Football: Wolf Pack set to take on Spartans in Sunday night game
The Nevada Wolf Pack football team is on top of the Western Athletic Conference standings and will take a five-game winning streak into Sunday night’s (5:30 p.m., ESPN) game at San Jose State.
Then why isn’t this team turning cartwheels, singing a happy tune and making plans for a parade down Virginia Street?
“We know we didn’t play our best offensively last week,” said quarterback Colin Kaepernick of the Pack’s 31-21 victory over the Hawaii Warriors at Mackay Stadium.
“We haven’t played a complete game yet,” coach Chris Ault said.
The theme of the 2009 Wolf Pack season is clearly the pursuit of perfection.
“A WAC championship is definitely our main goal,” Kaepernick said.
The Wolf Pack, 5-3 overall and 4-0 in the WAC, knows that the toughest part of its WAC schedule is still ahead. The Pack can clinch its first outright WAC title (they tied for first with Boise in 2005) and first unbeaten conference season since 1995 (Big West) by winning its last four games at San Jose, New Mexico State (Nov. 21) and Boise State (Nov. 27) and at home against Fresno State (Nov. 14).
“We control our own destiny,” Ault said. “And that’s what you want. But, again, you have to take advantage of it. You have to come ready to play every weekend or else you are going to get beat.”
That’s why the Pack isn’t going to celebrate after a solid but not spectacular victory over Hawaii. And, make no mistake, the Pack knows the difference between solid and spectacular. Spectacular, after all, is what they experienced two weeks before in destroying Idaho, 70-45, with 10 touchdowns and 662 yards of offense.
“You can’t expect to do that every week,” Ault said.
That realization, however, won’t stop him from trying. The Pack played well offensively against Hawaii, scoring four touchdowns and gaining 496 yards, but when you flirt with spectacular, well, your standards are raised forever.
“The numbers were OK but we don’t go by the numbers,” said Kaepernick, who has rushed for 344 yards and six touchdowns and passed for 362 yards and four more scores in his last two games combined. “We go by how we’re executing.”
The Wolf Pack scored just one touchdown in the second half against Hawaii after scoring six in the second half against Idaho the previous week.
“We were just in a funk,” Kaepernick said. “We were still productive when we had to be but we just couldn’t get in the same rhythm we were in the week before.”
San Jose State coach Dick Tomey would love to have the Pack’s concerns.
Tomey’s Spartans have lost three in a row and find themselves at 1-6 overall and 0-3 in the WAC. The Spartans, which have lost six of their last seven games against the Wolf Pack, are among the worst teams in the nation in scoring offense (15 points a game), rushing offense (80 yards a game), total offense (277 yards a game), scoring defense (35 points a game), rushing defense (243 yards a game) and total defense (453 yards a game).
Tomey was asked about his team’s mental state this week.
“You can’t make a player feel better by giving them a pill or saying something,” the veteran (29 seasons at three schools, Hawaii, Arizona and San Jose State) head coach said. “You have to fight through disappointments. That’s part of being a football player.”
Tomey, who is 1-3 against the Wolf Pack since taking over the Spartans’ program in 2005, is impressed with the Wolf Pack.
“Nevada has done what we would have liked to do,” Tomey said. “They lost three games against quality opponents and have fought back to win their last five. Their offense is a genuine nightmare to play against. And their defense played their best game of the season last week.”
The Wolf Pack has three players (Kaepernick, Vai Taua and Luke Lippincott) who have each rushed for more yards than the entire San Jose State team. San Jose has gained just 558 yards on the ground in its seven games while Kaepernick has rushed for 805, Taua has gained 736 and Lippincott is at 605. The Pack gained more yards on the ground (559) in one game (against UNLV) than the Spartans have gained all season.
San Jose, whose offense seems based on quarterback Jordan La Secla (1,136 yards, 8 TDs) getting the ball to wide receiver Kevin Jurovich (43 catches), has rushed for less than 100 yards as a team in five of its seven games. It must be noted, however, that much of the Spartans’ struggles on the ground came in its first three games (55 total yards on 81 carries) against tough opponents (USC, Utah and Stanford).
Ault, though, doesn’t want his team to look at statistics this week.
“San Jose, traditionally, has some of the best athletes in the conference,” Ault said. “They always give us a tough game. They are going to want to keep our offense off the field and we can’t let that happen.”
“If we focus on executing on offense we should be OK,” Kaepernick said.