Wolf Pack in must-win game at UNLV
Sports fodder for a Friday morning . . .
The Nevada Wolf Pack desperately needs to beat the UNLV Rebels Saturday night. Pack coach Brian Polian desperately needs to beat UNLV. UNLV is truly one of the most awful college football programs in the country and has been for a very long time. The Rebels are 2-10 this year and have won just 15 of 63 games in coach Bobby Hauck’s five years. The Rebels have just four winning seasons since 1986. The Rebels couldn’t even protect a 35-31 lead with 15 seconds to play at Hawaii last week, losing 37-35. One of their victories this year was a one-point thriller (13-12) against a Big Sky team (Northern Colorado). If the Wolf Pack is 6-6 on Sunday morning and staring at a three-game losing streak as well as its second consecutive loss to UNLV, it will be a disaster. Polian said he went home with family and friends after last week’s demoralizing 40-20 loss to Fresno State, shut the shades and had some adult beverages. If he loses to UNLV, the flight attendants on the Pack’s flight home better make sure the cabin doors are locked. There is absolutely no way the Pack can lose Saturday night to a 2-10 Rebel team. Right? Right. Wolf Pack 55, UNLV 21.
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When the Wolf Pack woke up on the morning of Nov. 15, it was 6-3 and bowl eligible, owned a three-game winning streak and was looking forward to playing in the Mountain West title game. Wolf Pack football was being reborn right before our eyes. We forgot that if you look in the dictionary under disappointment, you will find a picture of the current Wolf Pack head coach. Don’t forget that Chris Ault’s last three teams wilted miserably down the stretch when the games mattered most. This is not a Polian thing. This is a Wolf Pack thing. Since 1998, the Pack has won at least two of its last three games just twice (2005, 2010). Polian came to town and changed the uniforms, helmets and locker rooms and the name on the head coach’s door. It’s time to change the culture of losing when it matters most.
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Here is the hard truth about this Wolf Pack football season. Yes, there were some good things accomplished this year. Beating Washington State, BYU and San Diego State and fighting the good fight against Arizona, Boise State and Colorado State were very admirable. Some of it bordered on inspiring. And nobody can take that away from this team. But if the Pack loses to UNLV, they don’t deserve a bowl game. No Pack team has ever gone to a bowl game with a three-game losing streak. If the Pack loses to UNLV and does somehow get a bowl invite, Polian should do the honorable thing and say, “Thanks, but no thanks.” It’s time to send a message to a football program that says mediocrity won’t be tolerated and it certainly won’t be rewarded.
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Polian and his staff were embarrassed by Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter and his staff last week at Mackay Stadium. DeRuyter, who coached the Pack defense in 2005 and 2006, had his team motivated and prepared to beat the Pack. How do you lose by 20 at home to Fresno State? On Senior Night? With a Mountain West title on the line? Fresno State is simply not a very good football team this year. They still don’t even have a winning record (5-6). They lost to UNLV and Wyoming this year, for goodness sake. But they came into Mackay Stadium and whipped the Pack. DeRuyter told his team before the game that this was their Super Bowl. Polian scoffed and said no game is more important than any other. Well, his team listened to him and promptly came out on Senior Night with a Mountain West title on the line and played as if they were playing UC Davis.
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Give Polian time. When you hire a young coach who hasn’t even been an offensive coordinator or defensive coordinator in his career, well, you get what you paid for. You have to expect a steep learning curve. Polian is just coaching right now on clichés. His team loves each other. The coaches love all the players. Every game is just as important as any other. The Pack always has a great week of practice. Every opponent is incredibly talented and well coached. All the Pack is trying to do each week is go 1-0. Blah, blah, blah. It’s all noise. It means nothing. It certainly doesn’t help you win important football games as we found out last week. When all you do is speak in clichés, eventually the community, the media and even your players stop listening. That time arrived last Saturday night.
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The Battle for the Fremont Cannon has rarely lived up to its majestic trophy. Like this year, it is usually a game between a mediocre team and an awful team. Nobody would have blamed the cannon in some years if it just started firing at both benches and refused to go to either team after the game. The winner of this game should just get a nice certificate for a job well done and a handshake from the governor. The trophy — the best trophy in college sports, by the way — should go to the fans. There should be a section at Mackay Stadium and Sam Boyd Stadium where the cannon sits year round. It should sit with the fans in the stands, guarded by gentlemen wearing white gloves as if it was the Stanley Cup.
The fans could buy it beers every game and kneel down in front of it and pray to the football Gods for yet another rare Wolf Pack or Rebel victory. It shouldn’t be stashed away in some sterile fieldhouse or locker room for a bunch of California kids and overpaid coaches to look at. It’s the fans’ trophy. The players win it for the fans and they should give it to the fans.