Wolf Pack anxious to start MWC play | NevadaAppeal.com

Wolf Pack anxious to start MWC play

Joe Santoro
For the Nevada Appeal

RENO — Brian Polian couldn’t get to the Mountain West portion of the Nevada Wolf Pack’s football schedule fast enough.

“Yes, very much so,” the Wolf Pack’s rookie head coach said.

Polian’s Wolf Pack squad, 1-2 with road losses at UCLA and Florida State by a combined score of 120-27, will open Mountain West play at Mackay Stadium at 5:05 p.m. today against the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors. Hawaii is 0-2 after losses to USC and Oregon State by a combined score of 63-27.

“I feel we look like a lot of the other teams in our conference,” Polian said. “It looks pretty evenly matched.”

That competitive balance is comforting for Polian as he prepares for his first conference game as head coach. The Pack, after all, didn’t look anything like UCLA and Florida State, two Top 25 teams. The losses at the Rose Bowl ( UCLA) and Doak Campbell Stadium (Florida State) are the first time since 1934 that the Wolf Pack has opened with two losses by 30 points or more in the season’s first three games.

“Look, I’m not saying we’re going to win the conference,” said Polian, whose only victory is over UC Davis (36-7) of the Football Championship Subdivision. “As I look at our schedule of conference games, we can win three in a row or we can lose three in a row. But I think we can be competitive.”

The Wolf Pack failed to make its mark in its first season in the Mountain West last year. The Pack finished a disappointing 4-4 in league play in 2012, losing four of its last five games, and will bring a three-game losing streak in home conference games into the Hawaii game.

None of that, however, matters to the Wolf Pack now.

“The way we look at it, it’s a new season and we’re 0-0,” Polian said.

Hawaii is just 3-11 since Norm Chow took over as head coach going into the 2012 season. The 67-year-old Chow, a former assistant coach at BYU, USC, UCLA, Utah and North Carolina State, dumped Hawaii’s run-and-shoot offense used by former coach June Jones, and has the Warriors running a pro-set attack. The results have been mostly negative as Chow has yet to win a road game (0-7) as head coach.

Hawaii is quarterbacked by senior Taylor Graham. The 6-foot-5, 235-pound former Illinois high school player, spent his first two seasons at Ohio State, playing in just one game. Graham has completed just 43 percent of his passes this season for 303 yards, two touchdowns and four interceptions.

“He improved greatly his second game,” Polian said. “He didn’t turn the ball over once against Oregon State (in a 33-14 loss) and we expect he will continue to show improvement against us.”

Graham will get some much-needed help this week with the expected return of veteran running back Joey Iosefa and wide receiver Billy Ray Stutzmann. Iosefa has 1,011 career rushing yards and missed the first two games of the season with a foot injury. Stutzmann, who has 126 career catches, also missed the first two games because of injuries suffered in an auto accident in August.

The Wolf Pack has also battled its share of injuries over its first three games. Quarterback Cody Fajardo missed the Florida State game because of a knee injury suffered against UC Davis and backup quarterback Devin Combs suffered a season-ending knee injury against Florida State. Running back Don Jackson, who won the starting job in the summer, hasn’t played since the loss at UCLA because of an ankle injury and his backup, Kendall Brock, missed last week with a knee injury.

The Wolf Pack played the second half against Florida State, for example, with its third-string quarterback (Tyler Stewart) and its No. 5 running back (Chris Solomon). Solomon, who ran for 108 yards on 26 carries against Florida State, is now the Pack’s starting tailback and Stewart will start today if Fajardo can’t.