Football: Wolf Pack travels to face BYU Saturday
It seems the Nevada Wolf Pack’s 52-31 victory over the California Golden Bears last Friday night has done more than just give the school its first 3-0 start to a season since 1991.
Much, much more.
“For the first time since I’ve been here, this team is truly a team,” said quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who joined the Wolf Pack as a red-shirt freshman in the fall of 2006. “This team has really jelled.”
The university’s “One Community, One Pack” marketing campaign has finally come to life.
“The offense supports the defense, the defense supports the offense,” said Kaepernick, who will lead the Wolf Pack into Provo, Utah on Saturday (3 p.m., 630-AM) to face the Brigham Young Cougars (1-2) at 63,000-seat LaVell Edwards Stadium.
“It’s not like before when everyone kind of stuck to their own thing. Last year, you had your defensive players and you had your offensive players. But this year everybody is pulling for each other.”
Just talking about the Pack’s new-found unity made Kaepernick smile this week.
“This year, you can just feel the energy coming from this team,” he said.
BYU, which has won 24 of its last 26 home games, will pose another big test for this Wolf Pack team.
“Going on the road is always a test, no matter who you play,” Kaepernick said. “That team is very disciplined, very strong and they don’t make mistakes.
We won’t be in a familiar environment for the first time this year.”
“It’s the same old BYU,” Pack coach Chris Ault said. “They are big, strong and disciplined.”
Winning a non-league game on the road hasn’t been easy for the Wolf Pack since it made the jump to Division I-A and the Football Bowl Subdivision in 1992. The Pack is just 10-30 on the road in non-conference games since the start of the 1992 season with half of those 10 victories coming in the state of Nevada against UNLV in Las Vegas.
Ault, though, did his best this week to downplay the challenge of heading out on the road for the first time this year.
“You need a different atmosphere once in a while,” Ault said. “It’s a challenge to go on the road. No question. We know we’ll have our hands full with those guys. If you want to compete on a championship level, you have to win on the road. But we can’t focus on that side of it.”
Winning on the road is just one challenge facing the Pack this week. They also have to guard against a letdown after the landmark victory over Cal as well as a BYU team that is in a must-win situation after losing two games (to Air Force and Florida State) in a row.
“Everybody is excited after last week,” Pack wide receiver Tray Session said. “But we know we have a tough game this week. Their record doesn’t speak to how good they really are. We know that.”
BYU had to make a change at quarterback this week after losing junior starter Riley Nelson with a shoulder injury suffered against Florida State. Jake Heaps, who split time in the Cougars’ first three games with Nelson, will become the first true freshman to start at quarterback for BYU since Drew Miller in 1997.
“It is a time where I have to step up,” said Heaps, who was rated the No. 1 high school quarterback prospect in the country last year out of Skyline High in Issaquah, Wash., according to Rivals.com and Scout.com. “But these guys are really rallying around me. I have to help this team in any way I can.”
Heaps is taking over a offense that has struggled this year, scoring just 10 points over its last seven quarters. The 6-foot-1 Heaps has completed 30-of-60 passes this year for 260 yards and one touchdown.
“”It’s not my team now,” Heaps said “It’s our team. We have 105 guys on this team. It’s not just about me.”
The Cougars have been led on offense by 5-9 J.J. Di Luigi, who leads the team with 265 rushing yards and 10 catches. BYU, normally one of the most explosive offensive teams in the nation, have averaged just 15.7 points and 302.7 total yards a game this year while allowing 28.7 points and 432.7 yards a game.
“We’re anxious to return home,” said BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall, who has never lost three in a row since getting the Cougars’ top job in 2005.
Mendenhall is confident Heaps is ready to take control of the Cougars’ offense.
“Jake got some valuable experience last week (against Florida State) and he looked confident and poised,” Mendenhall said. “He doesn’t have the maturity that Riley has but he has a great arm. And the experience he got last week will be very beneficial to him.”
Mendenhall has also been very impressed by what he’s seen of Kaepernick this year. The Pack quarterback is second in the nation in total offense (365.7 yards per game), seventh in passing efficiency (170.3) and leads the nation in points responsible for at 26.0 per game.
“He’s equal or better than any of the quarterbacks we’ve played,” said Mendenhall, whose Cougars have faced Washington’s Jake Locker, Florida State’s Christian Ponder and Air Force’s Tim Jefferson, a running quarterback who guides the nation’s top rushing team (399 yards a game).
“He’s (Kaepernick) had the most impact of any of the three we’ve seen so far.”
BYU has allowed 272 rushing yards a game. They allowed 409 yards on the ground to Air Force’s option attack in a 35-14 loss two weeks ago.
Mendenhall knows the Pack’s Pistol offense presents a unique set of challenges for his defense.
“It’s basically option football with the ability to throw it,” Mendenhall said. “That’s what makes it so tough to defend. When you play an Air Force, they use option football but they are not going to throw it on you. The Pistol is option football with the ability to throw it and he (Kaepernick) has the ability to do both.”
Mendenhall, like Ault, tried to downplay the challenges facing his team this week.
“The mental frame of mind of any team is fragile, whether you are losing or winning,” he said. “Now we’re at the bottom end of it. But we’re just focusing on the process, of getting better as a team, rather than the outcome.”
“It’s not about all that other stuff,” Ault said. “It’s about getting better at what we do. We still have a long way to go.”