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Nevada defense needs to show up

JOE SANTORO
Special to the Appeal

 Sports fodder for a Friday morning . . .

Is the Mackay Magic gone? The worst thing about the Wolf Pack what-the-heck-just-happened loss to the New Mexico State Aggies on Saturday was not that it all but obliterated the Pack’s national championship hopes, a realistic chance at a BCS bowl bid, Colin Kaepernick’s Heisman Trophy dreams or the possibility of Lee Corso and Kirk Herbstreit showing up on campus anytime soon. The worst thing is that it happened at Mackay Stadium, the House That Chris Ault Built. Ault’s top priority since he took over the program for the third time in 2004 has been to restore the magic at Mackay. And, for the most part, he’s done just that. Until last Saturday. Taking into consideration the strength of the opponent, the New Mexico State loss was the most embarrassing at home for the Pack since Chris Tormey’s team lost 16-12 to UNLV in 2003. It was Ault’s worst home loss since the did-that-just-happen? 24-17 loss to UC Davis in 1989.

What have we learned about the Pack football team this year after six games? Well, we learned that the offensive line is one of the best run-blocking units in the country, Kaepernick and Vai Taua have officially turned Nick Graziano and Luke Lippincott into a couple of Wally Pipps and the defense is really no better than it was a year ago. This is a defense that is allowing 345 passing yards and 34 points a game and has recovered just one fumble all year. Defense is about being in the right spot at the right time and judging by all of countless big plays the Pack has allowed this year, well, it seems like this defense has gotten lost on its way to the stadium.

What does it all mean? Well, not much. Nothing of any great importance has really changed with this Pack football team. The truly big games — Fresno State and Boise State ” are still ahead. Also, it is physically, mentally, mathematically and, we’re guessing, legally impossible in most states to lose to Utah State. So the Pack will indeed get healthier and rebuild its fragile confidence this weekend. Hey, there’s a reason it’s Homecoming this weekend, folks. This is still a fun team to watch, Mackay is still the place to be on a Saturday and a winning record is still a legitimate possibility. What did you want? A national title?

Bobby Knight is hinting that he just might return to coaching. Nobody should be surprised. Knight just left Texas Tech last year to make sure his son Pat would have a job. He was horrible on ESPN last March so there’s no way he’s going to become the next Dick Vitale. So why wouldn’t he go back to coaching? He needs to go back to the Big Ten.

Be patient with this year’s Pack men’s basketball team. They are extremely young — and short ” and this is indeed the start of a new era. All of the important remnants of the NCAA Tournament teams are now gone. There will be a lot of growing pains because, well, they have to learn how to play defense and fight like mad for every rebound below the rim. That takes time. You don’t become a Division I basketball player, after all, by playing defense in high school or junior college, no matter what the coaches say.

Wolf Pack fans only saw a glimpse of what guard Armon Johnson can do. This year, now that veteran leader Marcelus Kemp is gone, and because the team doesn’t have a center, you are going to see the ex-Hug High star emerge as one of the top players in the West. Johnson, who has switched his number from 3 to his more comfortable 23 (for his boyhood idol Michael Jordan), will become the best Pack player not named Fazekas to wear the Pack uniform this century.

It never seems possible but the Oakland Raiders always seem to pull it off. Every year you say to yourself, “Well, there’s no way the Raiders can be worse than they were last year.” And every year they prove you wrong. Now they are a team without a head coach, an owner who is living on another planet in his own fantasy world and a quarterback who should be in the Arena League. The Raiders need to steal Mike Leach from Texas Tech or Gary Pinkel from Missouri, let them unleash their video game offense on the NFL and drive the NFL nuts for a couple years. And if that doesn’t work, Bobby Knight is available.

Are you excited about a Phillies-Rays World Series? Of course you aren’t. Tampa fans, who only recently discovered that not every major league team leaves Florida at the end of March, don’t deserve a World Series team. And Phillies fans, well, Brad Lidge is already fearing for his life because of the chance he’ll become the second coming of Mitch Williams. If the Rays win a Series this year they might four or five in a row — or at least until their young players all leave as free agents.