Sports Fodder: Pack needs offense and defense to show up
December 23, 2011
The 2011 Hawaii Bowl edition of sports fodder for a Friday morning . . .
Why can’t the Nevada Wolf Pack’s offense and defense ever show up and play well in the same bowl game? The Pack has played 11 bowl games in its history and the offense and defense have never played well in the same game. The offense played well in 1992 (against Bowling Green), 1995 (Toledo), 2005 (Central Florida) and 2008 (Maryland) while the defense played well in 1947 (North Texas), 1996 (Ball State), 2006 (Miami) and 2010 (Boston College). And in 1948 (Villanova), 2007 (New Mexico) and 2009 (SMU), it was a total disaster. It’s about time that extra month of coaching and practice paid off.
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This Pack football season, sorry to say, has a definite 2007 feel to it. The 2007 team was quarterbacked by a red-shirt freshman (Colin Kaepernick), lost all its big games (Nebraska, Northwestern, Fresno State, Boise State), beat a bad UNLV team, frittered away two more league games in November (Hawaii, San Jose State), won its Senior Day game at home to close the regular season against a bad team (Louisiana Tech) and then simply did not show up in the bowl game (a 23-0 loss at New Mexico State) to finish 6-7. This year the red-shirt QB is Cody Fajardo, the big-game losses were to Oregon, Texas Tech, Boise, UNLV was still bad. the two frittered-away WAC games were against Louisiana Tech and Utah State and the easy, meaningless win on Senior Day against a horrible team was against Idaho. Here’s hoping that trend comes to an end in the bowl game.
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What happens to the Pack’s celebrated pistol offense in bowl games? The pistol, since Chris Ault invented it before the 2005 season, has only played well in two of six bowl games. And those were in two games when nobody on either sideline was playing any defense. Are the pistol’s frustrations in the postseason due to the fact that opposing teams in bowl games finally have more than three or four practice days to work on trying to defend it? Have the Pack become too predictable in bowl games? It’s time the Pack dusts off a few pages of Chris Ault’s playbook and unleashes five or six trick plays. That’s how Boise State, after all, became a national story.
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The Wolf Pack has gone out of its way to tell everyone how great of a football team Southern Mississippi State is this season. And, it’s true, the Golden Eagles, who are 11-2 and won Conference USA, are a decent football team. But, like we told you a week ago, the Golden Eagles haven’t beaten anyone other than an overrated Houston team. And, like we told you a week ago, the Pack has a definite shot at an upset on Saturday. Southern Miss, with its gaudy 11-2 record, is just a six or seven-point favorite against a disappointing 7-5 Wolf Pack team that hasn’t beaten a team that finished with a winning record all season long. Southern Miss should be at least a 10-point favorite. The reason they aren’t is because there really is little difference between the Pack and Golden Eagles. We’re still picking the Pack in an upset, 34-31.
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The difference in this game is motivation and pride. This Wolf Pack team has something to prove. This team and coaching staff is mad at itself. They feel they let their teammates, their coaches, the community, the flag and their ancestors down by not winning the Western Athletic Conference. They want to show they are better than 7-5. They want to be the only WAC team that won a bowl game this year (Utah State and Louisiana Tech have already lost) before the WAC fades into oblivion. They are not just happy to be in Hawaii. The Pack isn’t looking at this game as a reward. They are looking at it as an opportunity and challenge. Southern Miss, on the other hand, has a head coach (Larry Fedora) who has probably spent more time shopping for houses in Chapel Hill, N.C., than he has preparing for the Wolf Pack after taking the North Carolina job a few weeks ago. The Golden Eagles have already won their big game over Houston. They already have a school-record 11 wins. They have nothing to prove in Hawaii. Hawaii, for them, is a vacation, a chance to stretch out in the sun and relax.
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Does the WAC even care about the Hawaii Bowl? Why would they? Oh, sure, they are getting ESPN’s money and some advertising on Christmas Eve but this game has very little to do with the WAC. The Pack and the Hawaii Bowl are both going to the Mountain West Conference immediately following this game. And you can bet the WAC isn’t going to spend much time in the off-season reminding everyone about a team and a bowl game they no longer are affiliated with. The game, though, is significant in one important way and you should watch it for historical reasons. It is the final game in the WAC’s rollercoaster history when it existed as a legitimate Division I Football Bowl Sub-division conference. Maybe ESPN is using the game as fodder for a future 30 for 30 documentary titled “Small Potatoes: Who killed the WAC?”
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Will anyone other than the good folks of Reno and Hattiesburg, Miss., even notice the Hawaii Bowl? The Honolulu media this week was more interested in getting everyone’s take on Honolulu native Norm Chow taking the Hawaii head coaching job than they were about the Hawaii Bowl. There will be 13 NFL games on Saturday, three of which that will be going on during the Pack-Golden Eagles game. Why would ESPN schedule a bowl game between two schools with limited fan bases against the mighty NFL? Isn’t that sort of like the Animal Planet channel putting The Puppy Bowl up against the Super Bowl?