RIDING THE PINE: Ugly win keeps Pack in MW chase
It wasn’t pretty, but it’s a win.
The Nevada Wolf Pack rallied for a 45-42 win against Air Force on Saturday at Mackay Stadium for a much needed Mountain West Conference victory.
The Pack’s shaky defense, though, came up big when it was needed most. Trailing 42-37, Nevada’s defense actually forced Air Force to punt.
Last year, the Falcons never punted and steamrolled the Wolf Pack in Colorado Springs. Until late in the fourth quarter on Saturday, it was more of the same for Air Force.
To be fair, neither team played defense, as the offenses ran wild. Nevada quarterback Cody Fajardo had a career day completing 38 of 54 passes for 389 yards and three touchdowns, all the while nursing a bum knee.
His counterpart, Karson Roberts, was third string two weeks ago before an injury and a suspension of the Nos. 1-2 quarterbacks thrust Roberts into the starting lineup. All he did was run for 168 yards and two TDs, but threw a costly pick on the Falcons’ final drive to end the comeback attempt.
Nevada coach Brian Polian was a bit defiant during the post-game press conference as he deflected the defense’s poor performance. Truth is, the defense must play better, and if they do, a run to the conference title is a possibility.
The biggest takeaway from the game, though, is Nevada rallied for the win. In the previous two seasons, the Pack could not hold a lead and watched promising seasons go up in flames. This win, however, is a confidence booster from that perspective, and the Pack must run with it.
A weak conference allows Nevada (3-2 overall, 2-0 Mountain West) to stay in the chase, especially with a winnable game on Friday at San Diego State (1-3). The Aztecs were blown out by Eastern Illinois and Ohio State and had to rally to beat New Mexico State last week.
Nevada’s pass defense should hold up at SDSU, but the run defense (269.6 ypg) is 11th in the conference. That’s where the Pack’s chances of a division or a conference title come into question.
If Polian and his staff can improve the run defense and get the offense back on the field, eight to 10 wins is a possibility.
The rest of the conference slate for the Pack, meanwhile, all of sudden looks manageable with two large hurdles. Nevada visits nemesis Boise State (Oct. 19) and Fresno State (Nov. 2).
The Broncos (3-2, 1-1) own the league’s second-best defense (405.8 ypg), while the Bulldogs (4-0, 2-0) are 11th (487.8) and allow 38.2 points per game.
Between those potential shootouts, the Pack also has winnable games against UNLV (Oct. 26), at Colorado State (Nov. 9) and a reeling San Jose State club (Nov. 16). But the Fresno State game is key.
The longtime rivals both are 2-0 in conference play and the winner of that game should win the division and play for the MWC title.
On a side note, things are getting worse for the Air Force Academy as well as Army and Navy.
Tuesday’s government shutdown has already impacted the service academies athletic departments. All sports have been cancelled as of Tuesday and Saturday’s game in Annapolis, Md., between Air Force and Navy is cancelled, according to the Colorado Springs Gazette.
The AFA released a statement and said, “At this time travel for all intercollegiate athletics is cancelled (and) this includes the Air Force-Navy game Oct. 5.”
According to the Gazette, Navy is more optimistic and will not reach a decision until Thursday.
“Somehow we ought to be able to get organized as a country,” Air Force coach Troy Calhoun told the Gazette. “But we live in a world where a lot of times you think you absolutely have to be either a conservative or a Democrat, one or the other, rather than some unity.”
Well said, coach.
Steve Puterski is the sports editor for the Lahontan Valley News and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.