Pack not looking ahead to Boise
For the Nevada Appeal
RENO – Chris Ault didn’t have to search all that long and hard to find some motivation for his Nevada Wolf Pack football team this week.
“That game two years ago is in the front of my mind this week,” the Wolf Pack head coach said of the still stunning 48-45 Wolf Pack loss at Mackay Stadium in 2008 to the New Mexico State Aggies. “That was an embarrassing loss. We deserved to get beat that day. So, yes, we’ll be ready.”
Motivation and incentive were clearly Ault’s biggest concern this week with a struggling New Mexico State team coming to town with a 2-8 overall record (1-5 in the Western Athletic Conference). The Pack is 9-1 (4-1 in the WAC), ranked No. 18 in the Bowl Championship Series standings and riding a 10-game home winning streak.
“We aren’t good enough to look past anybody,” Ault said. “We all understand what this game leads to.”
It leads to a Nov. 26 showdown at Mackay Stadium against unbeaten Boise State. That’s why nobody would blame the Pack for looking past New Mexico State, a team the Pack has beaten in 11 of 13 meetings.
But, as Ault said, one of those two losses is still fresh in everyone’s mind.
“I definitely remember it,” Pack quarterback Colin Kaepernick said. “I had some mistakes that cost us in that game. So I’m looking to redeem myself.”
Kaepernick’s biggest mistake was fumbling the ball away at the New Mexico State 17-yard line in the third quarter. New Mexico State’s Oren Long picked it up and returned it 83 yards for a touchdown, breaking a 31-31 tie.
“Our focus is entirely on New Mexico State this week,” Kaepernick said.
Kaepernick and Pack running back Vai Taua had huge games against the Aggies two years ago at Mackay Stadium, each accounting for four touchdowns. Kaepernick threw three touchdown passes and also scored on a 32-yard run and Taua caught two touchdown passes and scored on runs of three and eight yards.
But it all went to waste as the Pack lost for the only time in Ault’s 26-year head coaching career when scoring at least 45 points in regulation time (an Ault-coached Pack team also lost 69-67 in overtime to Boise in 2007). New Mexico State outgained the Pack that day, 513 yards to 507 as quarterback Chase Holbrook torched the Pack for 409 yards and three touchdowns.
The victory two years ago in Reno, however, did not propel the Aggies to new heights. And it did not send the Pack into a tailspin. New Mexico State has gone just 5-25 since that October 2008 afternoon and just 2-19 in WAC play. By comparison, the Pack has gone 21-9 overall and 16-3 in WAC play since that day.
“All we remember is that two years ago they came in here and got a win,” Taua said. “They can get you if they catch you sleeping.”
The Pack, coming off a 35-34 victory at Fresno State, promises to be wide awake on Saturday.
“They are much improved,” said Ault of the Aggies. “No question about it. You can see where each game they have gotten better and better on each side of the ball.”
The Aggies have also struggled on both sides of the ball. They are 116th in the nation (out of 120 teams) in scoring at 15.8 points a game and 110th in the nation in points allowed (36 a game). The get outgained, on average, 434-304 every game.
“We are going to be faced with a big challenge this week,” Aggies coach DeWayne Walker said. “But we’re going to fight, for sure.”
It’s a fight that might be over quickly.
The Wolf Pack, which hasn’t lost a home WAC game in two seasons (Boise in 2008), is nearly a 40-point favorite and boasts one of the best offenses in the nation. The Pack is third in the nation in total offense at 542 yards a game, fourth in scoring at 43 points a game, third in rushing at 310 yards a game and is the second best team in the country on third down with a 57 % success rate.
The Aggies know all about the Pack offense. The Wolf Pack, after all, has scored 40 or more points in 10 of its last 11 games with New Mexico State. They pounded the Aggies last year in Las Cruces, N.M., 63-20, in a game that turned into a victory parade for the Pack’s Pistol offense.
It was in that lopsided game that senior Luke Lippincott went over 1,000 yards rushing for the season, making the Wolf Pack the first team in college football history to have three 1,000-yard rushers in the same season. The Wolf Pack also set their school record for rushing yards in a single game that day with 574 yards and scored seven rushing touchdowns. New Mexico State, by comparison, has just six rushing touchdowns this entire season.
“When you look at their offense they might be even better than last year,” Walker said.
“We just have to bring our A-game if we want to win,” Aggies wide receiver Taveon Rogers said.
The Wolf Pack has a chance to make history against the Aggies. A victory would be the 500th in the school’s 104-year football history. It would also give the Pack its first 10-victory season since joining Division I-A (FCS) in 1992.
“We’re not going to take them lightly,” Ault said. “That’s when you get beat. Our seniors know what we have to do. They know the mission we’re on.”