Will Nevada ends its UH drought on the islands?
For the Nevada Appeal
Nobody has to remind Chris Ault of the struggles his Nevada Wolf Pack football has experienced at Hawaii.
“I wish I knew the reason,” the Wolf Pack head coach said. “I wish I could say we go swimming all day and then are too tired to play a football game. But that’s just not the case.”
The Wolf Pack will carry a seven-game losing streak in Honolulu against Hawaii with them when they face the Warriors at Aloha Stadium tonight at 7:30 p.m. That unlucky seven streak of futility ties the seven-game road losing streak at Boise State for the longest current road drought for the Pack against one opponent.
“I heard about it (the Pack’s trouble at Hawaii) when I was with Hawaii,” said Wolf Pack offensive coordinator Nick Rolovich, a Hawaii assistant coach the past four years, “but certainly not to the extent I’ve heard about it here.”
The Pack’s problems in paradise are always the main topic of conversation when a trip to Honolulu nears.
The Wolf Pack has gone 3-7 in Honolulu against Hawaii (they are 1-2 in Hawaii Bowls on Christmas Eve) with all three victories coming in their first three trips across the Pacific in 1920, 1946 and 1948. The Pack, though, has not beaten Hawaii on the road since the collection of islands became a state in 1959. Starting in 1968, the Pack has lost seven in a row at Hawaii and has been outscored by an average of 39-23.
The streak started in 1968 at the 24,000-seat Honolulu Stadium and moved to the now 50,000-seat Aloha Stadium in 1975. And both schools have changed their names since 1968 with the Wolf Pack going from Nevada-Reno to Nevada and Hawaii changing from Rainbows to Rainbow Warriors to Warriors. But while the names have changed, the result when the two schools meet on the island of Oahu has stayed the same.
“We’ve had our chances,” Ault said. “We just haven’t been able to make plays when we need them in the fourth quarter for some reason.”
One reason for the Pack’s struggles is that the Pack is usually trying to rally from behind. During the entire seven-game losing streak at Hawaii, the Wolf Pack has enjoyed a lead for just a total of six minutes and 27 seconds out of the 420 minutes its played in Honolulu.
They led 10-3 for just 1:01 in an eventual 37-17 loss on Nov. 11, 2000 and led 7-3 for a full 5:26 in a 41-34 loss on Oct. 7, 2006. A 22-yard David Neill-to-Mo Jones pass gave the Pack its 10-3 lead in 2000 and a 19-yard pass from Jeff Rowe to Jack Darlington gave Nevada it 7-3 lead in 2006.
None of the other Pack quarterbacks in the losing streak — Mike Oreno (1968), Zack Threagdill (2002), Travis Moore (2004) and Colin Kaepernick (2008, 2010) ever had a lead.
“They always have a tough football team and it’s hard for anyone to go in there and beat them,” said Rolovich, who served as Hawaii’s starting quarterback for the final nine games of 2001 and went 8-1. “That’s just their culture. They have a lot of respect for the game, they are humble and they are tough.”
Another reason why the Pack has struggled at Hawaii is an inability to hang onto the football, especially in recent years. The Pack has had 16 turnovers over its last five games against Hawaii in Honolulu, including four the last time they were there in 2010, a 27-21 loss that spoiled an otherwise perfect (13-1) Pack season.
Those turnovers usually led to big Hawaii leads. The Warriors exploded for 42 points in the first quarter in a 59-34 win in 2002, led 24-10 in 2004, 24-7 in 2006 and 17-0 in 2010.
“The Hawaii players are very prideful,” Rolovich said. “They always talk about protecting the island. That is very, very important to them. They don’t want another team coming in there and beating them.”
The Pack has lost to five different Hawaii quarterbacks during the streak: Larry Arnold (1968), Timmy Chang (2000, 2002, 2004), Colt Brennan (2006), Greg Alexander (2008) and Bryant Moniz (2010) and all of them enjoyed success against the silver and blue. Chang passed for 986 yards and seven touchdowns in his three home victories against Nevada.
Both Ault and Rolovich agree that Hawaii is a very unique place to try to win a football game.
“There is a lot of curiosity about the place when you go there,” Rolovich said. “The uniqueness of the place is hard to ignore. It’s just so different from any other place. All of that plays into their favor.”
“I don’t know if it’s tougher to play a game there than anywhere else but it is different, no question about it,” said Ault, who is 0-4 against Hawaii in Honolulu.
Ault’s Wolf Pack teams do have a history of breaking long losing streaks on the road against one opponent. Ault’s Pack ended two long road losing streaks in 1977, snapping a 10-game slide at Santa Clara and a nine-game streak at San Francisco State. And earlier this month they finally ended an 11-game losing streak (and 18-game winless streak) at California.
“There’s no question that trip (to Hawaii) gets long,” said Ault, who had his team leave for Honolulu two days before the game this week after going just a day before the game in recent years. “And they are tough to beat at home. But we’ve had our chances. For some reason, we just haven’t played well there. Things seem to happen to us there that don’t happen anywhere else.”
The most different thing about Saturday’s game is that it is the Mountain West Conference opener for both of the former Western Athletic Conference foes. Hawaii is 1-1 after a 49-10 loss at USC and a 54-2 win over Lamar. The Pack is 2-1 after a 31-24 win at California, a 32-31 loss to South Florida at home and last week’s 45-34 win over Northwestern State, also at Mackay Stadium. Both Northwestern State and Lamar play in the Football Championship Subdivision (Division I-AA) Southland Conference.
“Nevada has a terrific program,” Hawaii coach Norm Chow said this week. “If you want to measure a program, especially at our level, (Nevada) is something we’d like to emulate.”
The 66-year-old Chow, who has coached as an assistant for 40 years, is in his first season as head coach. Ault is in his ninth year of his third term (28 years overall) as Pack head coach. The two veteran coaches got to know each other before the 2010 season when Chow, then the offensive coordinator at UCLA, came to Reno for three days to learn the pistol offense from Ault.
“I’ve known him forever,” said Chow who coached quarterbacks Jim McMahon, Steve Young and Ty Detmer at BYU, Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart at USC and Philip Rivers at North Carolina State. “Nobody has more respect for Coach Chris Ault than I do.”
“The first time I met Norm was when he was at BYU and we were a Division I-AA team,” said Ault, recalling his trip to Provo, Utah in the late 1980s. “We went up there to watch them during spring ball and got a chance to watch Norm and his great offense up there. But I really got to know him when he came up here for three days. He’s a great coach, a great guy to talk football, a great football mind.”
Chow has changed the Hawaii run-and-shoot offense to suit his pro style offense. Duke transfer Sean Schroeder has passed for 358 yards and four touchdowns this year for the Warriors. Will Gregory (110 yards) and Joey Iosefa (92 yards) lead Hawaii in rushing and Schroeder’s favorite target is 5-foot-9 wide receiver Jeremiah Ostrowski (10 catches).
“We’re going to have to be ready for everything,” Ault said. “The only thing we know is he likes to throw the ball but they can do a little bit of everything.”