RIDING THE PINE: Pack’s title hopes still alive | NevadaAppeal.com

RIDING THE PINE: Pack’s title hopes still alive

Steve Puterski

Thanks to its nemesis, hope is alive and well with the Nevada football team.

Despite a hard-fought 45-38 overtime loss at Air Force on Saturday, the Wolf Pack still controls their fate thanks to Boise State.

Ironically, it would be those two rivals who would meet in the Mountain West championship game should each team win out.

Nevada, though, is on the precipice of claiming its first-ever trip to the conference title game. The Pack can do so with a win Saturday over Fresno State and a loss by San Diego State against Air Force.

Boise State, meanwhile, can clinch by beating Wyoming on Saturday and against Utah State the following week. A loss by the Broncos in either game, and a pair of wins by Colorado State would give the Mountain Division title to CSU.

The Pack’s resurgence, however, has been impressive under second-year coach Brian Polian. A putrid defense from last season is much improved and confident.

They are sixth in the MW in points allowed (27.1), fifth in rushing defense (170.6 yards per game) and fourth in sacks (22).

Yet, a pair of old rivals stands in the Wolf Pack’s path to a title, although Nevada should win both games.

Fresno State is a shell of itself after the departure of quarterback Derek Carr. They can score, but can’t stop anybody. The Bulldogs’ defense is flimsy, but rivalry games are where the unexpected is expected.

If Nevada quarterback Cody Fajardo is to cement his legacy as the second-best QB in school history, he must put the offense, the team on his back and carry them.

No more losing to mediocre teams down the stretch. No more losing to UNLV.

Yes, Nevada is bowl eligible, but Fajardo has yet to win the truly big games at Nevada. Washington State is not a big game. Not to mention, Fajardo is 0-1 against UNLV as a starter.

He’s lost plenty including to Boise State and Colorado State this year. The Pack could have, should have beat Air Force, but Fajardo was picked off late in the game leading to a Falcons touchdown forcing Nevada to kick a game-tying field goal.

It’s been a common theme throughout Fajardo’s career, but one that can be edited with a pair of wins in the final weeks of the season.

Great quarterbacks find a way to win, good ones often do not.

The defense must regain its swagger and shut down Fresno State. Fajardo must come up clutch when it matter most. Polian must be ready with adjustments or the chance of a Mountain West title becomes nothing more than a mirage.

Steve Puterski is the sports editor for the Lahontan Valley News and can be contacted at sputerski@lahontanvalleynews.com.