Reflections on Wolf Pack upset
No doubt, beating Brigham Young 31-28 last Saturday afternoon was Chris Tormey’s biggest in his three seasons as head football coach at the University of Nevada. He still couldn’t help but smile when he heard the question from reporters afterward.
“I only have six, so yes this has to be the biggest one.” said Tormey, whose overall record at Nevada is now 6-19. “I think we’ll look back two or three years from now and we’ll look at this game and say to ourselves, ‘That was the day that we turned it around.’ That was the day our players started to believe and know that they could win.”
The win before an announced crowd of 23,109 at Mackay Stadium is the first over a ranked opponent — BYU was 2-0 and No. 24 in the ESPN/USA Today Poll coming into the game — for Nevada since moving to Division 1-A in 1992. It’s one of the biggest ever for the Wolf Pack, Athletic Director Chris Ault said when he came in to congratulate Tormey.
“Get it on. You’re right, baby, we’re coming on now. Mackay is alive and well,” said Ault, who had 163 coaching victories in 19 seasons at Nevada and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame last month.
“That was the theme all week long — bring Mackay back,” Tormey said. “We wanted to give our fans something to cheer about and our players took it to heart and played their hearts out.”
The Wolf Pack (1-1) accomplished one mission. Now comes the hard part of trying to play to that level for the rest of the season, starting with their Western Athletic Conference opener against Rice on Saturday. The game is scheduled to kick off at 1:05 p.m. at Mackay Stadium.
Don’t be misled by numbers, either. Rice (0-2) has had two weeks to prepare for its conference opener coming off losses to on Aug. 31 to Houston (24-10) and Sept. 7 to Michigan State (27-20), ranked No. 15 at that time. The Owls return junior quarterback Kyle Herm, a threat as a passer and running the option, and fullback Robbie Beck, who ran for 156 yards and three touchdowns against Nevada last year. And Jeff Vanover is an emerging force at inside linebacker after missing the entire 2001 season with a knee injury.
“We always look forward to getting into conference play every year,” Rice coach Ken Hatfield said at his Monday news conference. “The first non-conference games give you a chance to try to gain a little experience, and certainly we’re going to need it now, going to Nevada. In reading about them, I don’t think they’ve ever been on a bigger high than what they’re on right now, and deservedly so.”
One downside for the Wolf Pack is the loss of running back Chance Kretschmer for the rest of the season with a torn ACL. Kretschmer, the NCAA’s leading rusher as a freshman last season, sustained the knee injury on his first carry against BYU when he was hit on the sideline at the end of an 8-yard run.
Hatfield is still concerned about the Wolf Pack’s offense. He obviously remembers that Nevada gained 600 yards in total offense last year in Houston, a game Rice won in overtime, 33-30. He also took note of the performance Saturday by quarterback Zack Threadgill, who completed 28 of 37 passes for a career-high 410 yards, as well as Nate Burleson’s 12 receptions for 213 yards including a 95-yard TD).
“It doesn’t really change the way we’d play them,” Hatfield said of Kretschmer’s injury. “Lordy, he got hurt the first time he carried the ball (against BYU). They went on and played the same game plan they would have with him in there. I don’t think they’ll change. While he was a dominant person, they had a good balance between running and throwing. They were going to do that anyway. Threadgill just had a great game.”
The schedule doesn’t get any easier for the Wolf Pack, either. They will be at home again Sept. 28 to play Colorado State, then travel to UNLV on Oct. 5 and to Hawaii on Oct. 12. Buoyed by their win over BYU, the Wolf Pack has to believe they can play with any team coming up on the schedule.
“That’s what I just told the players in the locker room, ‘If we can beat this team, we can beat any team on our schedule, if we play hard for four quarters and believe,”‘ Tormey said. “Now they believe. This was a breakthrough win for us because now these players believe; they know they can win a tough game against a quality opponent. We’re not going to win all of our games, but we’ll be a tough team to beat.”
One win does not make a season. Only time will tell how the rest of this season turns out for Nevada, but the door certainly is open.
Dave Price is a sports writer for the Nevada Appeal