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Wolf Pack anxious to play Hawaii

JOE SANTORO
For the Nevada Appeal

RENO – Brett Roy and the Nevada Wolf Pack cannot wait to play the Hawaii Warriors.

“Absolutely,” the Wolf Pack defensive tackle said this week. “This game has been circled on our calendars all year.”

Hawaii, which comes to Mackay Stadium on Saturday night (7:15 p.m., ESPNU television, 630AM radio), ruined the Wolf Pack’s perfect season in 2010 in Honolulu by beating the Pack 27-21.

“Revenge is part of it and we want to beat this team but we’re more worried about winning the rest of our games and winning the (Western Athletic Conference) title,” Roy said.

The Wolf Pack, the WAC leader at 5-3 overall and 3-0 in conference play, hasn’t played a game since beating New Mexico State on Oct. 29 and has had two full weeks to focus on Hawaii. Hawaii (5-4, 3-2) was stunned, 35-31, by Utah State last week in Hawaii after blowing a 28-7 halftime lead.

“I watched that game and Hawaii was on point with everything they do on offense,” Roy said. “They are very explosive.”

The Warriors’ offense, particularly quarterback Bryant Moniz, has Wolf Pack coach Chris Ault concerned.

“They throw the ball extremely well,” Ault said. “They have the best throwing quarterback in the conference. And we’ve struggled against the pass all year so it will be a big challenge for us.”

The Pack, which will bring a four-game winning streak into Mackay Stadium on Saturday, has allowed 781 passing yards over its last two games combined against Fresno State and New Mexico State.

“They are going to throw the ball a lot and we are going to be challenged,” Wolf Pack cornerbacks coach James Ward said. “They throw the ball all over the field. They’ll stretch the field vertically and horizontally.”

Ward said the Wolf Pack cornerbacks “got back to the basics” in practice over the last two weeks.

“The last two games we’ve given up some big plays,” Ward said. “Seeing those balls getting completed over our heads, that’s not characteristic of our team and that’s not our expectations.”

Moniz has passed for a WAC-high 2,710 yards and 22 touchdowns. The 6-foot, 205-pound senior, though, will be without his top target in Royce Pollard. Pollard, who has 56 catches for 834 yards and seven touchdowns this year, will miss the game with a knee injury.

“We’ve given up way too many big plays this year on defense,” Ault said. “There is no excuse for that.”

Moniz has also added another dimension to his game, running for 299 yards and eight touchdowns.

“He scrambles real well,” Ault said. “Up until this year, we never saw him run. He’d just always throw it. So that’s another option they’ve added. He’s a very good athlete.”

“We use the run game when people give us the run game,” Hawaii coach Greg McMackin said.

The Warriors, though, still live and die with their passing game. They’ve thrown the ball 418 times this year for an average of 318 yards a game and they’ve run it 226 times for an average of 111 yards a game. Freshman Joey Iosefa leads the Warriors with 417 yards on the ground.

“We expect them to throw it 40-55 times,” Ault said.

The Warriors, though, will come to Mackay without all of their bullets. Pollard, among others, is out as are wide receivers Justin Clapp and Allen Sampson.

“We have to overcome the devastating injuries we’ve had,” McMackin said this week. “I’ve never made excuses and nobody cares about excuses but it can affect the course of a season.”

Hawaii was picked by the WAC media and coaches to win the conference this season, a fact that Ault has not been afraid to remind everyone about in recent weeks.

“I don’t go by those things,” said McMackin of the pre-season media and coaches’ polls. “The thing I do believe in is we’re 5-4 and we need two more wins to become bowl eligible. We can still have a great year.”

The Warriors are 2-3 on the road this year, losing to UNLV, San Jose State and Washington and beating Idaho and Louisiana Tech.

The Wolf Pack, which needs just one more victory to be eligible for a bowl (Hawaii needs seven victories because it plays one more game than the Pack), has gotten as healthy as they can be the past two weeks.

“We’ve been banged up all year,” Ault said. “So this was a good time for the bye week. We’re rested. We went through 12 weeks of football with fall camp and the first eight games. So this was good for everyone. You have to be healthy to play this game, no question about it.”

The Wolf Pack had a brief morning practice last Friday and then had Saturday off to watch college football.

“Getting a chance to watch some football is always good for the soul,” Roy said. “But all that did was make me more excited to go out and play.”