Nevada hopes to cure road blues against CSU
For the Nevada Appeal
RENO — The Nevada Wolf Pack football team has just one more opportunity to win a game on the road this season.
The Wolf Pack, which takes on the Colorado State Rams on Saturday (12:30 p.m.) in Fort Collins, Colo., is 0-5 away from Mackay Stadium this year.
“This is our last chance to get one on the road,” head coach Brian Polian said. “It is important.”
Polian is the first head coach to lose the first five road games of his Wolf Pack career since Jack Glascock from 1915-17. Glascock’s Wolf Pack played just two road games in both the 1915 and 1916 seasons and just one in 1917 and lost them all.
“If we are going to be a factor in the Mountain West moving forward, we have to learn how to win games on the road,” Polian said.
The Wolf Pack has been outscored on average on the road, 49-22. But in their defense, the Pack has lost to five very good football teams on the road this season at UCLA, Florida State, San Diego State, Boise State and Fresno State. Those five teams are a combined 30-9 overall this year and 20-3 at home.
The Wolf Pack, though, hasn’t gone winless on the road in an entire season since 2004 when it lost all six of its games away from Mackay. The Pack’s last road victory was Nov. 17, 2012 at New Mexico, 31-24. They returned to that same stadium in Albuquerque, N.M. a month later and lost to Arizona, 49-48, in the New Mexico Bowl to start their troubles away from home.
“There is a comfort level at home,” Polian said, explaining the biggest difference between home and away games. “Crowd noise is also a factor on the road, especially when it comes to the mechanics of trying to run an offense off a silent count. At home you just have a routine and you know what you are getting yourself into.”
Polian, whose Wolf Pack is just 3-6 this year and riding a four-game losing streak, joked this week that he might have chosen the wrong profession.
“I spent the last few days watching my dad (former NFL executive Bill Polian) on ESPN and he looks five years younger than he did when he worked in the NFL,” the Wolf Pack head coach said. “I was hearing about (Denver Broncos coach) John Fox and his heart surgery and (Houston Texans coach) Gary Kubiak going to the hospital. It’s been a rough time for guys in our profession.
“I started to think that maybe I’m in the wrong profession, that maybe I should be sitting on the other side of the microphone as opposed to this side.”
TONGA CATCHES POLIAN’S EYE
Polian raved about Colorado State nose tackle Calvin Tonga this week. Tonga has played in seven games and has just 13 tackles, no sacks and 2.5 tackles for a loss.
“He’s a space eater,” said Polian of the 6-foot-3, 330-pound Tonga. “For a guy that size he has superior athletic ability.”
Tonga is in his second season with Colorado State. He had 18 tackles last year and 1.5 sacks. In two seasons at Arizona Western Junior College in Yuma, Ariz., Tonga had 16 tackles for a loss and eight sacks. He signed with Arizona State out of high school (Arlington High in Riverside, Calif.) but never played for the Sun Devils.
“You’d think a guy that size wouldn’t be very mobile,” Polian said. “A guy that size that moves that well, you usually find those guys in BCS conferences.”
POLIAN GOING EASY ON TEA
Polian admitted this week that his practices this season haven’t been as physically grueling as the Wolf Pack was accustomed to under former coach Chris Ault.
“At this point in the season, we only have a certain amount of playmakers on the team,” Polian said. “Our whole goal is to get them to Saturday healthy and feeling as physically good as they can feel. It doesn’t really do us any good to keep beating on each other during the week.”
“It is tremendously different,” said Brandon Wimberly, who joined the Pack program in 2008. “We get water breaks now. We could get water before but we didn’t have a designated period for it in practice. It’s different now.”
REYNOSO, FAJARDO VISIT HOSPITAL
Wolf Pack defensive tackle Jack Reynoso and quarterback Cody Fajardo visited one of the victims of the Sparks Middle School shooting incident last month.
“Jack and Cody went to the hospital before anybody else in our organization,” Polian said. “Nobody told them to do it. Nobody asked them. They just did it because it was the right thing to do.”
HENDERSON BREAKS OUT: Wide receiver Hasaan Henderson, who came to Nevada before the 2012 season as a quarterback out of Las Vegas High, is learning to be a wide receiver this season.
Last Saturday, in a 41-23 loss at Fresno State, Henderson showed that he is indeed a quick learner. He caught five passes for 82 yards, including one for a 32-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter that cut Fresno’s lead to 31-23. The 6-foot-5 Henderson now has 11 catches this year for 157 yards and the one score.
“Hasaan has gotten better,” Polian said. “He clearly has above-average ball skills. His hands are gigantic. We’ve just had to work on technique and route running with him because he’s never done it before.”
Polian said the Wolf Pack noticed Henderson’s ball skills last spring.
“He was at quarterback, working with our second and third-string centers and the snap was going all over the place,” Polian said. “On one play he just reached down and plucked the ball with one hand. When the best play of the day is the center to quarterback snap, you notice something like that.”
Polian said Henderson struggled physically as a quarterback.
“We discovered that his shoulder would flare up after four or five days of throwing,” Polian said. “We just thought, ‘Are we going to have a quarterback on a pitch count?’ We just thought his future would be better as a wide receiver.”
Polian said Henderson, who now weighs 230 pounds, might eventually switch to tight end.
“The sky is the limit for him,” Polian said. “If he keeps adding weight we might have to look at that (a move to tight end). It might be hard to play wide receiver at 250 pounds.”
Wimberly has also been impressed with his young teammate.
“His athletic ability speaks for itself,” Wimberly said. “We got a little taste this week (at Fresno). You’ll probably see more of it real soon.”