Joe Santoro: Blue turf unkind to Nevada Wolf Pack | NevadaAppeal.com

Joe Santoro: Blue turf unkind to Nevada Wolf Pack

Joe Santoro
Boise State quarterback Jaylon Henderson on the blue turf during the Mountain West Championship on Dec. 7. Nevada has had little success in Boise, even when it has played a team not named Boise State.
Steve Conner/AP | FR171631 AP

Playing the Ohio Bobcats at Boise State is not the same as playing Boise State at Boise State. The Nevada Wolf Pack, which has lost 18-of-20 football games at Boise State against the hometown Broncos over the past five decades, likely understands that as well as anyone. But the Pack doesn’t necessarily need the Broncos anywhere in the vicinity to spoil a trip to Boise. The Pack is also 0-2 at Boise in bowl games. That’s why when the Pack arrives at Albertson’s Stadium on Jan. 3 for its Not-So-Famous Idaho Potato Bowl showdown against the Bobcats, it will have a chance to exorcise some demons. That alone is why it will be meaningful for the Wolf Pack to walk off that hideous blue Boise field on Jan. 3 with a victory. The Pack needs to win a game — any game against anybody at any time — at Boise State just to prove to itself that it can be done. The Wolf Pack has not done it since 1997 when John Dutton passed for 557 yards in a 56-42 victory. The Pack has lost 11 consecutive games (nine to the Broncos and two to Maryland and Miami in the bowl game) on the blue plastic grass. It is time to wipe away the blue turf jinx, at least until the Pack plays Boise at Boise in 2021.

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It should be noted that the only two times the Pack has won at Boise it was Chris Ault’s birthday on Nov. 8. That strange phenomenon is the only way the Pack has overcome Boise’s blue turf since it was installed in 1986. Is it too late for Ault to change his birthday to Jan. 3? He turned 40 in 1986 when his Pack stepped on the ugly blue turf for the first time and beat the Broncos in Boise 21-16 on Nov. 8, thanks to Eric Beavers, Henry Rolling, Tony Logan, Charvez Foger and others. “It was the best birthday present I ever had,” said Ault in 1986. The Pack’s 52-46 win in Boise on Nov. 8, 1997, was for coach Jeff Tisdel, though Ault was pulling the strings as athletic director that day. “You don’t beat Boise at Boise,” Ault said after his 1986 victory. He was right. Ault was just 1-11 at Boise State against Boise State in his career, including a 14-3 loss on his birthday in 1980 on a green fake plastic grass field. Ault, though, rarely beat anybody in Boise, also losing to Maryland and Miami in the bowl game, for a 1-13 record overall in Boy-C. He won more games in Italy in his career than he did in Boise. Jay Norvell, who also hasn’t changed his birthday from March 28 to Jan. 3 yet, is just 0-1 in Boise.

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Boise State let the entire Mountain West down on Dec. 21 by getting destroyed by the Washington Huskies, 38-7, in the Las Vegas Bowl at Sam Boyd Stadium. Anytime the Broncos’ football team loses a game it is not a good thing for the Mountain West. Boise State, after all, is the conference’s unquestioned marquee program and the only one that gets noticed east of Denver. Losing to a Pac-12 team is not a sin. But to lose by 31 points in the final bowl game ever played at Sam Boyd Stadium and the last time the Mountain West will be invited to the Las Vegas Bowl, well, it is a disaster. It is Boise State’s largest loss in a bowl game in school history. And it came against former Boise State coach Chris Petersen, who announced his retirement last month. Mountain West football has never been as meaningless nationally as it is right now and, no, a Pack win over the Bobcats of the Mid-American Conference will not change that.

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The Mountain West, it appears, will miss the Las Vegas Bowl, especially starting in 2020 when it will be played at the state-of-the-art Allegiant Stadium. The Washington-Boise State game attracted 34,197 fans at Sam Boyd Stadium. It is the 21st year in a row the Las Vegas Bowl has had a crowd of 25,000 or more and the 16th time in the last 19 years it was 30,000 or more. In case you were wondering, the Wolf Pack played in three Las Vegas Bowls when it was connected to the Big West Conference and MAC and the attendance totals were 15,476 (vs. Bowling Green in 1992), 12,528 (vs. Toledo in 1995) and 10,118 (vs. Ball State in 1996). We’ll blame that on the Big West and MAC and not the Pack. The other Mountain West bowl games this year, by the way, attracted just 21,582 for the Hawaii Bowl (BYU vs. Hawaii), 18,823 for the New Mexico Bowl (San Diego State vs. Central Michigan) and 12,120 for the Frisco Bowl (Kent State-Utah State).

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What did we learn from the Nevada Wolf Pack men’s basketball team’s narrow 68-63 loss to Saint Mary’s last Saturday night in San Francisco? Well, we learned that the Wolf Pack has the ability to beat a solid team (Saint Mary’s is 12-2) away from home even when it doesn’t play well. That’s something we didn’t see earlier this year at Davidson and BYU. The Pack got to the free throw line just nine times all night and missed six of its seven 3-point shots in the second half and still could have beaten the Gaels at Chase Center, otherwise known as The House That Steph Built. That is a good sign for the Pack and certainly should be a confidence booster when the Mountain West season kicks in Jan. 1 against Colorado State at Lawlor Events Center. OK, yes, we will gloss over (for now) the possibility that the Pack could have lost by 20 to the Gaels since Saint Mary’s was just 3-of-20 on threes and 11-of-19 from the line. But that is why you agree to a game against Saint Mary’s in a near-empty NBA arena instead of in cozy 3,500-seat McKeon Arena in Moraga, Calif.

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Eric Musselman’s Arkansas Razorbacks are 10-1. But it’s not like Hog fans are making plans for the Final Four just yet. Muss’ Hogs have played an extremely easy schedule and are 9-0 at home. They also beat Valparaiso only 72-68 on Dec. 21 at home, a team the Pack whipped 84-59 in the Virgin Islands on Nov. 24. Arkansas also lost 86-79 in overtime at Western Kentucky, a 7-4 team from Conference USA. Hog fans also aren’t stuffing 19,200-seat Bud Walton Arena just yet. Muss’ Hogs are averaging just 13,710 fans over their first nine home games. That weak home schedule has helped Muss’ record but it has hurt at the gate. The 13,710 average attendance would be Arkansas’ lowest average home attendance since it drew 13,116 a game in 2011-12.