Wolf Pack expected to play in front of 100,000 A&M fans
LVN News Service
Brian Polian told his Nevada Wolf Pack players all about Kyle Field this week.
“I told them it will be loud.” Polian said.
The Wolf Pack is expecting to play in front of its biggest crowd in school history on Saturday (9 a.m.) when it takes on the Texas A&M Aggies at College Station, Tex., in front of an expected crowd of over 100,000 fans at Kyle Field. The largest crowd the Pack has played in front of has been 84,078 at Nebraska in 2007. The Pack also played in front of 80,795 at Notre Dame in 2009.
“Playing at Florida State (in front of 73,847 in 2013) was great,” senior defensive end Lenny Jones said. “Playing at UCLA (60,562 in 2013) was great and playing at Cal (63,186 in 2012) was great. But 100,000 is a different animal.”
Texas A&M, now 2-0 and tanked 17th in the nation after wins over Arizona State (38-17) and Ball State (56-23), attracted a crowd of 104,213 against Ball State last week at home. The 102,733-seat Kyle Field, which was renovated two years ago, is the fourth largest college football stadium in the nation behind Michigan, Penn State and Ohio State. The Aggies have had seven crowds of over 100,000 with the largest being the 110,631 that showed up to watch Mississippi on Oct. 11, 2014.
“It’s going to be fun,” Wolf Pack offensive tackle Austin Corbett said. “Playing in front of 100,0000 people is something not a lot of people get to do.”
“This is a dream for me,” Wolf Pack senior running back Don Jackson said. “I can’t wait.”
Texas A&M has actually lost in front of its top three crowds, all against Southeastern Conference teams (Mississippi, LSU and Missouri). The Aggies, though, are 4-0 against non-conference opponents when drawing 100,000 or more fans, having beaten Ball State this year and Lamar, Rice and Louisiana-Monroe last year. Texas A&M has also won 19 games in a row against non-conference teams no matter where the game is played or how many fans are in the stands.
“It will be a real cool atmosphere for our guys,” said Polian, who was a Texas A&M assistant coach in 2012 before getting the Wolf Pack job. “Coaching there was one of the best years I’ve ever had in coaching. It’s a stage you don’t get to play on very often. It’s one of the top 15-20 venues in all of college football. But we won’t be intimidated. We’ll enjoy it.”
This will be the Pack’s first road test of the season after going 4-3 away from Mackay Stadium last year. Polian’s Pack teams have gone 4-9 overall on the road and 1-4 in non-conference road games with their only win coming at BYU last year.
“I actually like road games better than home games,” Jones said. “I like being the bad guy, with everybody booing us and everybody hating us.”
The Wolf Pack drew a combined attendance of just 143,172 last year for six home games. This year they are averaging just 22,919 fans a game after two home games against UC Davis (a 31-17 win) and Arizona (44-20 loss last week).
“When you have 100,000 fans that don’t like you, it brings you closer together as a team,” Jackson said.
Texas A&M, now in its fourth season in the SEC after playing in the Big 12 from 1996-2011 and the Southwest Conference from 1915-1995, is likely to pose more problems for the Pack than just a huge crowd. The Aggies have gone 30-11 since Kevin Sumlin became head coach in 2012.
“To be honest, I don’t care who is across from me on the field,” said Jackson, who leads the Wolf Pack with 215 rushing yards this season. “I don’t see faces, I don’t see names and I don’t see rankings. I just play football. It doesn’t make any difference whether it’s Davis, UNLV, Texas A&M or Ohio State. I just have to run as hard as I can.”
Texas A&M, which runs an up-tempo, spread offense that drew nationwide attention in 2012 with quarterback Johnny Manziel at the controls, features quarterbacks Kyle Allen (324 yards, five touchdowns) and Kyler Murray (114 yards, one touchdown) and running back Tra Carson (155 yards, two scores). Wide receivers Christian Kirk (10 catches, 149 yards) and Ricky Seals-Jones (9, 83) have been the favorite targets of Allen and Murray so far.
“They are dynamic offensively,” Polian said.
Carson is 6-foot, 235 pounds and might be the most physical running back the Pack faces this season. “He is a load,” Polian said. “They list him at 235 and he might be north of that.”
“He’s a pretty big back,” Jones said. “He’s like a defensive lineman.”
Polian contacted his former boss Sumlin this week about the Aggies’ no-huddle offense.
“He (Polian) texted me Sunday night and said, ‘I’ll huddle if you huddle,’” Sumlin said. “I said, ‘We’ll huddle on kickoffs and punts.’ I don’t think he gave much of a response after that.”
“They have difference makers across the board,” Polian said.
The Wolf Pack allowed 44 points and 570 yards of offense to Arizona, a team that runs a similar offense to Texas A&M. Arizona also averaged seven yards on each of its 43 running plays (lead back Nick Wilson averaged 9.2 yards on 21 carries). Arizona quarterback Anu Solomon threw for 264 yards and two scores.
“The difference is that A&M is bigger than Arizona and just as fast,” Polian said.
Polian admitted that Arizona’s team speed caught the Pack off guard last week.
“It took us two series against Arizona to get used to their speed,” said Polian, referring to Arizona’s quick 14-0 lead.
Texas A&M has outscored its opponents 63-10 in the first half this season.
“We can’t be surprised by their speed,” Polian said.
Texas A&M also features a defense that has sacked opposing quarterbacks 10 times in two games. Defensive ends Daeshon Hall (6-foot-6, 260 pounds) has four sacks and and Myles Garrett (6-5, 262) has two. “They are both great,” Polian said. “Not good. Great.”
Texas A&M also respects the Nevada offense. Pack quarterback Tyler Stewart has passed for 322 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for 81 yards and a touchdown.
“They are a downhill running team,” Sumlin said. “They have a quarterback that is mobile and can run. For us, this is a game where we’ll have to be physical upfront and be able to tackle in space.”
The Wolf Pack has never played a SEC team before. The Pack played current SEC member Missouri in 2008 and 2009 (losing both times) and Texas A&M in 1950 (losing 48-18) but that was when Missouri was in the Big 12 and Texas A&M was in the Southwest Conference. The game at Kyle Field will also be just the fourth that a Polian-coached Pack team has played on natural grass. The Pack lost at UCLA (58-20) and San Diego State (51-44) in 2013 and won at BYU (42-35) last year.
“This is a great opportunity for us,” Jackson said. “I want to see how we compete against one of the top teams.”
Polian and the Wolf Pack are coming off a rough week on and off the field. Polian was fined $10,000 this week by the university after receiving two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties for arguing with the officials last week.
“The focus this week is to become a better fundamental football team,” Polian said. “We all have to be better and it starts with me. When I told the team that (to be better fundamentally) this week, a few of the guys got annoyed. They wondered why I wasn’t talking about winning the game. I like the fact that is where their head is at. I do feel we can win the game and we are going there to win the game and not try to just keep it close.
“But we also need to play better fundamental football. We have to stop the run better. We have to stay on our blocks longer on offense. We have to sustain drives. Until you do all the little things better you can’t get better.”