Tyler Stewart is calming music to the ears | NevadaAppeal.com
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Tyler Stewart is calming music to the ears

Joe Santoro

Sports fodder for a Friday morning . . .

Stop worrying about Tyler Stewart. Yes, the Nevada Wolf Pack is sort of running a Stewart Quarterback School this year. But the Pack has much bigger concerns this season than its new starting quarterback. Stewart, as expected, looked just fine against UC Davis last Thursday night, throwing for 163 yards and also rushing for 43 and a nifty 15-yard scoring run. He played with poise and confidence and looked as if he had about 25 starts under his belt instead of just one against an awful Hawaii team two years ago. Nothing seems to rattle the 21-year-old. He’s boring as mashed potatoes and Salisbury steak for dinner in press conferences and only slightly more exciting on the field. But he plays with a calming influence that seems to rub off on his teammates. Yes, it almost put them to sleep in the second half last Thursday but that’s what happens when you play a Big Sky Conference team that has less legitimate Division I players on its roster than Bishop Gorman High. Former Pack quarterbacks Colin Kaepernick and Cody Fajardo were ear-splitting rock and roll that left your ears burning and head vibrating. Stewart is simply a Top 40 hit that pays the bills you can’t stop humming two days later.

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So what should you worry about with this Pack football team based on what you saw last Thursday night? Well, start with the defense. It always starts with the defense at Nevada. UC Davis controlled the ball for more than 34 minutes, the most a Football Championship Subdivision team has controlled the ball against the Pack this century. Davis converted 9-of-18 third down plays, had 22 first downs and had the ball for 74 offensive plays. Davis threw 47 passes and the Pack defense came up with just one sack. The four highly touted Pack defensive line starters (Ian Seau, Rykeem Yates, Lenny Jones and Salesa Faraimo) had a grand total of six tackles combined. That will likely be the worst offense the Pack defense sees all year. The Pack defense, we still believe, is better than what it showed against Davis. It better be on Saturday against the Arizona Wildcats.

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The Wolf Pack can beat Arizona at Mackay Stadium. The Pack could have beaten the Wildcats the past two times they met and those games were in Albuquerque (2012 New Mexico Bowl) and Tucson (last year). This time it’s at Mackay Stadium, where strange things have been known to happen. The Wolf Pack scored 76 points combined in the two games against Arizona in 2012 and 2014. Yes, that was with Fajardo, who was responsible for most of those points. But Arizona’s defense, mediocre at best in recent years, will be without its best player on Saturday (injured linebacker Scooby Wright) who’s the only player on the Wildcat defense that can tackle. Texas-San Antonio piled up 525 total yards last week against Arizona. Teams with the name of a state and a city in their name should never get 500-plus yards offense on a Pac-12 team. Don’t worry about the Pack offense. It’s all about the defense for the Pack. It’s always all about the defense.

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With Wright missing the Wolf Pack should be able to run the ball effectively with running backs Don Jackson and James Butler. Stewart will also surprise the Wildcats on the ground if they concentrate too much on Jackson and Butler as well as the Pack receivers. Stewart will also have opportunities through the air. Texas-San Antonio quarterback Blake Bogenschutz, a freshman, threw for 332 yards against the Wildcats last week. The last time someone from Tucson stopped the pistol, Doc Holliday, Wyatt Earp or Wild Bill Hickock were probably still around. The key to beating the Wildcats is the Pack linemen and linebackers making positive plays, something they didn’t do all that much of against Davis.

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This game means much more to Arizona than it does to the Pack. The Pack will be playing with absolutely zero pressure. It’s a no-lose situation for the Pack. If the Pack win they might carry coach Brian Polian off the field on their shoulders and schedule a parade down Virginia Street this week. If they lose, well, no big deal. It’s Arizona, a Pac-12 school. The Pack is supposed to lose to a mighty Pac-12 school. Arizona, though, simply has to win. They’ve never lost a non-conference game in coach Rich Rodriguez’s four-year era at Arizona (he’s 10-0). Arizona quarterback Anu Solomon, a Bishop Gorman graduate, has never lost to a Nevada team (he was 40-0 in high school and is 2-0 in college) in his life. Arizona is ranked No. 22 in the nation and has dreams of winning the Pac-12 and going to a big-time bowl game. If it loses to Nevada the ranking disappears, the big-time bowl turns into the Tuesday night on ESPN2 during the middle of the week bowl and it’s likely heaeding to a five or six-loss season. The dangerous team in college football is always the one playing without any pressure, especially when that team is at home.

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Stewart, you can be sure, won’t be fazed by playing Arizona. This is a guy, don’t forget, who completed seven passes against Florida State on the road back in 2013, the year the Seminoles won the national title. Arizona is not Florida State. And Mackay Stadium is not in Tallahassee. Stewart is intelligent and calm and sees himself as just a part of the offense and not the entire offense. He’s the type of guy who won’t be overwhelmed by the moment. The Wolf Pack won’t ask him to do anything he can’t handle. The key is whether or not they will ask the defense to do something it can’t do.

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It’s extremely rare for the Wolf Pack football team to own a 2-0 record to start a season. This is the Wolf Pack’s 109th season of football. They have started a year 2-0 just 29 times. Nine of those 2-0 seasons came before 1927 when the opponents in the first two weeks were the likes of the Agnetian Club of San Francisco, the Nevada Alumni, the Stewart Indian School, the Sacramento Athletic Club and the Reliance Athletic Club. The Pack have started 2-0 just four times in the 23 seasons since it jumped to Division I-A in 1992. Polian, who did it last year, can become just the fifth coach in Pack history to start a season 2-0 two or more times. Coach Chris Ault, who would have opened up at home against Reno and Sparks High if the NCAA would have allowed it, started 2-0 a dozen times. Jerry Scattini, R.E. Courtwright and Joe Sheeketski each did it twice.