Nevada travels to Idaho for matchup with Vandals
For the Nevada Appeal
RENO – The Nevada Wolf Pack’s defense apparently assumed it had earned a little vacation in the second half last Saturday night.
“The defense looked like they didn’t want to play,” Wolf Pack safety Duke Williams said. “We let our guard down.”
The Wolf Pack built a 35-0 halftime lead against the Utah State Aggies at Mackay Stadium and had to hang on for a 56-42 victory.
“In the second half our defense didn’t show up,” said head coach Chris Ault, whose Wolf Pack (7-1, 2-1) will play at Idaho (4-4, 1-2) in the Kibbie Dome on Saturday (2 p.m.) in a Western Athletic Conference game. “Our guys came out at halftime and thought things were pretty much done.”
Things were just getting started. Ault called it the worst half of football he’s ever seen by a defense in his career.
“We stunk up the field,” Ault said.
How bad was it?
It was historically bad. It was the most points a Pack team has allowed in one half since Boise State also scored 42 in the first half in an eventual 56-3 Pack loss on Nov. 29, 2003. Ault, the athletic director at the time, ended up firing head coach Chris Tormey after that game.
The last time an Ault-coached team allowed 42 points in one half was on Nov. 2, 1991 when another Utah team, the Weber State Wildcats, turned the trick. It took the “Mackay Miracle” for the Pack to win on that memorable afternoon, 55-49.
There were no miracles last Saturday night – just a bunch of defensive players scratching their heads.
“I really don’t know what happened,” Williams said. “We just lost our focus.”
Ault knows what happened.
“What I’m most disappointed in is the lack of effort,” Ault said. “We didn’t play with any sense of urgency. There are no excuses for us to fall asleep on defense like that.”
Nobody was making any excuses this week.
“We did that to ourselves,” defensive end Dontay Moch said. “That’s something we have to learn from. We have to come out and play hard on every down, in every single quarter.”
Utah State had no points and just 98 yards at halftime. In the second half they piled up six touchdowns (one on a kickoff return) and 392 total yards. The Aggies had averaged just 332 total yards and 19.6 points per game in their previous seven games.
“We have to come out with excitement on every play,” Williams said.
It was obvious this week that the Pack defensive players got the message from their coaching staff.
“Every team has a bump in the road,” Williams said. “That was our bump right there. We’re not going to have another half like that.”
Idaho, with quarterback Nathan Enderle (2,282 yards, 16 touchdowns), definitely has the ability to score six touchdowns in one half. The Vandals gave the Pack defense a workout a year ago at Mackay Stadium, losing 70-45 in a track meet that left both defenses exhausted.
“Their quarterback is explosive,” said Ault, remembering that Enderle scorched the Pack last year through the air for 342 yards and four touchdowns.
The Vandals, though, have been a one-dimensional offensive team this year. They are eighth in the nine-team WAC at 85 rushing yards a game. The Wolf Pack defense is second in the WAC, allowing just 120 rushing yards a game.
“We’ve had to rely on our throwing game a lot,” said Idaho coach Robb Akey. “I’m not going to lie. We have not run the ball well enough.”
The Vandals are 3-0 at the Kibbie Dome this year, beating North Dakota (45-0), UNLV (30-7) and New Mexico State (37-14). They have spent four of their last five weeks on the road.
“We’re looking forward to getting an opportunity to play at home,” said Akey, whose team will host Nevada and Boise State in the next two weeks.
The Wolf Pack has dominated the Vandals through the years, winning 18 of 27 games in the rivalry. They’ve also won four of their last five games in the Kibbie Dome.
The Pack has won five games in a row against its former Big Sky Conference rival and nine of its last 11 meetings with the Vandals. The last Idaho team to beat the Pack was, oddly enough, coached by Tormey in 1999 (42-33 in Reno). Ault hasn’t lost to the Vandals since 1989 (42-22 in the Kibbie Dome), winning seven in a row.
In that 1989 game, though, Idaho quarterback John Friesz shredded the Pack through the air for 446 yards. Ault warned that Enderle will try to do the same thing on Saturday.
“They are going to throw the ball,” Ault said. “That’s what they do. And they do it well.”
The Pack pass defense has been inconsistent this year, allowing 258 yards on average through the air.
“We have to have a better effort by our secondary than what they showed in the second half last week,” Ault said.
It wouldn’t be a surprise to see a shootout similar to last year’s game at Mackay Stadium The Vandals average 30 points and 423 total yards a game. The Wolf Pack averages 42 points and 520 yards.
“It’s going to be a big, big game,” Akey said.