Wolf Pack could have won that game | RecordCourier.com

Wolf Pack could have won that game

Joe Santoro

Sports fodder for a Friday morning …

The Nevada Wolf Pack football team and coaching staff seems incredibly proud of its 31-20 loss at Northwestern last Saturday. You could argue that this is the Pack's best loss since the respectable losses at Oregon and Cal in 1996 under first-year head coach Jeff Tisdel. Jay Norvell, the current first-year Pack coach, does indeed have a lot to be encouraged about after the season-opening loss. The defense gave up a lot of yards and points but they seemed to be active and aggressive. The offense stumbled and misfired and left a lot of points on the field but you could see the potential for explosiveness. But a little perspective is in order here before all of this excitement gets out of hand. It was just Northwestern. It wasn't Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Nebraska, Maryland, Michigan State or even Penn State. The Pack should be competitive against Northwestern.

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The Wolf Pack, in fact, should have won the game. If the defense or offense had done anything positive in the fourth quarter the Pack would be 1-0 right now and we'd be talking about the greatest debut in the history of Wolf Pack head coaches. But the Wolf Pack coaching staff and players simply did not manage the game well in the fourth quarter. Questionable play calling, and almost no execution at all, on both offense and defense all but handed the game to Northwestern. We'll chalk it up to a new coaching staff getting to know itself and its new team. First-game jitters. This is why you don't schedule a Power 5 opponent in the first game of the season on the road. You start out with an easy home win against a Division I-AA team to get all of the jitters and glitches out of the way. That's the one thing Brian Polian did expertly. He knew how to schedule.

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The most disappointing aspect of the loss at Northwestern was the Wolf Pack's much-hyped Air Raid offense and new offensive coordinator Matt Mumme. Mumme had an inconsistent afternoon calling plays (see the Pack's drive with 5:21 to go) and quarterback Ty Gangi seemed, at times, to be overwhelmed by the moment, if not the pass route. We expect great improvement by both Mumme and whichever quarterback (it will be Gangi on Saturday against Toledo) is on the field. The running game with Jaxson Kincaide and Kelton Moore and the offensive line looked solid and the receivers, namely McLane Mannix, Brendan O'Leary-Orange and Wyatt Demps, look like they are all nightmares for opposing secondaries. The 20 points the Pack scored on Saturday might be their lowest output of the season.

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The key to this Pack offense, though, will be the quarterback's ability to put the ball in the end zone, either with his arm or feet. The running backs are only there as a change of pace and to keep the defenses honest. Don't forget that the Pack ran for 142 yards and gained 5.5 a carry and still only had the ball for 21 minutes the entire game and mustered just a field goal in the second half (the defense set it up). The Pack backs will be much more effective between the 20-yard-lines rather than in the red zone. It's called the Air Raid for a reason. And it needs a quarterback who can hit the target. Norvell is showing great patience with Gangi right now. It could pay off as Gangi settles in and Mumme starts making the right calls — throws that Gangi can handle would be nice — on a consistent basis. If it doesn't, well, there will be some more games that the Pack should have won.

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The Pack defense has never been praised so much after giving up 31 points and over 500 yards than it was on Saturday. Is that how little we expect out of the Pack defense? Well, yes. But the Pack defense deserved the praise, despite the numbers. The Wolf Pack held Northwestern to 3.1 yards on each of its 50 carries. That's a good start. But Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson passed for 352 yards. Thorson is one of the best quarterbacks the Pack will face this year. But the Pack play another very good quarterback this Saturday in Toledo's Logan Woodside. After that the Pack will face Washington State's Luke Falk, Boise State's Brett Rypien, Hawaii's Dru Brown, UNLV's Armani Rogers and Colorado State's Nick Stevens.

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Just be thankful you are not a UNLV football fan. The Rebels made NCAA and betting history last weekend when they lost to the awful Howard Bison, a Football Championship Subdivision school, at home, 43-40. The Rebels were a 45-point favorite. No team has ever lost a game in which it was favored by that many points. OK, yes, UNLV clearly has no right to ever be a 45-point favorite against anyone. So if you bet on UNLV to cover last Saturday you just need to go watch soccer or women's tennis. Your football fan card has been revoked. But Howard isn't even a good FCS team, going 3-19 over the last two seasons. You lose to Howard and your football coaching card should be revoked. Rebel coach Tony Sanchez is lucky nobody in Las Vegas actually cares about Rebel football.

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Sanchez went 7-17 his first two seasons as head coach and the Rebels, for some reason, gave him a $100,000 raise (to $600,000 a year) and a three-year extension last spring. You can do that, however, when you let the boosters pick the coach (see UNLV's Fertitta Football Complex). Sanchez will likely get another $100,000 raise for beating Idaho on Saturday and another $100,000 if the Rebels lose by less than 100 on Sept. 23 at Ohio State. It's good to have influential friends in Las Vegas.

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The Mountain West is still looking for a signature football win this year. The conference had three chances for national attention last week but Colorado State lost to Colorado, Utah State lost at Wisconsin and the Pack lost at Northwestern. This week San Jose State heads to Texas (ouch), Fresno State goes to Alabama (how badly do the Bulldogs need money?), Hawaii goes to UCLA, Boise State goes to Washington State and San Diego State heads to Arizona State. San Jose State and Fresno State should just stay home and ask Texas and Alabama to just mail the check. Hawaii could makes things interesting before losing at UCLA and we like San Diego State's chances to whip Arizona State. Boise State has a fighting chance to beat Washington State if quarterback Brett Rypien is up to the challenge. We also like the Wolf Pack (against Toledo), UNLV (Idaho), Utah State (Idaho State), Colorado State (Abilene Christian), Wyoming (Gardner-Webb) and New Mexico (New Mexico State) to win this week.

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