Football: Wolf Pack set to face Eastern Washington
As far as Colin Kaepernick is concerned, there simply is no next year.
“This is a big year for me,” the Nevada Wolf Pack senior quarterback said this week.
“This is my last shot at everything, to win a (Western Athletic Conference) championship, to win a bowl game. This is it for all the seniors. We are going to do all we can to get those things.”
It all starts Thursday night (6:05 p.m., 630-AM) when the Wolf Pack opens its season at Mackay Stadium against the Eastern Washington Eagles.
It has been more than eight months since the Wolf Pack last played a game, losing 45-10 to SMU in the Hawaii Bowl last Christmas Eve to finish the season at 8-5.
“There is a lot of anticipation,” senior running back Vai Taua said. “This is what we’ve been working toward all summer.”
A year ago this week, the Wolf Pack was preparing to open its season on national television against arguably the most storied football school in the nation at Notre Dame (the Pack would lose 35-0).
This year the season opener is on a school night against a Football Championship Subdivision (the former Division I-AA) school of the Big Sky Conference and the game will not be televised.
“There might not be the same excitement in the community but there is for us,” Wolf Pack head coach Chris Ault said. “We’re excited to get this season started. It’s the opener. That’s always exciting.”
The Wolf Pack is just tired of practicing against itself after a month of grueling workouts in the Northern Nevada sun.
“Everybody on this team is ready to go out and play somebody other than ourselves,” Kaepernick said. “You can just tell that everyone is anxious to go back out there and play in front of our fans.”
The Wolf Pack, who hasn’t played at Mackay Stadium since last Nov. 14, will put a five-game winning streak at home on the line against Eastern Washington.
“You can tell that everyone is ready to go,” Pack senior defensive end Dontay Moch said. “Last year we started out 0-3. We don’t want that to happen again.”
At first glance, this game would appear to be nothing more than just another summer scrimmage for the Pack. The Eagles, 8-4 in the Big Sky a year ago, are just 7-18 against Football Bowl Subdivision (Division I-A) schools since 1993. The Pack, on the other hand, hasn’t lost to a Division I-AA team since losing to Weber State in 1992 (the Pack’s first year in I-A).
The Pack, though, says it will not overlook the Eagles.
“They are not going to come in here and lay down for us,” Ault said. “Eastern Washington is a heck of a football team.”
“It’s sort of the same thing if we played teams like Florida or Oklahoma,” Kaepernick said. “Nobody would expect us to beat those teams. I’m sure they (Eastern Washington) are going to come in here and throw everything at us.”
The Eagles are not without weapons.
They are led by former SMU quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell as well as running back Taiwan Jones (1,213 yards, 15 touchdowns last year). On defense, the Eagles feature linebacker J.C. Skerritt (170 tackles last year) and strong safety Matt Johnson (100 tackles).
Eastern Washington was fourth in Division I-AA in the nation in total offense last year at 462 yards a game and 113th in the nation in defense at 429 yards allowed per game.
“It really doesn’t matter what they run on offense or defense,” Ault said. “This game is all about us, how we execute.”
Mitchell should give a young Wolf Pack secondary a nice test. The junior quarterback started SMU’s first seven games last year before losing his starting job to Kyle Padron. Padron went on to throw for 460 yards and two touchdowns against the Pack in the Hawaii Bowl.
Mitchell, though, played in 21 games for SMU the past two years (starting 19) and threw for 4,590 yards, 36 touchdowns and 33 interceptions.
“He has the tools to be a great collegiate quarterback at any level,” Eastern Washington head coach Beau Baldwin (14-9 record in two seasons) said. “He can make every throw.”
Baldwin, though, knows his defense will be put to a difficult test.
“They (Nevada) run the ball as well as anybody in the country so they are extremely scary to us from a defensive standpoint,” Baldwin said, referring to a Pack team that led the nation in rushing a year ago at 345 yards a game.
The Wolf Pack is 7-1 against Eastern Washington. The two teams played each other every year from 1984-91 as members of the Big Sky. The Pack won the last meeting (1991) between the two schools, 51-14.
“It’s a fun time,” Ault said. “We now get a good chance to evaluate our players and see where we are. You can bet we’re not going to be overlooking anyone. We still have a long way to go.”