Nevada Wolf Pack hopes for weather edge against Hawaii
The Nevada Wolf Pack might even have Mother Nature on its side Saturday night when it faces the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors.
“It’s going to be a little cool, which is good,” Wolf Pack coach Jay Norvell said of the temperatures that are predicted to drop into the low 30s after the 7:30 p.m. (ESPN2) kickoff at Mackay Stadium. “And I wouldn’t mind if it rained, too, to be honest.”
Hawaii coach Nick Rolovich, who was the Wolf Pack’s offensive coordinator from 2012-15, knows all about Northern Nevada’s weather.
“It’s up in the mountains,” Rolovich said. “It could be cold. We’re playing at night and it could be wet. So that’s a built-in home field advantage for them.”
Rolovich and the Rainbow Warriors, now 3-1 like Norvell’s Wolf Pack, has struggled against built-in home field advantages for their opponents in recent years. Hawaii is 10-39 on the road since the start of the 2011 season. The Rainbow Warriors will also carry a 10-game losing streak in games in the state of Nevada (0-5 against both the Pack and UNLV) into Saturday’s showdown. Hawaii’s last win in the Silver State was 28-26 over the Pack at Mackay Stadium on Nov. 16, 2007.
“We have to win games in conference on the road,” said Rolovich, 21-23 overall and 10-14 in conference games in three-plus years as Hawaii head coach. “We can’t look past this game at all.”
Hawaii, though, might have been looking past last week’s game (a 35-16 win over Central Arkansas, an FCS school) to this week’s game at Nevada.
When asked about the mood of the locker room after beating Central Arkansas, Rolovich replied, “Not good. Not happy. That’s the worst feeling I’ve ever been in, in a locker room (after) a win. I think there was a lot of disappointment. It really wasn’t a very excited locker room. It was almost somber. They all know we could have played better because they all know what’s coming up in conference.”
The Rainbow Warriors, which play at Nevada on Saturday and at Boise State on Oct. 12 to open conference play, turned the ball over four times against Central Arkansas and have now committed a Mountain West-high 15 turnovers in four games.
“Maybe it’s good we’re going to Nevada,” Rolovich said, “because maybe we can hit the megabucks because we’ve been very lucky right now to win three games with the turnover margin (minus-12) we have.
“We better get over it. If we’re not going to get over it we better not get on the plane (to go to Reno) and save some money. We’re going to lose if we keep doing it.”
Hawaii’s run-and-shoot offense, which Rolovich ran when he was the Rainbow Warriors quarterback in 2000 and 2001, is led by quarterback Cole McDonald. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound junior from La Mirada, Calif., has completed 106-of-160 passes this season for 13 touchdowns and 1,317 yards. But he has also been intercepted nine times.
His favorite targets have been Cedric Byrd (33 catches, 411 yards, six touchdowns), Jared Smart (26-324-1) and JoJo Ward (23-350-6).
“Their offense starts with Cole McDonald, who is one of the more talented quarterbacks in our league,” Norvell said. “And Cedric Byrd is a dynamic slot receiver.”
“Nobody can stop us but us,” Byrd said this week.
Hawaii, though, is also last in the Mountain West with 120 rushing yards per game. Miles Reed, a 5-8 sophomore, leads Hawaii with 212 yards and two touchdowns on the ground.
“They’re going to play four or five wide receiver sets all of the time,” Norvell said. “The thing about Hawaii is that you’ve got to tackle. You can’t let them catch and run because that’s when they kill you.”
“It’s a big test for our defense,” Wolf Pack linebacker Lawson Hall said. “Their offense is capable of putting up a lot of points.”
The Wolf Pack defense played well a year ago in beating Hawaii, 40-22, in Honolulu. McDonald was 19-of-37 for 259 yards and three touchdowns but the Pack held the Rainbow Warriors to just eight points over the final three quarters.
“They are pretty tough,” said McDonald of the Pack defense. “They take pride in being tough competitors. But, for us, we’re just going to run the offense, we’re just going to play defense and stop them and ultimately win.”
The Wolf Pack offense also poses a challenge to the Hawaii defense. The two teams have played each other every year since 2000 with the Pack doing extensive damage to the Rainbow Warriors on the ground.
The Wolf Pack has averaged 216 yards a game on the ground over its past 19 meetings with Hawaii. Stefphon Jefferson’s 170 yards rushing and seven total touchdowns (six on the ground) against Hawaii in 2012 in a 69-24 Pack win is one of the best individual performances in Wolf Pack history.
A total of 12 different Wolf Pack players have combined for 16 100-yard rushing games against Hawaii since 2000 with James Butler (2015-16), Colin Kaepernick (2008-09), Vai Taua (2008-09) and Chance Kretschmer (2001, 2004) leading the way with two each. Matt Milton (2002), B.J. Mitchell (2005), Luke Lippincott (2007), Lampford Mark (2011), Jefferson (2012), Cody Fajardo (2014) and current Pack players Kelton Moore (2017) and Toa Taua (2018) each went over 100 yards once against Hawaii since 2000.
The Wolf Pack is well aware that Hawaii’s defense is 11th in the 12-team Mountain West this year, allowing 194.2 yards a game.
“We’re just excited to play a divisional game, a conference game that really means a lot,” Norvell said. “Now the season steps up another notch. I want our kids to feel a sense of urgency. This is the time of year we’ve really focused on.”
Norvell is hoping Mackay Stadium, as well as its weather and fans, gives the Wolf Pack an overwhelming home-field advantage.
“I think it will be a great atmosphere,” he said. “We’d love it to be a hornet’s nest on Saturday night.”