Pack ready for home opener
For the Nevada Appeal
RENO – The Nevada Wolf Pack knows as well as anyone that a victory over the California Golden Bears can only carry you so far.
“That was last week,” Wolf Pack head coach Chris Ault said. “It was a great victory but it’s over. We now have to get ready for a team that is just as good as Cal and maybe has a little bit better personnel.”
The Wolf Pack will host the South Florida Bulls of the Big East Conference today at Mackay Stadium (12:30 p.m. kickoff) in their home opener. The Pack is 9-2 in its last 11 home openers.
“They are a very athletic team with terrific skill personnel,” Ault said. “I think they are a little better than Cal in how they play as a team.”
Senior offensive tackle Jeff Nady is confident the Wolf Pack won’t suffer from a Cal hangover this weekend.
“Once you put on the film and watch what they (South Florida) do, overconfidence is not going to be a problem,” Nady said. “All of our focus starting Monday was on South Florida. The win over Cal was last week. It was just the first game. We know we have to keep moving forward.”
The last time the Wolf Pack beat Cal they went 13-1 in 2010.
“I learned from the seniors that year to never look behind you at what you did in the past,” Nady said. “Those seniors taught us to keep looking forward to the next challenge and that’s what I’ve tried to tell our younger guys this week.”
South Florida opened its season a week ago in Tampa, Fla., with a 34-13 victory over the Chattanooga Mocs of the Football Championship Subdivision’s Southern Conference. Bulls quarterback B.J. Daniels threw for 225 yards and three touchdowns and completed a pass to 11 different receivers. The Bulls also held the Mocs to 151 total yards of offense and had six sacks.
“They run around and fly to the ball,” said Pack quarterback Cody Fajardo, who completed 25-of-32 passes for 230 yards without an interception. “They have a veteran defense. We have a lot of confidence going into this game because of what happened last week but we also know we’re going to have a great challenge.”
South Florida will face a lot of challenges this weekend, not the least of which is simply getting to Mackay Stadium. The Bulls’ have only played two games in their 16-year football history west of Texas and Colorado and both times suffered big losses. They lost at San Diego State in 1999 (41-12) and at Utah in 2001 (52-21).
“We’re so excited to go to Nevada,” said Bulls coach Skip Holtz, the son of former Notre Dame head coach Lou Holtz. “I’ve never been to Nevada. But it’s a business trip. I told the guys, ‘You’re going to see the inside of a hotel room, the inside of a stadium and what you can see out the bus window. And that’s all you’re going to see of Nevada.’ It’s not like we’re going there on a tourist trip with cameras around our necks.”
The Bulls, which will host the Wolf Pack in Tampa on Oct. 3, 2015, will have to travel over 2,000 miles to get to northern Nevada.
“We’ll have to battle the five-and-a-half hour flight just to get there and travel over three time zones just to go out and play the game” Holtz said. “And then we have to play the game at 5,000 feet in the air at altitude. We’re down here (in Florida) playing in humidity and now we have to go and play up in the thin air. It’s a big challenge for us.”
The logistics of getting to Reno and playing the game are not all that concerns Holtz and the Bulls. They know the Pack will pose a much stiffer test than Chattanooga.
“We had a nice win (over Chattanooga) but our excitement ended about midnight Saturday when we turned on the film of Nevada,” Holtz said. “We understand what we’re walking into and we have a big challenge.”
Holtz said he watched the Pack’s win over Cal and came away impressed with Fajardo.
“Just from watching that Cal game, I don’t see a weakness,” Holtz said. “He’s extremely efficient in what he does. His poise, his accuracy, his ability to run the ball and his athleticism is outstanding. He poses great problems for a defense.”
Ault is also concerned about stopping the Bulls quarterback. Daniels passed for 2,585 yards and 13 touchdowns last year.
“He fits in extremely well in their scheme,” Ault said. “I’m very impressed with their offensive scheme. He runs it very, very well. They do some reads, he runs its well and he can throw it.”
Daniels favorite targets are wide receivers Derrick Hopkins, who stands just 5-foot-5, Terrence Mitchell and Sterling Griffin. All three caught a touchdown pass against Chattanooga.
“He (Daniels) just manages their offense real well,” Ault said.
The Bulls finished just 5-7 a year ago, snapping a streak of six consecutive seasons with a bowl game. South Florida stunned Notre Dame, 23-20, at South Bend, Ind.,in front of 80,795 fans to open the year and won their first four games before dropping seven of their last eight. Five of the losses, though, were by six points or less and they were the only team in the nation to lose three games at the final gun.
“We were happy with how we played last week,” Holtz said. “But we’re going to see a different animal in Nevada.”