Struggling Pack face Cowyboys Saturday | RecordCourier.com

Struggling Pack face Cowyboys Saturday

by Joe Santoro
Special to The R-C

Brian Polian reminded everyone this week that his players and coaches care about Nevada Wolf Pack football as much as anyone.

"I know our fans are frustrated," the Nevada coach said this week as the Wolf Pack prepared for their homecoming game Saturday night against the Wyoming Cowboys at Mackay Stadium. "I get a kick out of that. People all the time tell me how frustrated they are. I can assure you, you're not more frustrated than the players or the coaches. These guys are bleeding, sweating and working. Our coaches are working as hard as they possibly can. We care as much as we possibly can care."

But they are also not winning on a regular basis. The Wolf Pack, 3-4 overall and 1-2 in the Mountain West, need to beat the Cowboys (4-2, 2-0) to avoid their first 1-3 start in conference play since 2001.

"We're definitely not where we want to be right now," offensive lineman Austin Corbett said. "But we're staying together as best we can."

The Wolf Pack trail San Diego State (2-0 in Mountain West games), Hawaii (2-1) and UNLV (2-1) in the West Division and will need help from other teams to win a division title. But three wins in the final five regular season games will make the Pack bowl eligible for the 11th time in the last 12 years.

"We're all still level headed," tight end Jarred Gipson said. "We're all just staying upbeat and still have a lot of things ahead to accomplish."

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The Wolf Pack lost 14-10 at San Jose State last Saturday night for their third loss in four games.

"Our biggest opponent every week is ourselves," wide receiver Wyatt Demps said. "We just have to play better and we know we can play better."

Wyoming is coming off back-to-back Mountain West victories over Colorado State (38-17) and Air Force (35-26) and has already doubled its victory output of a year ago when it went 2-10. One of those victories a year ago, however, was 28-21 over the Wolf Pack in Laramie, Wyo.

"We went into Laramie last year and didn't play our best ball," Corbett said. "And they are much improved this year. So I'm sure they are thinking they are going to come in here and take it to us again."

The Cowboys are hoping for their first 3-0 start as a member of the conference (which started in 1999). Right now they trail just Boise State (3-0 in league play) in the Mountain Division.

"You are starting to see the fruits of what our vision was," Wyoming coach Craig Bohl said. "We said that there was great promise with this football team. They play with more confidence and with a sharper edge. But we need to see it through. Our players are pleased where they are but they also realize there's still a lot of work out there for us to do."

Wyoming's only win in three road games this season was at Colorado State. The Wolf Pack, on the other hand, is 3-0 at home this season and has won six consecutive games at Mackay Stadium.

"That (the win at Colorado State) was a big step for us but it's something different, just hopping on a bus and going to Fort Collins (Colorado) compared to hopping on a plane and going to Reno," Bohl said. "I've never been to Reno but a friend of mine told me their fans are rabid and crazy. This will be one of the toughest venues we will have to go to this year (the Cowboys lost at Nebraska 52-17 on Sept. 10)."

The Wolf Pack won the last meeting between these two teams at Mackay Stadium, 35-28 in 2012 as backup quarterback Devin Combs came off the bench for an injured Cody Fajardo to tie the game with 78 seconds left in regulation on a 44-yard touchdown pass to Richy Turner and win it in overtime with a 24-yard scoring strike to Aaron Bradley.

"This is going to be a big challenge for us," said Bohl, who has a 10-20 record in three seasons in Laramie.

The Cowboys are led on offense by quarterback Josh Allen, running back Brian Hill and wide receiver Tanner Gentry. Allen has passed for 1,204 yards and 10 touchdowns and rushed for 226 yards and three touchdowns. Hill, who had 1,631 yards last year, has 721 yards and eight touchdowns this year. Gentry has caught 34 passes for 503 yards and half (five) of Allen's TD passes. Hill ran for 188 yards and Gentry caught a 27-yard touchdown pass last year from quarterback Cameron Coffman against the Wolf Pack. Coffman was 18-of-20 for 213 yards and three touchdowns.

"That's a big dude," said Wolf Pack defensive end Jarid Joseph of the 6-foot-1, 220-pound Hill. "It's not often you run into a running back that big and that fast. He's a guy we have to stop before he gets started. We have to make sure he doesn't get his legs going because once his legs starting moving he doesn't stop."

"He (Hill) reminds me of (former Boise State and current Miami Dolphins running back) Jay Ajayi," Polian said. "He is an exceptional player, as good a back as we're going to see. He is going to run it downhill and he is going to try to wear you down during the course of a game."

The Wolf Pack rank 11th in the 12-team Mountain West against the rush this year, allowing 250.7 yards a game.

"We are going to be challenged immensely against Wyoming," said Polian.

Wyoming also has its problems on defense. The Cowboys allow 29.7 points a game and are last in the Mountain West against the pass, allowing 291.5 yards a game.

Wolf Pack running back James Butler has 822 yards and five touchdowns this year while quarterback Tyler Stewart has thrown for 1,114 yards and nine scores. Demps has caught 29 passes for 335 yards and six touchdowns and the Pack also hope to have wide receiver Hasaan Henderson, who has sat out the last two games with a concussion.

"James Butler is a dynamic back," said Bohl. "He's a guy who has good speed but is also a strong guy who can break tackles."

The Wolf Pack have just two home games remaining this season after Saturday, against San Diego State on Nov. 12 and Utah State on Nov. 19.

"Every week is a new season," Demps said. "Nobody is down on this football team. Everyone on this team loves football and loves being with each other."