Nevada Wolf Pack’s confidence renewed heading to Colorado State
Special to the Sun
The Nevada Wolf Pack headed to Colorado State this week with a renewed sense of confidence and optimism.
“If all the phases of the game play together, the offense, the defense, the special teams, we should have no problem beating this team,” said Wolf Pack linebacker Travis Wilson of Nevada’s Mountain West matchup with Colorado State (4-2, 2-0) at Fort Collins, Colo.
The source of the Pack’s confidence this week was a 35-21 victory over the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors last Saturday at Mackay Stadium. It was the first time the Pack tasted victory since beating UNLV last November and the first career victory for new head coach Jay Norvell after five consecutive losses to start the season.
“To get the first win was a big boost for team morale,” Wilson said. “We were itching for that win. Getting it was just a good sigh of relief.”
“We’re super excited,” linebacker Austin Paulhus said. “It boosted our confidence as players.”
The Wolf Pack, though, is well aware that it will take more than confidence to beat the Rams in Fort Collins. The Wolf Pack has never won (0-7) at Fort Collins and has dropped 11-of-14 meetings overall against the Rams since the rivalry began in 1974. Colorado State destroyed Hawaii two weeks ago in Hawaii (51-21) and its only two losses have been to Colorado (17-3) of the Pac-12 and Alabama (41-23) of the SEC.
“This is going to be a big challenge for us,” Norvell said.
The Rams will also be hungry for a victory on Saturday. This will be Colorado State’s first Homecoming game (and first night game) in its new on-campus stadium after 49 years of playing at a stadium four miles off campus. The Rams will also have the motivation of revenge. The last time these two teams met the Pack won 28-23 in the Arizona Bowl in Tucson on Dec. 28, 2015.
“That 2-0 start (in Mountain West play) does not guarantee anything this week,” Rams coach Mike Bobo said.
The Wolf Pack, which hasn’t played Colorado State in a regular season conference game since a 31-24 loss to the Rams in Reno in 2014, has never won a game in the state of Colorado. The Pack is 0-11 overall in Colorado, going 0-7 at Fort Collins and 0-2 at both Colorado Springs (Air Force) and Greeley (Northern Colorado).
“I really consider them to be among the best teams in our conference,” Norvell said.
Colorado State, which went 7-6 overall in each of Bobo’s first two seasons (2015-16) as head coach, lead the Mountain West’s Mountain Division ahead of Boise State (1-0) and Wyoming (1-0). The Pack, 1-1 in Mountain West play, is tied for third in the West Division with UNLV behind San Diego State (2-0) and Fresno State (2-0).
“There’s not really a ceiling here of where we can go as a football program,” Bobo said.
The Rams, which lead the Mountain West in points scored (200), are led by 6-foot-3, 215-pound senior quarterback Nick Stevens. Stevens, who passed for 310 yards against the Wolf Pack in the 2015 Arizona Bowl, has thrown for 1,871 yards and 14 touchdowns this year. He’s passed for 247 or more yards in all six games this season. His favorite target is 6-1 senior wide receiver Michael Gallup (46 catches, 685 yards, two touchdowns).
“He’s a real accurate, strong kid,” Norvell said. “He’s a talented, talented guy, one of the best quarterbacks in our league.”
Stevens is sixth in the nation in passing yards. The Wolf Pack is 126th in the country (out of 129 FBS schools), allowing 316.5 passing yards a game. The Rams, though, can also run the ball well with Dalyn Dawkins (493 yards) and Izzy Matthews (374).
“It’s kind of pick your poison with these guys,” said Norvell, whose defense allowed Hawaii running back Diocemy Saint Juste to rush for 241 yards and quarterback Dru Brown to pass for 229 yards and two touchdowns last week. “They are capable of running the ball at a high level and capable of throwing it.”
“They run a different type of offense than we normally see,” Paulhus said. “It’s a Pro Style offense with tight ends and a fullback. They want to pound you so our first priority is to stop the run.”
“Once they pound you with the run they play action to the pass,” Wilson said. “If you get too sucked up to the run they will hurt you (through the air). He (Stevens) knows how to run that play action real well.”
The last time the Pack played in Fort Collins, running back Kapri Bibbs ran for 312 yards and four touchdowns in a 38-17 Rams win in 2013.
“You know they are going to try to run the ball and that gets your motor running as a defense,” Norvell said. “They (Colorado State) are similar to what we saw at Northwestern (a 31-20 loss in the season opener).”
The Wolf Pack defense played well against the run in its first four games, allowing just 519 yards on 179 carries (2.9 a carry). The last two games, though (a 41-21 loss at Fresno and a 35-21 win over Hawaii), the Pack has allowed 440 yards on 73 carries (6.0 a carry). The Wolf Pack offense, though, piled up a season-high 35 points and 566 yards against Hawaii. Quarterback Ty Gangi was 25-of-32 for 278 yards and four touchdowns and running back Kelton Moore ran for 216 yards, the 15th most rushing yards in a game in Wolf Pack history.
“He (Gangi) changed plays at the line of scrimmage and our receivers made adjustments,” Norvell said. “That was very encouraging, a great step for us.”
“An offense is a very delicate thing,” Pack center Sean Krepsz said. “It takes time to mesh. Last week all of it finally meshed and came together for us.”