Wolf Pack renews rivalry with Broncos
Special to The R-C
NEVADA WOLF PACK vs. BOISE STATE BRONCOS
WHEN: Saturday, 4 p.m. (local)
WHERE: Albertsons Stadium, Boise, Idaho
RADIO: 630-AM, 94.5-FM
SERIES: Boise State leads, 28-13
RECORDS: Nevada (1-7, 1-3); Boise State (6-2, 4-0)
A rivalry will be reborn this Saturday in Boise.
The Nevada Wolf Pack football team will renew its 46-year-old battle with the Boise State Broncos on Saturday when the two Mountain West foes meet on the blue turf of Albertsons Stadium. The Pack and Broncos have not played each other since 2014, the longest gap between games since the rivalry began in 1971.
“Growing up here, there’s always been animosity between the two teams,” said Wolf Pack offensive tackle Austin Corbett, a Reed High graduate. “It’s always a super competitive game. It is a rivalry game. It is huge. We don’t like those guys.”
The rivalry has also been extremely one-sided in recent decades. Boise State has won 14 of its last 15 games with Nevada dating back to 1999. The Broncos lead the series 28-13 and are 17-2 against the Wolf Pack in Boise.
Boise State head coach Bryan Harsin has been a part of 15 games against the Wolf Pack as a player (four), assistant coach (10) and head coach (a 51-46 Boise win in Reno in 2014) and is well aware of the rivalry.
“In my mind, Boise State-Nevada, that’s a big game,” Harsin said. “Nevada has always been a big game. It still is. That’s a game everybody looks forward to. That’s a game you want to play in.”
No team has played Boise State more times than Nevada (41 games, one more than Idaho). UC Davis (54 games), Fresno State (49) and UNLV (42) are the only schools that have played more games than Boise State against the Wolf Pack.
“There are guys in this room that have never played against Nevada,” Harsin said. “They know about Nevada because we talk about them. But they don’t know them like we know them, how we played them every year and the kinds of games we’ve been in.”
The Wolf Pack played Boise State every year from 1971 through 2014 except 1978, 1992, 1995 and 2000. The rivalry has continued through four conferences (Big Sky, Big West, Western Athletic Conference and Mountain West).
Saturday’s game, though, will be the first for Wolf Pack head coach Jay Norvell in his 32-season college coaching career.
“Coach Norvell realized right away that this game meant a lot to the community,” said Corbett, the only current Pack player who started against the Broncos in 2014. “Even in spring ball he was talking about it. Coach Norvell has done a great job of making all the new guys understand it is a rivalry. It’s more than a game.”
Boise State, 6-2 overall and 4-0 in the Mountain West, will bring a four-game winning streak into Saturday’s game. The Wolf Pack (1-7, 1-3) is hoping for its first signature win in the Norvell era and to build some momentum heading into next season.
“Winning this game would mean a lot for our team,” Wolf Pack linebacker Lucas Weber said. “It would show our community that Nevada football is still around, it’s still something big here.”
The Wolf Pack has just four games remaining this year, two on the road at Boise State on Saturday and San Diego State on Nov. 11 and two at home against Jose State on Nov. 11 and UNLV on Nov. 25.
“When you play a rivalry game you have to step up your game,” Norvell said. “You want to see if you have the type of team that rises to the challenge. It really is a measurement of yourself, to see how good you are.”
Boise State has beaten BYU (24-7), San Diego State (31-14), Wyoming (24-14) and Utah State (41-14) during its four-game winning streak. After playing Nevada, the Broncos will head to Colorado State for a game that will likely decide the Mountain Division championship. Harsin, though, said his Broncos are not thinking about Colorado State this week.
“If you start looking ahead, start thinking about other games, you will get beat,” Harsin said. “I hope our guys understand that.”
Boise State is expected to play two quarterbacks against the Wolf Pack. Brett Rypien, a 6-foot-2 junior, has passed for 1,102 yards and five touchdowns this season while Montell Cozart, a 6-2 senior transfer from Kansas, has passed for 649 yards and nine scores and has run for 275 yards and four touchdowns.
“It is unusual to see two quarterbacks play the bulk of snaps these two play,” said Norvell, who was an assistant coach at Oklahoma when Cozart made his college debut for Kansas in 2013 by running the ball three times for eight yards.
Cozart, the bigger running threat of the two, normally plays quarterback when the Broncos are inside the opponents’ 30-yard line. Cozart has also lined up at running back and wide receiver when Rypien is at quarterback.
“We have a lot of guys on this team that rotate in and out,” Harsin said. “Is it a two-quarterback system? It’s really just an offense, is what it is. We happen to have two quarterbacks that play in that offense.”
Wide receiver Cedric Wilson (45 catches, 748 yards, five touchdowns) and tight end Jake Roh (29 catches, 279 yards, six scores) are the favorite targets of Rypien and Cozart. Alexander Mattison, who has 613 yards and five touchdowns rushing, has emerged as the Broncos’ main threat at running back. Mattison has rushed for 447 yards during the Broncos four-game winning streak.
A lot of attention was placed on Rypien’s struggles (no touchdowns over the first four games) when the Broncos opened the year 2-2, losing to Virginia and Washington State. But Boise State has also struggled to find a consistent threat at running back after enjoying the production of Jeremy McNichols, Doug Martin, Jay Ajayi, D.J. Harper and Ian Johnson over the last decade.
“These guys are getting better,” Harsin said. “It’s an evolution every week of how we utilize our personnel. That includes the quarterbacks and that includes everybody.”
The Wolf Pack offense has been among the best in the Mountain West over its last four games. Quarterback Ty Gangi, who has passed for 1,674 yards and 16 touchdowns this season, has piled up 1,198 yards and 12 touchdowns in the last four games. Gangi, who did not play in the Wolf Pack’s third and fourth games this season, has passed for two or more touchdowns in all six of his games this year. He is the first Wolf Pack quarterback to pass for two or more touchdowns in six consecutive appearances since Zack Threadgill in 2002.
“Their quarterback has played real well,” Harsin said. “He’s a difference maker.”
The Wolf Pack is coming off a bye week and, Norvell said, expects running back Jaxson Kincaide and linebackers Gabe Sewell and Jaden Sawyer to return from injuries. All three missed the 44-42 loss to Air Force on Oct. 20.
This will be the sixth time that the Wolf Pack has played Boise State after a bye week. The previous five times all resulted in a Wolf Pack loss (1999, 2003, 2005, 2012 and 2013).
Beating Boise State, especially in Boise, is a tall task no matter when the game is played. Boise State has gone 105-7 at home, 192-37 overall and 121-15 in conference play (in the Western Athletic Conference and Mountain West) since 2000.
“This will be a big challenge for us,” Norvell said.
The Wolf Pack’s seven losses is the most it will bring into a game against Boise State in the rivalry’s history. This is also the most games under .500 (six) the Pack has ever been going into a Boise game. The previous high was four (1-5 in 2001).
“This will be my first game in Boise,” Corbett said. “It will be special to tell my kids someday that I got to play a game on the blue turf.”