Wolf Pack faces winless Cowboys in Laramie | NevadaAppeal.com

Wolf Pack faces winless Cowboys in Laramie

Joe Santoro
LVN News Service
Nevada’s James Butlers flips in the air against the New Mexico defense.
Thomas Ranson / LVN |

The Nevada Wolf Pack and Wyoming Cowboys won’t exactly practice the art of deception on Saturday afternoon (1 p.m.) in Laramie, Wyo.

“This team is not trying to fool you,” Wolf Pack coach Brian Polian said of the winless Cowboys. “They know they’re going to run it, you know they’re going to run it and you just have to try and stop it. We’ll try to run the ball. They’ll try to run the ball. The game might be over in an hour and a half.”

The Wolf Pack, 3-3 overall and 1-1 in the Mountain West, are coming off arguably their best effort of the season in a 35-17 victory over New Mexico last Saturday at Mackay Stadium. Wyoming, which lost to New Mexico earlier this season (38-28), is still looking for its first victory of the year at 0-6 overall and 0-2 in the Mountain West. The Cowboys have lost nine games in a row dating back to last season and are coming off a 31-17 loss to Air Force.

“We ran out of gas,” said Craig Bohl, who has a 4-14 record in a season and a half as Wyoming’s head coach. “But I believe we’re getting better. It may not show on the scoreboard but we’re going to keep encouraging (the Wyoming players) and try to keep them in the fight.”

One of Polian’s biggest challenges this week was to convince his Wolf Pack team to ignore Wyoming’s record.

“It was the first thing we talked about this week,” Polian said.

Cowboys’ quarterback Cameron Coffman, an Indiana transfer, leads the Mountain West with 1,291 passing yards and in total offense (1,178 yards). Running back Brian Hill is second in the Mountain West and fifth in the nation with 797 rushing yards. Wide receivers Tanner Gentry (33 catches for 592 yards) and Jake Maulhardt (30 catches for 312 yards) are two of the more productive wide receivers in the conference.

“They have good players, no doubt,” Polian said. “They certainly have our attention. I am aware of their record. But when I look at them on film, their record doesn’t jive with what I’m seeing. They’ve had some bad luck and some ill-timed turnovers but I can see signs that Wyoming is headed in the right direction.”

The Cowboys, which have lost to North Dakota, Eastern Michigan, Washington State, Appalachian State, New Mexico and Air Force this year, are trying to avoid their first 0-7 start since 1939.

“I truly believe this team is better than their record,” Polian said.

The Pack players have bought into Polian’s message this week.

“It doesn’t make sense that they are 0-6,” Wolf Pack offensive tackle Austin Corbett said. “We can’t take them for granted just because they don’t have a win.”

“When I watch Wyoming on film it’s real hard to find a reason why they are 0-6,” Wolf Pack running back Don Jackson said. “I look completely past the fact that they are 0-6.”

Coffman has a lot of passing yards mainly because the Cowboys are normally trailing in the second half and have to throw the ball. The Cowboys go into every game basing everything they do on offense on Hill and their running game. The 6-foot-1, 211-pound sophomore from Belleville, Ill., has eight 100-yard games in the Cowboys’ last 11 games and is trying to become the Cowboys‘ first 1,000-yard rusher since Devin Moore in 2008 (1,303 yards).

“He is multi-dimensional,” Polian said. “He can pound it up through the gaps and he can make people miss.”

Hill had 128 yards on 24 carries against Air Force last week but he fumbled the ball away twice, leading to a pair of Air Force touchdowns. “It’s unacceptable,” Hill said. “I can’t do that. It won’t happen again.”

Hill, though, clearly has the Wolf Pack’s respect.

“He’s a bruiser,” Jackson said. “But at the same time he can run right past you. I wish I was 6-feet tall like him. But I’m 5-9 on a good day.”

Jackson, who is listed on the Pack’s roster at 5-10, and fellow Wolf Pack running back James Butler (5-9) have had their share of good days. Butler has 571 yards this year and Jackson has 569, sharing the load. “I love those guys, Don and J.B.,” Corbett said. “They run hard and we know they are going to break tackles.”

The combination of Butler and Jackson has given the Wolf Pack an even more potent ground game than the Cowboys have with Hill. The Wolf Pack is the only Football Bowl Subdivision team in the nation with two players with 500 or more rushing yards. The Pack is third in the Mountain West with 222.3 rushing yards a game while Wyoming is 10th at 157.8 yards a game. Wyoming’s offense as a whole, though, only trails the Pack by 5.3 yards a game (386.8-381.5).

“Their offense produces a lot of yards,” Polian said. “They just haven’t turned it into a lot of points yet.”

The Wolf Pack is in third place in the Mountain West’s West Division, tied with UNLV at 1-1 in league play and trailing just San Diego State (2-0) and San Jose State (2-1). Wyoming, the only team in the Mountain West with a winless overall record, is in last place in the Mountain Division, tied with Colorado State at 0-2. They trail three 2-0 teams (Boise State, Utah State and Air Force) as well as 1-1 New Mexico.

Wyoming’s nine-game losing streak is the second longest active losing streak in the nation behind New Mexico State’s 15-game slide. The Cowboys’ last victory was 45-17 over Fresno State on Nov. 1, 2014. The Wolf Pack, though, insists it is ignoring Wyoming’s struggles so far this season. The last time the two teams met the Pack beat the Cowboys 35-28 in overtime at Mackay Stadium in 2012 behind backup quarterback Devin Combs.

“We’re a .500 team,” said Polian, who has a 14-17 record as Pack head coach. “We can take nothing for granted. Every game for us is a battle. We’re going up there ready for a fight.”

The Wolf Pack won at Laramie in 2000 (35-28) for Chris Tormey’s first victory as head coach. The Pack lost their only other game at Laramie, 25-6 in 1992, in Nevada’s first game as a member of Division I-A. The Pack heads to Wyoming this time having won five of its last eight games away from Mackay Stadium. The Pack also won three of its four Mountain West road games last year after losing all four in Polian’s first year in 2013.

“I, personally, like being away from the distractions of being at home,” Polian said. “I enjoy being on the road. I also sense that our team likes being together on the road.”

The Wolf Pack has now been 3-3 in Polian’s first three years as head coach. The Pack lost Game 7 at Boise State in 2013 and won at BYU last year.

“Winning last week (against New Mexico) did wonders for us,” Jackson said. “I’m not saying everybody is now crazy confident but we saw that when we are clicking on all cylinders we can be something special.”