Wolf Pack face ‘must win’ situation at Fresno | RecordCourier.com

Wolf Pack face ‘must win’ situation at Fresno

Joe Santoro

We will find out this week whether or not "Nevada Grit" is simply a cheesy catch phrase to slap on a poster, sweatshirt or hat or if it has true meaning.

The Nevada Wolf Pack football team needs to win a game. Right now. This Saturday. At Fresno State. No more excuses. No more clichés. So far we've only seen Nevada Grit as merely 10 letters attached to a hashtag on Twitter. The time has come to see it take shape in and around the hash marks on the football field.

"We need some success," said Wolf Pack coach Jay Norvell, the patent owner of Nevada Grit. "We need to get back on track."

Forget about getting back on track. The Pack haven't really been on track since beating Boston College in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl to end the 2010 season. The Wolf Pack, now 0-4 for just the eighth time in program history, have yet to even climb aboard the train this year. The word that describes the Pack right now simply cannot in good taste be put on a poster, hat or sweatshirt.

This team, it seems, is merely trying to win games and build a program on Twitter with meaningless words and clichés. The Pack have certainly not been showing up on Saturdays with anything resembling grit. The last two losses — to Division I-AA Idaho State (30-28) and to Washington State (45-7) — have continued a disturbing downward spiral that began at halftime of the season opener at Northwestern.

"We didn't respond to the physical challenge," said Norvell of the Wolf Pack bloodletting that was the Washington State game.

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The Wolf Pack simply did not show up in Pullman, Wash., Saturday. The game was over on the scoreboard before halftime. In reality the game was over sometime last week. The starting quarterback was on the bench by the second quarter. The Air Raid offense continued to be Air Afraid. The defense, well, 45-7 pretty much says it all. The 38-point loss is the Pack's biggest since a 62-7 beat down at Florida State three games into the 2013 season.

The loss to the Cougars took place after the Pack were embarrassed the week before by Idaho State. Then again, maybe the Pack wasn't embarrassed by Idaho State at all. The loss to the Bengals, it turns out, didn't make the Pack mad or motivated. It merely made them meek, mild and melancholy.

"We didn't play well," said Norvell of the crushing at the hands of the Cougars. "We kind of got manhandled."

The Wolf Pack were outgained by the Cougars 560-151. That's Air Raid 560, Air Afraid 151. It was the first time the Pack have been outgained by 400 or more yards in a game since Florida State (617-214) in 2013. The last time the Pack had fewer than 151 total yards was their 141-yard effort against Boise State in 2006. The Wolf Pack (against Washington State) did not have a quarterback throw for at least 100 yards or a running back rush for at least 50 yards. The last time we saw that was in a 30-10 loss to Boise State in 2011.

"I'm just disappointed," Norvell said.

Welcome to the Pack's newest Twitter phrase. #wolfpackdisappointment.

The time for disappointment, though, is over. Norvell is disappointed. Pack fans are disappointed. We're all disappointed. After four years of Brian "Keep Chopping" Polian, the Pack switched to "Nevada Grit" Norvell and, well, all that has changed is the Twitter hashtag. The disappointment remains.

The season is now, officially, hanging by a silver and blue thread.

"It's important that we win," Norvell said.

Look up the phrase "must-win game" in the dictionary and you will see Nevada at Fresno State on Saturday. The hungry like the Wolf Pack, you see, is desperate for a victory. The four-game non-conference season was almost a complete disaster. We say "almost" because the first half against Northwestern in the season opener was actually pretty inspiring. The Pack played solid defense, the offense had some big plays and the boys in blue stood up to a Power five school and even delivered a punch or two. That was what we were told Nevada Grit was all about. It was refreshing to watch after four years of a catch phrase that began with Nevada and was followed by a couple other words that rhyme with grit.

That first half against Northwestern now seems like it took place in the days of leather helmets, natural grass fields and games that all ended before the sunset. We are heading into Week 5 of the season and the Pack is still searching for a victory, a starting quarterback, some renewed confidence and something to smile about.

"I knew it was going to be tough," said Norvell of the non-conference schedule. "The matchups for us against some of these experienced teams was not great."

Grit is not supposed to be bothered by matchups that are "not great." Grit is supposed to chew up "not great" and spit it out. But all the Pack did this month was curl up in the fetal position. The Wolf Pack have lost 11 of their last 15 games and 13 of 19. This is a program that is just 24-36 over its last 60 games. That is a lot of mediocrity for a program that won 41 of its first 58 games in Division I-A from 1992-96. This is a program that now loses to bad Division I-AA teams at home and has turned into a homecoming opponent for Power Five schools. They've become UNLV right before our eyes.

That, unfortunately, is not great.

And it has to end. Right now. This Saturday. At Fresno State.

Fresno State, you see, is as desperate for a victory as the Wolf Pack. The Bulldogs have lost 24 of 29 games dating back to late in the 2014 season. Fresno State hasn't even beaten a Division I-A school since it beat Hawaii late in the 2015 season.

You don't lose to a Fresno State. You chew up a Fresno State and spit it out.

"We're excited to get into conference play," said Norvell of the always-forgiving eight-game Mountain West schedule. "In a way we're kind of wiping the slate clean."

Again, a cliché. But this time the cliché is true. The Pack have no choice but to forget the first four games. But beware. There are only so many opportunities to wipe a slate clean during the course of a football season. This might be the last chance. A loss to Fresno and, well, that Wolf Pack slate will be covered with chalk, bubblegum, spitballs and yesterday's tuna sandwich.

"The most important thing was to get through this preseason and not lose our football team," Norvell said. "I don't think we have."

We'll find out on Saturday.

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