Pack needs short memory heading into MW opener
For the Nevada Appeal
Brian Polian insists his Nevada Wolf Pack football team doesn’t allow a loss to linger for more than a day.
“We have a 24-hour rule,” the Nevada Wolf Pack head coach said this week. “But this week it took me 28 or 29 hours to get past it. That one hurt a little bit.”
The Wolf Pack’s 24-14 loss at Purdue last week left them 2-2 overall heading into today’s (9 p.m.) Mountain West opener at Hawaii at Aloha Stadium.
“I was incredibly disappointed,” said Polian of the loss at Purdue which saw the Pack waste a 14-3 lead. “We could have won that game. It would have been nice to be 3-1 in non-conference play. But we didn’t get it done.”
Polian, who now has a 20-22 record as Wolf Pack coach (16-20 against FBS teams), said the Wolf Pack has finally put the Purdue loss behind them.
“We made it very clear this week that we had to put that behind us and move forward,” Polian said.
The Wolf Pack now moves forward into its fifth Mountain West season since joining the conference in 2012. The Wolf Pack has a record of 15-17 in Mountain West games but is a perfect 4-0 against Hawaii.
“Conference play is really what we’re judged on,” said Polian, who has an 11-13 record in Mountain West games.
“Conference play is obviously a whole different animal,” said Wolf Pack quarterback Tyler Stewart, who made his starting debut in a 31-9 win over Hawaii at Mackay Stadium in 2013.
Even Stewart, who normally doesn’t like to reveal his emotions, said the loss at Purdue was difficult to get over.
“I was a little more angry than I normally am after a loss,” said Stewart, who’s 10-8 as a starting quarterback.
The Wolf Pack has won five games in a row against Hawaii, including the last two (2012, 2014) in Honolulu. The Pack beat the Rainbow Warriors 30-20 last season in Reno after trailing 17-0.
“Hawaii is trending upward,” Polian said. “And they always play well at home.”
Hawaii, actually, hasn’t played well anywhere in record years. The Rainbow Warriors are 1-3 this year after going 3-10 last year overall and 0-8 in Mountain West play.
“We get to kind of start over,” Hawaii head coach Nick Rolovich said, “and see how we match up in conference.”
Rolovich, the Wolf Pack’s offensive coordinator the past four years, has had to endure the toughest schedule in the Mountain West so far. The Rainbow Warriors’ three losses have come against California (51-31), Michigan (63-3) and Arizona (47-28), all on the road. The loss to Cal took place in Australia. Their only win came at home against Tennessee-Martin.
“They are better than their record would suggest,” Polian said.
Rolovich, who replaced Norm Chow as Hawaii’s head coach after last season, has seemed to breathe life into the Warriors offense so far. Hawaii is averaging 25.8 points and 380 yards a game (168 rushing, 212 passing). The Wolf Pack averages 359 yards and 23 points.
“They can move the ball,” Polian said.
Dru Brown, a 6-foot, 200-pound sophomore, will start at quarterback for Hawaii against the Pack. Brown has completed 16-of-30 passes this year for 205 yards with one interception and no touchdowns. He came in for starter Ikaika Woolsey against Arizona two weeks ago and completed 10-of-18 passes for 144 yards.
“We evaluated him when he came out of high school,” Polian said. “I know Coach Rolovich was very interested in him (when Rolovich was at Nevada). So I’m not surprised he (Brown) ended up at Hawaii (with Rolovich).”
The Rainbow Warriors will be led on the ground by 5-8, 195-pound junior running back Diocemy Saint Juste (259 yards, two touchdowns) and 5-10, 210-pound senior Steven Lakalaka (233 yards, four touchdowns). Brown’s top targets will be Marcus Kemp (18 catches, 353 yards, four touchdowns), Dylan Collie (10-87-0) and John Ursula (12-175-1).
“They are running a lot of the same stuff we saw when Coack Rolovich was here the last few years,” Pack linebacker Alex Bertrando said. “That helps us a little bit. The style of offense is basically the same as when Coach Rolovich was here. A lot of pistol.”
“Saint Juste is really a dynamic player,” Polian said. “And they run some four wide receiver stuff that Coach Rolovich wanted to do here but we just didn’t have the personnel.”
Rolovich, who came to Nevada under head coach Chris Ault in 2012, was Polian’s offensive coordinator the last three years.
“I wish him well but not against us,” Polian said. “Neither one of us is going to take any reps in this game and that is good for both sides.”
“I have a little bit of familiarity towards Nevada but our guys don’t have much of that,” Rolovich said. “I have some familiarity with their personnel and I know the head coach’s personality and what he likes to do. It might give us some confidence but other than that it won’t matter that much.”
The Wolf Pack players, though, were close to Rolovich.
“It will be nice to see him,” said Stewart, who has passed for 640 yards and five touchdowns this season. “I wouldn’t be sitting here right now (answering media questions) if it wasn’t for him. He’s obviously had a very positive impact on me as a football player and as a human being. I will shake his hand before the game but during the game it is going to be just like any other game.”
“If it wasn‘t for Rolo I wouldn’t be here” said Wolf Pack defensive tackle Kalei Meyer, who’s from Hawaii. “He convinced me to come here (Nevada) and check the place out.”
“He had a big impact on me on how I approach life,” Wolf Pack wide receiver Hasaan Henderson said.. “He’s one of those guys you can have a friendship with forever. Having him there beings a little more passion for us. We will have the same mentality that we have for every game but it will be a little more fun.”
Rolovich, Polian said, might have a slight edge on Saturday because he knows the Pack players well.
“He has a little bit more familiarity as far as evaluating our personnel,” Polian said. “But in the end players have to play. It’s a players’ game. You can know what’s coming and still have trouble stopping it.”
The Wolf Pack is 0-2 on the road this season after losses at Notre Dame (39-10) and Purdue. Hawaii’s lone victory over Tennessee-Martin came at home.
“Their fans are a lot of fun,” Stewart said. “And they are real funny. The last time I was there (2014) I wasn’t even playing and they were still talking to me.”
The Rainbow Warriors haven’t beaten the Wolf Pack since they handed the Pack its only loss in a 13-1 season in 2010.
“We know they (Nevada) will be hungry coming off the Purdue game,” wide receiver Dylan Collie said. “I know their players will want to play well (in front of ) Coach Rolo. Everybody will come out fighting.”
The Wolf Pack is 3-1 in Mountain West openers with two of the wins (2012, 2013) coming against Hawaii.
“All of our goals are still in front of us,” Bertrando said.