Wednesday, October 27, 2010

PWtW Week 8 Preview

"Win as if you were used to it, lose as if you enjoyed it for a change."
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

The thought just occurred to me: why am I referring to this as a Week 8 preview when we're technically in the 9th week of the football season? Well, the best explanation I can give you, the reader, is LOOK OVER THERE!!!

Utah State Aggies

Before the season started, Utah State was thought to be the cellar-dwelling WAC team with the best chance of pulling itself up by its cleats and turning in a bowl-worthy season. And given how competitive Gary Andersen made them last year and the effort they turned in against Oklahoma in Week 1, that looked to be a logical prediction. Then came the game against "WACstabber" Fresno State (seriously, that's the most malicious name they could come up with for the two departing programs?) -- they lost. Then the San Diego State game -- they lost. That's when the injuries began to mount. Then a convincing win against an equally depleted BYU team...followed by two more losses. The competitive fire the Aggies showed in most of their games last year has been extinguished and replaced with the kind of lopsided final scores we're more used to seeing from them.

That lack of fire hasn't stemmed from lack of effort, though. With so few weapons to help him out on offense, quarterback Diondre Borel has regressed, going from hellishly good against Oklahoma to hellishly bad against Louisiana Tech and Hawai'i. Not surprisingly, the team has descended along with him all the way into the bottom halves of most of the major statistical categories. On a positive note, they've been very efficient inside the 20s, converting 89.5% of their scoring opportunities once there. But aside from that, there is literally nothing in the rest of their statistics on offense, defense or special teams that really separates them from either San Jose State or New Mexico State, the WAC's two worst teams and some of the all-around worst in the country. This was a team with some great potential for a program-changing season that has now gone spectacularly off the rails due to injuries.

Best-Case Scenario

Nevada plays with anger and renewed focus, further plunging Utah State into the world of pain they already find themselves waist deep in. The bye week of practice and rest, Mackay's friendly confines and reeling opposition all come together for the ideal "rebound" win. Nevada's offense, defense and special teams all accomplish what is expected of each of them, and the final score is indicative of the opposite directions the two teams are heading in.

Worst-Case Scenario

Rather than rise up, Nevada uses the Hawai'i loss as an excuse to completely fold. There's no noticeable urgency, no desire for atonement and no pride displayed for those in attendance. Fans will wonder if the team can reach true mid-season form and the visitors will be made to look much better than they are. Nevada still emerges with a win, but it is accompanied by apprehension and a general malaise that begins to virulently spread.

There's honestly not a whole lot more to be said. The outcome of this game ultimately depends upon what mindset Nevada carries into it. Even with the Hawai'i loss, the Pack has a lot more going for them than the Aggies do right now, but it remains to be seen whether their on-field play will reflect that. The only real chance Utah State has of keeping this game close will be to force the Pack to make the same mistakes that cost them their last game, and it doesn't appear they have enough going for them -- either on or off the field -- to make that happen.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

You see, the thing is...

"Whew! I just flew in from parts elsewhere and boy are my arms tired! OK, that was bad, but I swear I really was tied up with other stuff! I had this thing I had to do with some people I know. One thing led to another, things got weird and I had to stay longer than I thought. But I swear I was going to get around to it at some point! I wanted to! I really did, but you know how things are. I honestly forgot. You know what? It's not you -- it's me. Wait, why are you looking at me like that? I'm not bullshitting you, what're you talking about? Don't go! Please!"
~Pack Backer. Just now.

Alright, I know have some questions to answer, starting with where in the blue hell I've been the last week and a half. The truth is that I've been pretty much everywhere except at my computer typing away for you folks, but not because of super-ultra-extremely important other things -- it was my choice. I hid myself away after a disappointing loss, going "off the grid" and childishly avoiding anything that would even remind me of that horrible night. Even if it did have its benefits as far as political phone calls are concerned, my responsibility ultimately remains to this blog.

"You take this stuff WAY too seriously" I can hear some of you say. And you're absolutely right. Not just because if Nevada were worse off and had a harder time winning games, nothing would ever get done around here. Like many of us, I got caught up in the suddenly raised expectations the first six games brought to the community and the program -- the difference is that I let one game cloud my judgment to what's already been done this year. Hawai'i will finish above .500 and go to their bowl game, and while the teams Nevada has beaten thus far aren't giving their strength of schedule much help right now, those are the same teams Nevada would've found a way to lose to last year. 2010 is still looking like a pretty darn good year, one agonizingly frustrating loss aside.

Additionally, I have to remain at least a little detached for the sake of my work, because it isn't right to just disappear whenever the team loses. Those coaches and players don't pack it in and give up after a loss (at least, I hope they don't...), and if I'm to be the best blogger I can be, neither should I.

So yeah, I messed up, I suck, mea culpa and all of that. What does the rest of the season hold for This Space? Aside from your usual weekly previews, I'd like to do an in-depth series of entries on the Mountain West and what Nevada football can expect after the pending move. But what I'm really looking forward to at the more present time is my road trip to Moscow, Idaho for the game against the Vandals on November 6th. You can expect pictures, a full road trip report and maybe (that word being key) a little something else if you're a premium subscriber on

If you lost faith in any semblance of timeliness this blog had before last week, I can't blame you. If you're still unconvinced I'm here to stay, I understand, but urge you to keep coming back for what we have in store. If you think I'm just stalling for time when I could be working on my Utah State preview, quit being such a smart-ass.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

PWtW Week 7 Preview

"Vacations prove that a life of pleasure is overrated."
~Mason Cooley

The Wolf Pack's brief vacation from reality is now firmly in the past, and Yours Truly should probably assume some of the blame for it ("'Take these guys seriously?' We don't have to! Pistol Whipping the WAC said so!"). Now it's time for the bi-annual "working vacation" that is the Hawai'i Road Trip. No volleyball on the beach. No girls in bikinis. No cursed Tiki statues. And no fruity tropical drinks except for whatever (much harder) alcohol I'll be imbibing as I try to cope with what could be a close game the only way I know how.

Hawai'i Warriors

In the time since the 2010 season started, my outlook towards Nevada's game at Hawai'i has gone from "Oh snap! They look pretty good" after the USC game to "Well, maybe not" after the Colorado game back to "Oh snap! Now they look good again" after their win at Fresno State. In that same time, my elation at Nevada's national ranking has only dimmed slightly, going from "That wasn't pretty, but it was good enough" after BYU to "That wasn't pretty, but it was a rivalry game" after NSU to "That wasn't pretty...and it still wasn't pretty" on Saturday.

Looking back, I had probably worked myself into a Beatdown-like fervor and eliminated any possibility of a relatively average win. I expected the Pack to open a few of these on a lowly opponent and was disappointed when my expectations were only partially met. And 6-0 is still 6-0 no matter how many hairs you split or mistakes you obsess over. But as some have pointed out to me, I'd much rather the Pack's "you're not as awesome as you think" wake-up call be a home game they could still comfortably win than a road game they could realistically their next one.

Enter the Warriors. While not on the same level as their 2006 and 2007 teams, their offense is starting to look more like that of past Hawai'i teams -- ridiculous passing stats put up on late Saturday night telecasts from the islands against haplessly jet-lagged visitors. In the first two years of Greg McMackin's tenure, the Warrior offense was out of its element and in denial of its true nature trying to convince people they were a "traditional" offense. Like Dennis Miller on Monday Night Football, it just didn't work. So McMackin brought Mouse Davis -- the coach who did the most to popularize the Run and Shoot offense -- back to Hawai'i in the off-season to coach the Warrior receiving corps. Now their offense is back to its old self, and this blog's Cavalcade of Stupid Names continues anew.

Clancy. Jimmer. Bronco. Mouse. The Cavalcade of Stupid Names is a long and proud list...

But unlike the name Mouse -- as appropriate as it may be, considering Davis' height -- the Warriors' passing attack won't be the subject of anyone's ridicule this week. Bryant Moniz and his receivers hook up for a national-best 421.7 passing yards per game, the first and arguably toughest of the Murderer's Row of passing offenses the Nevada defense will face off and on over the next five weeks (Idaho is tied for 7th, Fresno State 34th and Boise State 13th in that same category). Through six games in 2010, Nevada's defense has managed to hold its opponents to 18.8 points per game, compared to 28.5 for all of 2009 and 32.3 in 2008, while its pass efficiency defense has thus far improved from 158.49 last year (third worst in the country) to 107.33 as of last week (good for 19th). But Nevada has partly benefited from playing two of the country's only true freshmen starting quarterbacks in Pete Thomas and Jake Heaps -- a disadvantage Hawai'i won't be hampered by.

So Hawai'i passes and they pass very well. But what else do they bring to the table? A few things of note, but not much else. Like many Run and Shoot offenses, they don't have much of a ground game to speak of -- just enough to get by. Their secondary isn't particularly special, but they do have nine interceptions on the year (eight in the last three games alone, with Jeramy Bryant accounting for four) and boast a turnover margin of +4. Their kick and punt return averages (19.32 and negative .5 yards, respectively) are both atrocious and none of their other defensive statistics particularly stand out as impressive.

Going back to the Warrior offense one more time, this is where things get really interesting (if by "interesting" you actually mean "terrifying"). Senior wide receivers Greg Salas and Kealoha Pilares are second and fourth, respectively, in the nation in receiving yards per game at 126.2 and 121. The next-best receiver Nevada has faced to date has been NSU's Phillip Payne all the way down at 77.8 yards per game. Furthermore, Hawai'i leads the nation in the number of passing plays completed for over 10 yards (93), 20 yards (34) AND 30 yards (18). For a defense which has been the textbook definition of "bend but don't break" so far, this is the equivalent of the high-stakes final exam after six warm-up games.

Best-Case Scenario

Nevada controls the pace of the game from the opening kick-off, converting most of its scoring opportunities while limiting those of the Warriors just enough to come out ahead. Colin, Vai and the Union (a great name for a band, by the way) are the heroes, pounding away at the Hawai'i defense with multiple sustained scoring drives. The defense surrenders relatively few big plays, definitively completing their restoration to adequacy under Coach Buh. All of the maddening mistakes of last week are firmly placed in the rear view mirror and don't pose enough of a threat to derail an otherwise victorious effort.

Worst-Case Scenario

Nevada continues its recent trend of playing down to its competition, and the result is a one-sided, exploitative loss. The team falls behind for the first time all year (possibly as early as the first Hawai'i drive) and can't quite get back on top the rest of the way. The defense is utterly helpless to stop Hawai'i's quick scoring strikes, and is forced to go back to the proverbial lab to contemplate what went wrong. Like the 2008 game at Hawai'i, all of the offense's success is rendered moot by a few heartbreaking and costly mistakes in execution. The Warriors beat the Wolf Pack score for score, and lessons are not learned until it's too late.

This is it, muchachos. Time to either nut up or shut up.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

An Impenetrable Wall

(We suspect big John Bender can dunk with the best of them)

Wolf Pack fans, we know you love obscure stats.  And we know you love your local 7862677579 union of football workers.

So how's this one for you:

There is only ONE starting QB in D1 college football who has played in all his games and has not been sacked.  That is our very own Colin Kaepernick.  And the men who have protected Kaep; Jeff Nady, John Bender, Jeff Meads, Chris Barker, and Jose Acuna (and before his injury, Steve Haley) are the boss ballers that make that sort of a statistic worth pimping on this wonderful blog we run.  TE's, we haven't forgotten about you.  But you get to catch a ball once in awhile so we're giving the big boys this one all alone.

Lets raise a glass to the men who make it happen.  They don't get a mural in the hall of fame.  They don't get hoisted on fans shoulders after a big win.  They don't even get asked about the weather.  But what they do get is the self satisfaction of knowing that they destroyed an opposing defense for 60 minutes every Saturday.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

PWtW Week 6 Preview

"Kids, you tried your best and you failed miserably. The lesson is 'Never try'".
~ Homer Simpson

Why is it that my favorite TV show of all time only now gets an introductory quote in This Space? Hell if I know, but I hope it isn't the last chance I get to do so. Here's your special Homecoming edition of the Pee-Dub-Tee-Dub preview -- now with 33% more spirit for free!

San Jose State Spartans

There are times in our lives when we reach extreme lows. Times when we feel as if nothing goes right or that we were preordained to suffer. Times when we contemplate if things could possibly get any worse.

It's during times like those that we can often find some modicum of comfort in looking at the plights of others, stepping back to look at the "big picture" and realizing that -- in the Light of Eternity -- things aren't nearly THAT bad. This is the type of situation that Nevada and San Jose State find themselves on opposite sides of this week.

I've had my share of nights when I crawl into bed and bitterly nod off to sleep with a resignation: "Well, that was a shitty day." But I always follow it up with an "it could be worse" platitude to take the edge off: "But hey! At least I have a family I love and a job I enjoy." My mornings after Wolf Pack games haven't been exempt from these realizations -- particularly the mornings following a humiliating loss the day or night before. As I quietly curse my own fanaticism and wonder why I take it all as seriously as I do, I'll think to myself: "Well, that was a shitty game. But hey! At least I'm not a Spartan fan."

These poor souls have officially taken the position vacated by Idaho as the Unluckiest Fans in the WAC, and frankly the fact that it didn't happen sooner is a minor miracle. Having to compete for attention in the Bay Area with not only Cal and Stanford but the 49ers, Raiders, Sharks, Giants, A's and even the Warriors is friggin' rough (the list gets even bigger if you include Santa Clara, Saint Mary's and San Francisco). If Spartan fans had at least one revenue sport to rally around -- something they could all point to and say "This is what we're about" -- this wouldn't be so bad, but the college sports gods haven't seen fit to even grant them that much. Their football team hasn't beaten a D-1 opponent since New Mexico State in November of last year and hasn't beaten a team that finished at .500 or better since Hawai'i in 2008. Back in the present, they're also coming off of a home loss to UC Davis during which they were flagged for eleven penalties and blew a 13-point halftime lead. And the coup de grace? It was their Homecoming game. Again, friggin' ROUGH.

" least I'm still not a Spartan fan!"

But before you accuse me of piling on to a program and fan base already suffering enough, you have to understand where I'm coming from. I grew up in nearby Fremont before moving to Reno in the late 90s, and have plenty of connections to SJSU myself. My Dad earned one of his Master's degrees there. It's where my aunt and uncle first met each other. My first brush with diehard fanaticism in sports came at a San Jose Clash soccer game at Spartan Stadium when I saw Krazy George in person. Wolf Pack/Spartan games in San Jose have provided the perfect excuse to make the four-hour drive back to my old home every year or two, and it's one thing I'll sorely miss when Nevada moves to the Mountain West. I really do want to see the Spartans succeed, and it pains me to see them struggle year after year as much as they do.

But back to the game at hand. The good news for the Fighting Anthonys is that playing three other nationally ranked opponents on the road in their first five games (and hosting Boise State and Fresno State in their next two games -- seriously, who makes a schedule like that?) will have conditioned them to not be afraid when they line up against a team of Nevada's caliber. The bad news is that with everything else stacked against new coach Mike MacIntyre's team, this confidence still won't help them. Aside from their 24 passes defended, 4 of 6 fourth downs converted (both tied for 25th nationally) and all nine of their trips to the red zone being converted to scores, the only categories in which the Spartans aren't ranked in the bottom half of the country are all on special teams. While special teams play is obviously an important (if under-analyzed) facet of any game, it hasn't helped the Spartans to date and still won't help them as the season progresses.

Best-Case Scenario

Nevada shows up and controls every phase of the game from start to finish (and given how badly San Jose State has performed thus far, this phrase could easily be shortened to "Nevada shows up"). The ugly mistakes of the BYU and NSU games are corrected and compensated for with resoundingly great efforts all around.

Worst-Case Scenario

I got nothin'. I'm serious. Normally my ability to play up (see what I did there, Commissioner Benson?) a coming opponent's talents is downright Holtz-ian. But there just aren't any scenarios I can envision where Nevada loses this game. Maybe their team bus gets lost on the way to the stadium and they have to forfeit? I dunno.

As some of you might remember, I traveled to the road game in San Jose last year and shared some of the pictures I took of the experience. Between the sparse crowd, national TV audience and 55-point sodomizing of the Spartans, it's the only Wolf Pack road win I've witnessed in person where I actually felt a little dirty afterward. But then I remembered "At least I'm not a Spartan fan" and merrily drove home that night.