Wolf Pack set to face Aggies in home finale
Special to The R-C
Somebody has to win on Saturday at Mackay Stadium.
The Utah State Aggies and Nevada Wolf Pack know what the other has suffered through this college football season. Both teams bring 3-7 overall records into Saturday’s final regular season game at Mackay Stadium. Both teams picked up their lone Mountain West win this season against Fresno State and they’ve both lost six of their last seven games.
“We are similar teams right now,” Wolf Pack coach Brian Polian said. “I’m sure they are frustrated like we are.”
“(Nevada) is a team that is similar to us in a lot of ways,” Utah State coach Matt Wells said. “We are both searching for a win.”
That search will finally come to an end for one of these Mountain West teams. Utah State, 1-6 in conference play, has lost three games in a row and hasn’t won since beating Fresno State 38-20 on Oct. 22. The Wolf Pack, 1-5 in league play, have lost four in a row and haven’t won since beating Fresno State 27-22 on Oct. 8.
“We’re in a position where every game is a challenge,” Polian said. “This game is no different.”
The challenge this week, Polian said, is to make sure the 20 seniors on the Wolf Pack roster celebrate a victory in their final home game.
“This will be like the ultimate homecoming,” Wolf Pack senior offensive lineman Jeremy Macauley said. “Pretty much everybody I know is coming to the game.”
“To win the last game at Mackay will be awesome,” senior linebacker Alex Bertrando said.
Both teams are coming off difficult losses. The Wolf Pack were blown out by San Diego State 46-16 last Saturday at home while the Aggies lost 24-21 at home to New Mexico.
“The way that game ended was tough emotionally,” said Wells of the loss to New Mexico.
Utah State went for a fourth-and-goal from the 1 in the fourth quarter with the game tied and failed to get in the end zone. After New Mexico took the lead with a field goal, the Aggies were then called on their next drive for an offensive pass interference penalty on what appeared to be a game-winning touchdown pass.
“This team, though, as the days and weeks have gone by, is a team I’ve grown to respect more and more, seeing how they persevere,” Wells said. “They just keep fighting.”
The Wolf Pack, despite falling short of qualifying for a bowl game for just the second time in the last dozen years, are saying the exact same thing.
“There is no quit in us,” Macauley said. “Nobody on this team is going to go out there on Saturday and just lay down.”
The Wolf Pack also have revenge as a motivator on Saturday, coming off a stunning 31-27 loss at Utah State a year ago. The Pack led 27-7 in the third quarter before the Aggies scored the game’s final 24 points.
“Our focus is week to week,” Polian said. “That doesn’t change, whether things are going well or when they are going poorly. All we are focusing on now is Utah State.”
The Aggies are ninth in the Mountain West in points scored (24 a game) and yards gained (379.4). Their running game has struggled (just 155.3 yards a game), thanks to a season-long leg injury to running back Devante Mays. The Aggies have been led on the ground this year by Tonny Lindsey (548 yards) and quarterback Kent Myers (317 yards rushing). Myers is also third in the Mountain West with 2,164 passing yards.
“They do a lot offensively,” Polian said. “There will be a look or two on Saturday that they didn’t show on film.”
The Wolf Pack, Polian said, welcome the challenge of playing a team that seems to mix the run equally with the pass. The last three weeks the Pack have played three teams (San Diego State, New Mexico and Wyoming) that try to run the ball down an opponent’s throat. The Wolf Pack allowed 1,248 yards and 13 touchdowns combined in those last three games.
Mays, who is questionable to play on Saturday, had 133 yards and two touchdowns against the Wolf Pack last year. He had 208 yards and three touchdowns in the season opener this year against Weber State but injured his leg the next week against USC and has just 27 yards on 11 carries over the last eight games.
“Devante Mays is a really talented running back,” Wells said. “We’re a different offense with him. When healthy he is in the upper echelon of running backs in this league.”
One the upper echelon running backs in the Mountain West this season will definitely play on Saturday.
Wolf Pack running back James Butler is fourth in the Mountain West this season with 1,021 yards and will need just two yards against Utah State to become the ninth player (seventh running back) to reach 3,000 for his career. Butler had 139 yards and two touchdowns against Utah State last year.
“He’s got strong legs and he runs with good balance,” Wells said of Butler. “He’s been a very productive back and he’s a very durable kid, too.”
The Wolf Pack-Aggies rivalry began in 1904 (a 24-5 Wolf Pack win in Reno) and has been dominated by the Wolf Pack (17-6). Utah State, though, has won the last two games (2011, 2015), both in Logan, Utah. The Wolf Pack, however, won the last game at Mackay Stadium, 56-42 (after leading 49-14) in 2010. The teams combined for 1,086 yards of offense in that game.
“This is not the season we envisioned,” Polian said. “But we now have an opportunity to do right by the seniors. I told the team to savor every minute of it, to savor getting your ankles taped, to savor being in meetings. Don’t waste a single opportunity because when it’s gone, unfortunately, it’s gone forever.”