Nevada Wolf Pack coach Brian Polian needs to come up with a new halftime speech. The Wolf Pack has been outscored 106-33 in the third quarter this season, leaving its rookie head coach scratching his head.
“If I had the answer to this riddle, it wouldn’t be a riddle at this point,” Polian said.
The Wolf Pack has fallen apart offensively and defensively in the third quarter in all four of its losses this season. The Pack was outscored 20-0 in the third quarter at UCLA in a 58-20 loss. Florida State outscored the Wolf Pack 31-0 in the third quarter in a 62-7 Seminoles’ win. San Diego State, which beat the Pack 51-44 in overtime, won the third quarter 21-6. And last week the Wolf Pack was up 17-7 at halftime at Boise State before getting outscored 20-0 in the third quarter in an eventual 34-17 loss.
“We need to put two good halves together,” defensive tackle Jordan Hanson said. “At the end of the day that falls on us as players.”
Quarterback Cody Fajardo said the Wolf Pack isn’t reacting well to the adjustments opponents are making at halftime.
“They made better adjustments than we did,” Fajardo said of Boise State. “Things are working well for us in the first half and not working as well in the second half and we didn’t fix it. We kind of get a little content.”
Polian has tried various methods to fixing the Pack’s third-quarter problems.
“On Thursday (last week) I took them off the field halfway through the practice, got them in the locker room and sat them down and said, ‘OK, this is halftime. Now we got to go back out there,’” Polian said. “At halftime (against Boise State) I tried to calm everybody down because bouncing off the wall at halftime isn’t going to help us win the game.”
Polian is beginning to worry that the Pack’s third-quarter struggles run deeper than merely its focus and mental state at halftime.
“Are we physically strong enough to sustain, are we mentally strong enough to sustain?” Polian said. “I don’t know.”
THE DEFENSE RESTS: It might be time to take the letter “d” out of Nevada. The Wolf Pack and Rebels will feature two of the worst defenses in the nation on Saturday.
The Wolf Pack is 113th in the nation (out of 123 Football Bowl Subdivision teams) in points allowed per game at 37.6. The Pack is also 122nd in rushing yards allowed per game (287.1) and119th in total yards allowed per game (498.1).
UNLV isn’t much better on defense. The Rebels are 108th in points allowed per game (36.3), 105th in total defense (455.7 yards allowed per game) and 119th in rushing yards allowed per game (251.4).
“Obviously we have not played well on defense,” Polian admitted, “and we need to improve.”
BATTLE OF LOSING COACHES: This is the first time in the 44-year Wolf Pack-Rebels rivalry that both head coaches have entered the game with losing career records. Polian is now 3-4 as the Pack’s head coach and UNLV’s Bobby Hauck is 10-35.
Polian is just the third Pack coach to go up against UNLV with a losing career record. Chris Tormey, who was 0-4 against UNLV from 2000-03, never had a winning record as the Pack head coach. Jerry Scattini was 4-5 the first time he faced UNLV in the rivalry’s first game in 1969. Both Tormey and Scattini, though, faced UNLV coaches with winning career records. Tormey always went up against UNLV’s John Robinson, who had a winning career record thanks to his years at USC. Scattini faced Bill Ireland, who was 14-4 going into the 1969 game.
COACHING BUDDIES: Polian said he can’t work up a hatred for Hauck.
“I know (fans) expect you to hate the other guy,” smiled Polian. “But I can’t help it. I really like Bobby. Bobby is one of the guys I talked to a lot this summer when I came here. I think a lot of him.”
Polian and Hauck became friends through longtime assistant coach Randy Hart. Hart coached with Hauck at Washington from 1999-2002 and with Polian at Notre Dame in 2009 and at Stanford in 2010-11.
“Make no mistake, I still want to beat him,” said Polian of Hauck. “But I like the guy. And I want Bobby to win except when he plays us.”
The Wolf Pack players are OK with their head coach’s friendship with the coach of their biggest rival.
“As long as they are not calling each other and talking to each other this week, it’s all good,” Hanson said.
FAJARDO PLAYING EFFICIENTLY: Fajardo has yet to throw an interception this year over 187 pass attempts.
The 187 passes in a row is a Mountain West Conference record, surpassing the 183 in a row by Wyoming’s Brett Smith earlier this year. Fajardo’s last interception was on his final pass of the 2012 season in the New Mexico Bowl against Arizona. The 187 interception-free passes is also a Wolf Pack record, according to the Nevada media services department.
“It’s great,” said Polian of Fajardo’s record. “You always have to protect the football. There’s a little luck there. The kid at San Diego State had (a Fajardo pass) in his bread basket and dropped it. But that’s OK. Cody has done an excellent job of evolving with this offense.”
Fajardo has been intercepted 15 times in his career over 772 passes.
LAVULO COULD RETURN: Polian said that guard Fred Lavulo might return to the field this week against UNLV. The 6-foot-2, 305-pound senior started the first six games of the season at right guard and then was forced to sit out the Boise State game last week because he was suspended for disciplinary reasons.
Lavulo has also been dealing with “back issues,” according to Polian.
“This week it’s a combination of whether or not he gets out of the doghouse and whether or not he heals enough to play,” Polian said. “We won’t know the answer to that until later in the week.”
Connor Talbott replaced Lavulo at right guard last week at Boise State.
WIMBERLY STILL STREAKING: Wolf Pack wide receiver Brandon Wimberly has now caught at least one pass in all 47 of his career games. It is the longest current streak in the nation.
The Mountain West record is also 47 games in a row with at least one catch. Wimberly, though, does not qualify for the Mountain West record because the first 20 games of Wimberly’s streak took place while the Wolf Pack was a member of the Western Athletic Conference.
“I’m upset the conference won’t recognize Wimberly’s record,” Polian said.
Wimberly, though, does have a slim chance at an even more prestigious record. He is seven games short of the NCAA record of 54, set by Central Michigan’s Bryan Anderson (2006-09). The wide receiver, though, would need the Wolf Pack to go to the Mountain West championship game and a bowl game in order to equal the record.
Wimberly, who has 57 catches for 533 yards and five touchdowns this season, has 221 catches for 2,593 yards and 15 touchdowns in his career. Trevor Insley (1996-99) owns the Wolf Pack school career records of 298 catches, 5,005 receiving yards and 35 receiving touchdowns.