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Wolf Pack did what it had to do

Sports fodder for a Friday morning . . .

Do not underestimate the significance of the Nevada Wolf Pack’s 38-14 trouncing of the Buffalo Bulls last Saturday night at Mackay Stadium. Yes, it came against a bad team at home that had to travel a long distance to a faraway and foreign land. But for one of the few times in Brian Polian’s four years as head coach the Wolf Pack did what it was expected to do and it did it in impressive fashion. The offense picked the Bulls apart methodically and efficiently. The defense pitched a shutout until late in the third quarter when the game was over. This was one of Polian’s top five most impressive and complete victories along with San Diego State (2014), Washington State (2014), BYU (2014) and Colorado State (2015).

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We finally got a real hint of what the Pack’s offense is going to be like this year with new offensive coordinator Tim Cramsey. Quarterback Tyler Stewart looked like Tom Brady, tossing 21 safe and short passes and completing 16 of them for 160 yards and a touchdown. Running back James Butler punched the Bulls in the mouth to the tune of 174 yards and three scores. The story of the night on offense, though, was freshman running back Jaxson Kincaide. The Florida Flash (he’s from Ft. Lauderdale) exploded for an eye-opening 48-yard run and finished with 99 yards. This group of running backs (Butler, Kincaide and Akeel Lynch) is the Pack’s best and deepest three-headed monster since 2011 when Lampford Mark, Mike Ball and Stefphon Jefferson combined for 2,044 yards and 18 touchdowns. The Wolf Pack is not going to have any problems scoring points this season.

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The defense is another story. The secondary is talented and solid — assistant coaches Mike Bradeson and Ricky Thomas have done a sensational job for Polian — but the front seven can’t get to the quarterback or tackle running backs. The Wolf Pack is still looking for its first sack this year and opponents are averaging 284 rushing yards a game. Those numbers are a bit skewed because the Pack has played Cal Poly, a triple-option team, and Notre Dame among its first three opponents. So it’s not time to panic. But the word is out on this Pack defense. It doesn’t seem to have any true playmakers in the front seven.

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When the Wolf Pack plays a Football Championship Subdivision team, like Cal Poly, Polian spends all week telling everyone about how dangerous they are. When the Wolf Pack plays a bad Football Bowl Subdivision team from a Power Five Conference, like this week at Purdue, Polian spends all week telling everyone “that is still a Big 10 school with Big 10 players.” In both instances, that is just Polian’s way of making excuses for his team before the game even starts. If Purdue is “a Big 10 team with Big 10 players” then why isn’t Cal Poly a FCS team with FCS players? You can’t have it both ways unless, of course, you are the coach of the Wolf Pack.

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In reality, Purdue is an awful team from an overrated Power Five conference. The Wolf Pack should be able to go into West Lafayette, Ind., on Saturday and win by at least a touchdown. Yes, Purdue is a Big 10 school but most of its players belong in Group of Five conferences like the Mountain West. There just aren’t that many elite Power Five players coming out of high school every year to fill all of the teams in Power Five Conferences. The good Power Five teams, like Ohio State, Michigan, Florida State, Alabama and the like, horde all of the legitimate Power Five players and the Power Five frauds, like Purdue, get the scraps.

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College football, though, is all about perception and smoke and mirrors. Purdue, like Washington State two years ago, is the perfect non-conference opponent for schools like Nevada. Their name is much bigger than their talent. It’s sort of like getting a date with a 59-year-old Vanna White when you know you wouldn’t have earned a second glance from her when she was 25. There is no way the Pack would have ever been able to go to West Lafayette and beat the Purdue teams of Len Dawson, Bob Griese, Drew Brees and Mike Phipps, not to mention Leroy Keyes, Jim Everett, Rod Woodson, Otis Armstrong and Mike Alstott. But they can beat this Purdue team. But, still, Polian was right about one thing this week. If the Wolf Pack is able to go to the Hoosier State and beat a Big 10 team on the road, it will be a significant victory. The last time the Pack beat a Big 10 school on the road was never. It will be a meaningful victory even if Purdue has a bit more wrinkles behind its makeup these days and has to wear less revealing formal gowns.

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The Oakland Raiders need to go to Tennessee and beat the Titans this week. The Raiders, coming off a disappointing home loss to Atlanta, are giving up an average of 34.5 points a game. That is not how you earn a playoff spot. AFC West games are going to be all-out wars this year for the Raiders. This game in Music City is one the Raiders need to put in the win column. Tennessee, even though it has quarterback Marcus Mariota and running back DeMarco Murray, can’t score. Raiders 34, Titans 21.

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Don’t be shocked when the San Francisco 49ers go up to Seattle this weekend and stun the Seahawks. The Seahawks, now that Marshawn Lynch is no longer around, can’t find the end zone. The 49ers have their own set of problems but Chip Kelly’s offense has been able to move the ball and score with quarterback Blaine Gabbert. They even scored 27 points at Carolina a week ago. The shaky 49ers defense might be just what the Seahawks offense needs to finally wake up but if you are looking for a NFL upset this weekend, this might be it. 49ers 21, Seahawks 20.