by Joe Santoro

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November 18, 2011
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Football: Wolf Pack will play La. Tech for WAC first place

Forgive Chris Ault for trying to temper the excitement surrounding Cody Fajardo.

"He's getting better and better every week," the Nevada Wolf Pack head coach said of his red-shirt freshman quarterback.

Ault, it seems, is a bit wary of going overboard with his praise of his wet-behind-the-ears starting quarterback. Fajardo, after all, has just five starts under his Wolf Pack belt and, well, we'll let Ault explain.

"He still has a lot to learn," Ault said. "There are still a lot of situations he hasn't seen."

Fajardo will bring his lack of experience and 5-0 record as a starting quarterback into Mackay Stadium on Saturday afternoon (1:05 p.m., 630-AM) when the Wolf Pack takes on the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs with a piece of the Western Athletic Conference title on the line.

"He's doing a nice job," Ault said. "He's growing every time out there. But there's still a long way to go."

In other words, Colin Kaepernick's status as the greatest quarterback in Wolf Pack history is still safe.

For now.

Nobody, not even Ault, can deny that Fajardo has been as good as advertised. It was Ault, after all, who dubbed him "the leader of this recruiting class" in 2010 as well as "a special athlete and a great fit for the pistol offense. He's everything you want in this offense."

But that was the last time, it seems, that Ault has gone overboard in his praise for the 6-foot-2, 205-pound former Servite High (Anaheim, Calif.) quarterback.

"His teammates have done a great job of making him look good," Ault said this week.

That's just Ault reminding his young quarterback that he still has a lot to learn.

Fajardo, who has already won two Western Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Week awards, has gotten the message loud and clear.

"I feel I have to get better every week," Fajardo said.

He has done exactly that.

And more.

Fajardo, who took over for Tyler Lantrip as the starter in Week 5 against UNLV, has passed for 1,255 yards and five touchdowns and has rushed for 525 yards and 11 touchdowns this year. When he took over the offense, the Wolf Pack was 1-3 and beaten up, battered and bruised (mentally and physically) after four grueling road games. They are now 6-3, headed to a bowl game for the seventh consecutive season and in total control of the WAC.

So let the comparison games with Kaepernick begin. The difference between Fajardo and Kaepernick already seem to be as slim as the differences between Cody and Colin.

Kaepernick passed for 2,175 yards and 19 touchdowns and ran for 593 yards and six touchdowns his red-shirt freshman year. With four games remaining on the schedule (including a bowl game) Fajardo will likely approach and surpass most of those numbers.

A better comparison between Kaepernick and Fajardo right now, though, is a close look at each quarterback's first five career starts.

Fajardo is 5-0 after five starts and Kaepernick was 3-2. Fajardo is 94-of-132 (71%) for 1,182 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions while Kaepernick was 65-of-123 (53%) with two interceptions, 10 touchdowns and 987 yards. Fajardo has run the ball 71 times over his first five starts for 328 yards and eight touchdowns while Kaepernick kept it 61 times for 403 yards and five touchdowns.

Add it all up through their first five starts and Fajardo has been responsible for 1,510 yards and 12 touchdowns while Kaepernick had 1,390 yards and 15 touchdowns.

Nobody is saying right now that Fajardo will wipe Kaepernick's name out of the Pack (and NCAA) record book but nobody is also saying he won't.

"The more games I play, the better I'll get," Fajardo said. "I'm still a student of the game, still learning with each snap."

Ault, though he has been unwilling to add to the Fajardo phenomenon just yet, did admit that his young quarterback is already at a Kaepernick level in one area. The Pack head coach confirmed this week that Fajardo, as a red-shirt freshman, is already as accomplished a thrower as Kaepernick was as a senior.

"He's a natural throwing the ball," Ault said. "We had a lot of work to do with Colin to get him to that level throwing the ball."

The difference between a Kaepernick with four years experience, and a Fajardo with seven games experience, is apparent when the ball leaves their hand. Fajardo's .704 completion percentage right now is better than Kaepernick's best year (.649 in 2010). It is better, in fact, than any Wolf Pack starting quarterback since Ault took over the football program in 1976.

"Our passing offense is as good as it's been in a long time," Ault said this week. "We're pretty good throwing the ball."

Fajardo has made rapid improvement each week. He has gone from a wide-eyed kid that had to be removed from his first start a month ago because he was making Ault's hair fall out on the sidelines to a field general that might not leave the field with the game on the line until the end of the 2014 season.

After throwing four interceptions over his first 41 pass attempts, he now has not been intercepted over his last 101 attempts. That is very Kaepernick-like, indeed.

"That all comes with experience and experience builds confidence," Fajardo said. "But there's always room for improvement, no matter where you're at."

Fajardo, still just 19-years-old, is clearly in a good spot right now. Even Ault, who is always his quarterback's toughest critic, would agree.

"Cody has made great progress, much faster than we thought he would in this offense this soon," Ault said. "He's a very intelligent young man and he'll continue to grow."

Although Fajardo still lacks a ton of experience, his confidence is growing by the hour.

"I feel I'm not as conservative (with his decisions on the field) as I was," Fajardo said. "Coming in and playing with guys bigger, faster and stronger than you are, you're going to be a little conservative and always want to make the right play. But I'm growing in that area."

"You can see he's becoming more and more comfortable in our system," Ault said. "But, remember, he's not an experienced quarterback that has been down this road before and has seen all this stuff before.

"We're working overtime with him to make sure things happen. That's still a red-shirt freshman, don't forget."

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The Record Courier Updated Nov 18, 2011 06:01PM Published Nov 18, 2011 05:56PM Copyright 2011 The Record Courier. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.