball.
They must learn from their mistakes and past to push forward and rise to the top. Nevada must find a consistent running threat other than their quarterback.
And their quarterback must find a way to rise to the occasion, an area where Fajardo has not succeeded.
The Pack’s younger players, though, are developing and more importantly, improving under Polian’s brief tenure. It’s a positive sign and with a good recruiting class, Nevada should once again be in contention for the conference crown next season.
It also helps CSU, Boise State and Air Force are off the schedule next season subbed with New Mexico, Wyoming and Utah State.
Steve Puterski is the sports editor for the Lahontan Valley News and can be contacted at email@example.com.