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Nevada has chance to beat Power 5 team at Purdue

Joe Santoro
For the Nevada Appeal
Tyler Stewart runs with the football against Buffalo at Mackay Stadium last week.
Thomas Ranson/LVN |

Brian Polian doesn’t want to hear the Purdue Boilermakers have won just seven games since the start of the 2013 season.

“That is still a Big 10 team,” the Nevada Wolf Pack head coach said this week. “They still have Big 10 players.”

The Wolf Pack, 2-1 after an impressive 38-14 win over the Buffalo Bulls last Saturday night at Mackay Stadium, will head to Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette, Ind., this Saturday (9 a.m.) to take on the 1-1 Boilermakers. The Wolf Pack has never won a game on the road against a Big 10 school and is 1-4 against current Big 10 teams.

“Would going to a Big 10 stadium and winning be meaningful?” Polian said. “Sure it would. I’m not going to lie to you. Yeah. Whenever a Group of Five team beats a Power Five team it’s a big deal.”

The Wolf Pack is 6-17 against Power Five teams (Big 10, ACC, Big 12, Pac 12 and SEC) since 2003. All six of the victories came in either Nevada (Northwestern in 2006, Washington State in 2014, California in 2010) or the west coast (Washington in 2003, Cal in 2012 and Boston College in the January 2011 Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco).

“If we can go win this game, it means something,” Polian said. “It’s not an even playing field for a Group of Five team to play a Power Five team. Power Five teams get much more (financial) support. So when a Group of Five team rises up to beat a Power Five team it is a big deal.”

The Wolf Pack’s lone victory over a Big 10 team came in 2006 against Northwestern, 31-21, at Mackay Stadium.

“As far as this game meaning that we have something to prove and we are playing with a chip on our shoulder, no, not necessarily,” Pack center Nathan Goltry said. “It doesn’t matter where you go or who you play. You just always play to win. A Power five school doesn’t mean much to me.”

“Power Five schools are bigger than we are,” Pack defensive tackle Korey Rush said. “But, for me, it’s just another win to get us closer to a bowl game.”

Purdue coach Darrell Hazell, who took over the Boilermakers the same year (2013) Polian took over the Wolf Pack, has a record of 7-31. The 52-year-old Hazell, a former assistant under Jim Tressel at Ohio State, has had only one winning season (2012 at Kent State) in five-plus seasons as a head coach. The Boilermakers have lost 17 of their last 20 games, though one of the wins (55-45) was over Nebraska last year.

Hazell, though, is confident playing the Wolf Pack.

“Just evaluating our personnel and their personnel, I think we have a very good matchup,” Hazell said. “I like where we are.”

Purdue, which beat Eastern Kentucky 45-24 and lost to Cincinnati 38-20, could give the Wolf Pack defense a stern test. The Boilermakers’ offense has averaged 32.5 points and 508 yards a game this year and their passing game (326 yards a game) leads the Big 10.

Sophomore quarterback David Blough (6-foot-1, 200 pounds) has thrown for 646 yards and three touchdowns. Blough, who has been intercepted six times, has two talented wide receivers in 6-2, 205-pound DeAngelo Yancey and 6-3, 215-pound Domonique Young. Young has caught 16 passes for 210 yards and a touchdown and Yancey has caught eight for 148 yards and two scores. Markell Jones (5-11, 210) has rushed for 192 yards and a touchdown after leading Purdue a year ago with 875 yards and 10 touchdowns.

“They have some explosive players,” Polian said. “They have moved the football real well. Blough has a cannon for an arm and he‘s not afraid to throw it into tight windows.”

The Wolf Pack defense has yet to record a sack and has just one interception this year through three games. Purdue also has not allowed a sack this year.

“We notice it,” said defensive end Malik Reed of the Pack’s lack of a sack. “But we’re not going to panic over it.”

“We just have to win on first and second down and get teams in (obvious) passing situations,” Rush said. “I know Malik (Reed), Pat (Choudja) and Salesa (Faraimo) can pass rush.”

Blough passed for 401 yards against Cincinnati two weeks ago.

“We’re getting pressure on the quarterback,” Polian said. “We’re just not getting him down. We need to get more pressure on the quarterback. We need to improve in that area. But after three games we are not in panic mode either.”

The Wolf Pack offense, which played its best game of the year last week against Buffalo, might have an opportunity to put up some impressive numbers at Purdue. The Boilermakers allow 31 points and 455 yards a game. Pack quarterback Tyler Stewart was 16-of-21 against Buffalo for 160 yards and running back James Butler had 174 yards and three touchdowns. The 38 points scored against Buffalo were the most by the Pack since a 49-27 win at UNLV on Nov. 29, 2014.

“Scheme-wise, they (Purdue) don’t do anything (on defense) that we haven’t seen before,” Goltry said.

The biggest challenge the Wolf Pack might have in this game and next week at Hawaii is just dealing with the travel and the unusual start times. The Purdue game is the Pack’s second trip to the state of Indiana in the last three games after losing at Notre Dame (39-10) on Sept. 10. The Wolf Pack opens Mountain West play next week at Hawaii for a 9 p.m. kickoff. Purdue and Hawaii, though, are a combined 16-64 since the start of the 2013 season.

“We are going to get our frequent flyer miles and our Marriott (hotel) points over the next two trips,” Polian said. “We’re not going to see our wives and our children. It’s going to be a tough two-week stretch and we have to grind it out.”

Polian isn’t worried about the early kickoff on Saturday.

“We are on the practice field at 8:45 a.m. every day,” Polian said. “The horn blows and our guys are running around and playing football. So it’s not something our guys aren’t used to. I am not going to allow anyone to use that as an excuse.”

Polian also doesn’t want Pack fans to use the early start time as an excuse to miss the game on television (ESPNews).

“Hopefully our fans will turn on ESPN News and watch the game and eat Fruit Loops,” Polian said.