Struggling Nevada Wolf Pack faces struggling San Jose State
Special to the Appeal
SAN JOSE STATE SPARTANS vs. NEVADA WOLF PACK
WHEN: Saturday, 1 p.m.
WHERE: Mackay Stadium
RADIO: 630-AM, 94.5-FM
TEAM RECORDS: San Jose State (1-9, 0-5); Nevada (1-8, 1-4)
SERIES: Nevada leads 19-9-2
The Nevada Wolf Pack and San Jose State Spartans will get a legitimate chance Saturday at Mackay Stadium to do something neither football program has done in quite some time.
Win a game.
The Spartans, 1-9 overall and 0-5 in the Mountain West, will bring an eight-game losing streak to Reno this weekend. The Wolf Pack (1-8, 1-4) has lost three games in a row.
“They’ve been struggling to find themselves, just like we have,” Wolf Pack coach Jay Norvell said. “They’re anxious to do the same thing we’re trying to do. They are anxious to finish the season strong.”
The Spartans and Wolf Pack are two of just 11 FBS teams remaining in the nation with fewer than two victories. Today’s game will be just the third time in the Wolf Pack’s football history it has had fewer than two victories after nine games and also played a team with less than two wins. The 2000 Pack was 1-8 and lost to a 1-7 Hawaii team, 37-17. The 1964 Wolf Pack was 0-9 when it beat 0-8 Chico State, 38-8.
“Nevada’s has had its ups and downs and has had tough battles like we have,” said San Jose State coach Brian Brennan, who, like Norvell, is in his first season as head coach. “But when you watch Nevada play, they play well.”
Brennan was asked this week if he considers the Nevada game as the best opportunity his struggling team has of getting another victory this season. San Jose State will finish its season by playing at Colorado State (Nov. 18) and hosting Wyoming (Nov. 25).
“This is the most important game of the year because it is the only game we get to play this week,” Brennan said.
Both teams are also coming off embarrassing losses. The Wolf Pack was beaten 41-14 last Saturday at Boise State while the Spartans were whipped 52-7 at home by San Diego State. The Spartans’ lone victory this year was over Cal Poly, a FCS school, 34-13 in the second game of the season. Its last victory over a FBS opponent was in the final game of last season, 16-14 on Nov. 26, 2016 over a one-win Fresno State team.
“I really want us to finish the right way,” Brennan said. “When you are struggling, it’s easy for everybody to want people to feel sorry for themselves but we haven’t allowed that to happen. Things are rough now but if our young guys keep improving we can get some momentum going into the off-season. Our players and coaches keep pushing each other because they know we are on a path to improvement even though we aren’t getting the results we want right now.”
San Jose State, like the Wolf Pack earlier in the season, has struggled to find a starting quarterback this year. Sophomore Josh Love (928 yards, five touchdowns) and freshman Montel Aaron (1,041 yards, eight touchdowns) have each started five games with limited success. Aaron, who has started the last three games (losses to Hawaii, BYU and San Diego State), is expected to start on Saturday.
“The freshman quarterback for San Jose definitely gives us an advantage,” Wolf Pack freshman safety Nephi Sewell said.
Both teams’ defenses haven’t had a lot of success lately. San Jose State, which allows an average of 42.4 points a game, has allowed 40 or more points in six of its last eight games. The Pack, which allows 37.2 points a game, has allowed 40 or more points in five of its last six games.
“We just need to be more consistent on defense,” Pack cornerback Ahki Muhammad said.
“I just think we think too much out there at times,” Sewell said. “It hurts our confidence and we don’t play as a unit.”
The Wolf Pack will be without junior safety Asauni Rufus, who suffered a broken leg against Boise State, for the remainder of the season.
“It’s a big loss for us,” Norvell said. “His teammates looked up to him.”
“This game (against San Jose State) is for Deuce (Rufus wears No. 2),” Sewell said. “Asauni, to me, is a role model. I definitely look up to him.”
Norvell would like to see more toughness and aggressiveness on defense.
“We had some long talks with our defensive players the last couple of days,” Norvell said. “We have to get our stinger back and get back to the way we were playing earlier in the year and that’s more aggressive, more physical, more attacking.”
The Wolf Pack has allowed an average of 43 points and 559 yards a game in its last three games against Colorado State, Air Force and Boise State. San Jose State’s offense, though, doesn’t pose the same types of challenges as the Pack’s defense has seen in recent weeks. The Spartans are last in the 12-team Mountain West in scoring (15.8), time of possession (23:50) and in average gain per play (4.6 yards). San Jose State is also last in the conference with just 15 offensive touchdowns and is 11th in yards per game (317.4).
“We just have to get back to playing our style of football,” Norvell said.
The Spartans’ offense also has had a disturbing tendency to give the football away this season. San Jose State’s 34 turnovers this season are the most in FBS as are its 15 interceptions and 19 lost fumbles.
“The turnover margin, we’ve been awful in that regard,” Brennan said. “That’s the biggest piece that we have to show improvement. Our focus has to be on protecting the football.”
San Jose State is now 3-10 in Mountain West games over the past two seasons. One of those victories, though, was against the Wolf Pack, 14-10 last season on Oct. 15, 2016 at San Jose State. That Wolf Pack has lost 12 of its last 15 games, starting with that loss last year at San Jose State.
San Jose State, though, has lost its last seven games at Mackay Stadium by an average of 18.4 points. The Spartans’ last win in Reno was 49-30 on Oct. 21, 2000. Its only other victory in Reno in 15 games (the Pack is 11-2-2 against the Spartans in Reno) since the rivalry began on Nov. 30, 1899 came on Oct. 27, 1934 (10-0).
“Your character gets revealed when you have adversity,” said Norvell, whose Wolf Pack will finish its season by playing at San Diego State (Nov. 18) and hosting UNLV (Nov. 25). “A lot of our seniors probably will never play football after the next three weeks. It’s important for them to play well and finish strong.”