Joe Santoro: 9 wins a good year for Nevada Wolf Pack | NevadaAppeal.com

Joe Santoro: 9 wins a good year for Nevada Wolf Pack

Joe Santoro
For the Nevada Appeal
Nevada running back Devonte Lee (2) dives into the end zone past the defense of San Diego State cornerback Darren Hall (23) during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 9, 2019, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy)
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The Nevada Wolf Pack football team, led by head coach Jay Norvell, is always quick to tell anyone that will listen that it hangs its silver and blue helmet on improving as the season progresses. That sort of trend, real or imagined, sheds a positive light on the coach and the players and suggests they all keep working hard and adjusting as the season moves along. And it is difficult to argue with Norvell. The Pack after all could very well finish this season by winning its final five games after a 4-4 rollercoaster start. Last year the Pack started 3-4 and won five of its last six. In Norvell’s first year at Nevada the Pack started 1-8 and then won two of its final three games. So, yes, there has been genuine improvement in the win-loss columns. But has the team actually played better at the end of seasons or has it simply played worse teams? While there must surely be some sort of on-the-field improvement, the bulk of the late-season improvement in recent years is due to the softening of the schedule. In 2017 the two wins at the end of the year were against awful UNLV and San Jose State teams. Last year the five wins in the last six games were against mediocre Hawaii, Arkansas State and San Diego State teams and bad San Jose State and Colorado State teams. And the loss was against a UNLV team that couldn’t get out of a paper bag with a pair of scissors and a blowtorch. How can you say you are improving when you lose to UNLV? And this year, so far, the first two wins of what is hoped to be a season-ending five-game win streak have come against an ugly New Mexico team and a San Diego State team that thinks it can beat everyone with two field goals and a safety. The offense is still struggling as badly as it has all year and the defense has simply played two teams that think the end zone is filled with nuclear waste. The Wolf Pack’s success or failure, throughout its long history, is always based on who it is playing and when. That’s why you shouldn’t think the sky is falling after a 77-6 loss to Oregon or think the confetti will rain down from the tallest buildings on Virginia Street during a championship parade after a 17-13 win at San Diego State.

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A 9-4 season is a definite possibility this year for the Wolf Pack. The last two games of the regular season are against a pair of struggling, losing teams (Fresno State and UNLV) that can’t wait for the season to end and it’s not like the Pack will then play Alabama in a bowl game. Nine wins, no matter the opponents, is nothing to sneeze at for any program. At the end of the year you celebrate each of the nine wins, which would including the painting of the Fremont Cannon blue and another bowl win, by the way, and you forget the 71-point loss to Oregon, the 51-point loss to Hawaii, the 28-point loss to Wyoming and the 26-point loss to Utah State. Those losses never happened if the cannon is blue and a bowl game trophy is at Legacy Hall.

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The Wolf Pack’s chances at a West Division title, which disappeared last week when San Diego State beat Fresno State and Hawaii beat UNLV, it turns out, came down to the Hawaii game this year. That loss was a historic loss, the biggest ever at the modern Mackay Stadium. It made no sense. It was demoralizing. And it likely ended up costing the Pack a division title. If the Pack would have beaten Hawaii, a division title would have then become reality with wins over Fresno State this week and UNLV next week. It’s too bad the Wolf Pack can’t get another chance at the Rainbow Warriors at Mackay Stadium. Then, and only then, we could see if the Pack has truly improved as the season has progressed.

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The Wolf Pack men’s basketball team better improve as the season moves along or this is not going to be such an enjoyable winter at Lawlor Events Center. The Pack is off to a 2-3 start to the season after an ugly 91-71 loss at Davidson on Tuesday night on the road. The Wolf Pack turned the ball over 21 times. But it’s early. Coach Steve Alford is still learning about his team and his team is still learning about each other. Most of them, Alford included, likely can’t even find Circus Circus without checking their phones yet. Give this team time. We’re not sure yet if the season will end in either the NCAA tournament or NIT but a solid winning season (18-20 wins) is still a possibility.

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Lindsey Drew scored 54 points with seven threes in the Pack’s first two games of the season with Jalen Harris on the bench with a sore foot. In the three games since Harris has been back, Drew has scored a total of 33 points with five threes. Harris scored 24 points in his first game back from his brief injury, going 11-of-14 from the free throw line. In the two games since his return against Texas-Arlington, he’s scored 22 points and has been just 2-of-2 from the line combined against USC and Davidson (two losses). Drew and Harris are still learning how to play with each other.

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This Wolf Pack men’s basketball season might simply rely on the development of three freshmen. K.J. Hymes (6-foot-10), Zane Meeks (6-9) and Kane Milling (6-4) have all struggled over the first five games as most freshman in their first two weeks tend to do. The three are a combined 13-of-37 from the floor, 5-of-22 on threes, 8-of-17 on free throws with 12 turnovers, 37 fouls and 39 points. The Pack clearly needs at least one of the three freshman to become a consistent contributor this season, especially since they are a combined one-third of Alford’s nine-player rotation. All three are immensely talented with great size. Right now they just all seem to be trying to do too much when they do get on the floor. The result has been a flood of fouls, turnovers and missed shots. Once they settle down and relax, find their roles and let their talent flow, we should see this Pack team take a dramatic leap.

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Is anyone all that sure that Colin Kaepernick really wants to play in the NFL again? Why did he change the venue of his workout last Saturday, cutting in half the amount of teams who would watch in person? Judging from the video of the workout we saw, Kaepernick looked like Brett Favre playing touch football in his backyard trying to sell Wrangler jeans. Why would any NFL team offer Kaepernick a contract off that meaningless workout? Yes, his biceps and haircut looked great. But that’s about it. Kaepernick obviously has an agenda that has nothing to do with leading a team to a Super Bowl. He’s moved on from the friendly, polite young man with the endearing smile we saw at Nevada that loved to compete on the field with his teammates and win. And that is fine. He can do whatever he wants to do whenever he wants to do it. He has more important things on his mind now than football. But why would a NFL team bring that complicated baggage into its clubhouse and culture? So far they wouldn’t. There are a lot of guys out there with amazing biceps and haircuts who still want to win Super Bowls.