Pack take Ferrari out of the garage against Idaho
For the Nevada Appeal
The Nevada Wolf Pack’s offense, for much of this college football season, has been nothing more than a priceless Ferrari sitting in a sterile garage.
Oh, to be sure, the Pack would polish its Ferrari now and then. They’d even rev up the engine once in a while to impress the neighborhood kids.
But there the Ferrari sat, week after week, making only brief public appearances while the old reliable family mini-van performed the dreary day-to-day chores of winning mundane Western Athletic Conference football games.
Like Ferris Buehler convincing his buddy to take his dad’s Ferrari out for a spin, the Pack finally convinced coach Chris Ault to take the Pack’s passing offense out of its garage for a day of fun. And you know what? The Pack had a ton of fun, passing the ball 34 times for 391 yards and six touchdowns in a 63-17 victory over the stunned Idaho Vandals.
“It felt good,” quarterback Colin Kaepernick said this week.
Go figure. A day in a Ferrari more fun than driving an old mini-van around town? Imagine that. The Pack, in fact, looked like they were having too much fun. You half expected the entire offense after one of its nine touchdowns to rush to the middle of the Kibbie Dome and start to sing “Twist and Shout.”
“Those are the types of games you want to play in,” Kaepernick said.
The Wolf Pack, now 8-1, had not thrown as many as 30 passes in a game since Week 1 and 2. But that was against Eastern Washington and Colorado State, the college football version of a bright, sunny day without a single cloud in the sky. You know, the perfect day to take the Ferrari out for a drive.
Over the next six games, though, we really didn’t know whether or not Ault trusted this Pack team to get behind the wheel of his Ferrari. One of the few times he did allow it (at Hawaii), after all, Kaepernick drove it through the back of the garage and into a ravine behind the house. That bothered Ault so much he grounded his star quarterback for 11 plays the following week against Utah State.
“That wasn’t to punish him,” said Ault, sounding like a defensive dad, forced to explain himself. “Sometimes he just needs to . . .”
What? Think about what he had done?
“Take another look at things,” Ault said.
The real punishment was not giving Kaepernick the keys to the priceless, shiny, polished machine in the garage. After Kaepernick crashed the Ferrari in Hawaii, Ault only allowed him to throw 15 passes against Utah State. The mini van did just fine, thank you, getting the Pack from Point A to Point B (otherwise known as a mundane WAC victory) without breaking down.
We were, however, beginning to wonder if Ault’s Ferrari could still go from zero to 60 in four seconds. The Pack, after all, went five consecutive games (Game 4 through 8) without throwing a single touchdown pass to a wide receiver or tight end. The six TD passes over those five games all went to running backs. It was almost as if the Pack was merely taking the Ferrari out of the garage only as far as the end of the driveway to pick up the mail.
Until Saturday, that is.
The Wolf Pack threw the ball against Idaho even when they didn’t have to throw it, like on a 4th-and-goal from the Idaho 2-yard line on the final play of the first half. Nobody would have blamed Ault if he merely kicked the easy 19 or 20-yard field goal to go into the locker room with a comfortable 24-3 lead. But Ault had Kaepernick toss a 2-yard TD instead for a 28-3 lead.
Have you ever seen a sports car blow past your Ford Escort on the highway, doing about 90 mph? That’s what the Pack looked like from Idaho’s perspective on that end-of-the-half touchdown. Idaho’s doors were clearly blown off and laying in the grass on the side of the road.
“We are being a little more aggressive this year,” Ault said.
We finally saw it on Saturday.
The best thing about those 22 completions, 391 yards and six touchdowns? Every single one of them went to a wide receiver or tight end. That’s the type of aggression this offense has lacked recently.
“Coach Ault said we were going to throw the ball more and it showed,” said wide receiver Rishard Matthews, who caught seven passes for 151 yards and two touchdowns. “We just executed the game plan.”
Just executed the game plan? Forgive Mathews for not sounding overly thrilled about what happened on Saturday. He knows the mini-van is still sitting there in the driveway with a full tank of gas.
“We were running the ball well,” said tight end Virgil Green, explaining why he went six full games before Saturday without catching a touchdown pass. “If it ain’t broke, why fix it?”
Ault, though, doesn’t really know what all the fuss is about concerning the passing game. He won’t even admit that there was a greater emphasis on airing it out at Idaho.
“That’s what they (Idaho) were giving us,” Ault said. “They were in a lot of man coverage.”
That’s just Ault-talk. He’s never going to give the reasoning behind his game plan.
“We always have a run-pass option on every play,” he said.
Ask Ault why a Pack wide receiver or tight end hasn’t caught a touchdown in five games and he turns into Ferris Buehler’s classmate explaining to her teacher why Ferris is absent from economics class.
“My best friend’s sister’s boyfriend’s brother’s girlfriend heard from this guy who knows this kid who’s going with the girl who saw Ferris pass out at 31 Flavors last night.”
Uh, OK. In other words, don’t read too much into what you think you saw at Idaho. Yes, the Pack threw the ball 34 times. But don’t forget they also ran it 57 times for 453 yards and three scores. The mini-van still gets great gas mileage. And you never know when we’ll get another sunny, cloudless day to feel safe enough to take that priceless Ferrari out of the garage.
But that’s what made Ault’s decision to take the Ferrari out of the garage so special on Saturday.
It was unexpected. And he didn’t have to do it.
The Pack could have beaten Idaho easily with the old reliable mini-van. And when Ault doesn’t have to rev up his fancy engine to beat an opponent, he normally doesn’t. Do we need to remind you of last November when the Pack threw the ball a grand total of 41 times for 289 yards and three touchdowns combined against three WAC foes?
It’s what we feared was happening again this year with the receivers and tight ends rapidly vanishing from the passing game. But Ault sensed his passing game needed a little pick-me-up. He knew this was the right time to restore a little confidence in his quarterback and his group of forgotten receivers.
The Pack, after all, is going to need its Ferrari to race past that Boise State sports car in a couple weeks. And nobody wants to see the passing game die on the vine before that game arrives, just like it did last November.
“Our offense is turning a little, as far as our passing game is concerned,” Ault said, giving a rare hint into his thought process and what we might see the rest of this season.
“We’ll always run it first, no question. But our passing game is getting better and better.”