Sunday, November 28, 2010

The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist. And like that, poof. He's gone.

Nevada Quarterback Colin Kaepernick celebrates after leading Nevada to a 34-31 comeback victory over rival Boise State.  (AP Photo/Cathleen Allison)

    
     Boise Nation forgot about Nevada Wolf Pack QB Colin Kaepernick.  They were to busy worrying about other more important things.  Too worried about beating Virginia Tech and "the best dual threat QB they would face all year, Tyrod Taylor".  Too worried about beating Oregon State in what was considered their last "real" hurdle to laying claim to a BCS game and perhaps a chance at a National Title game.  Too worried about Kellen Moore's Heisman chances and what Cam Newton may or may not have done.  Too worried about which BCS bowl they would be invited too.

     The Bronco Country fans weren't worried about Kaepernick.  He was "figured out" after that magical freshman game which ended in such heartbreak for the Nevada faithful.  He wasn't that great really.  Forget the improved passing.  Forget the stats.  Not worried at all.  And the Wolf Pack game in Reno didn't make fans nearly as nervous as the Hawaii or Fresno games did.  This one was destined to end in an even wider margin than the year before.

     OBNUG wasn't worried about Kaepernick either.  He wasn't a serious consideration for their annual "Public Enemy No 1" story.  Along with Idaho HC Rob Akey, they were courtesy nominations at best.  The Boise faithful were too worried about the opinions of talking heads Mark May, Craig James, and Gene Wojciechowski and how they might influence voters.  Too busy to bother with an actual opponent.  In fact, Kaepernick garnered the least number of votes from Boise fans when poled on the matter.

     And so the season plodded along.  The Wolf Pack slowly built it's record up to 10-1 and a 19th overall national ranking.  Colin Kaepernick and friends seemingly set or broke new NCAA records on a weekly basis.  And yet Boise faithful still weren't worried.  They considered it lucky to get to beat a ranked opponent so far into the season to allow a leapfrog of TCU.  It would surely secure a berth in the Rose Bowl.  And it would inch them closer to a National Title game.  They would have no greater ammunition to backup their complaints for a playoff system.

     The game began in typical fashion.  Nevada failed to score in it's usual bunches.  Boise even got their first ever turn-over against Kaepernick when a pass deflected off the hands of tight end Virgil Green and Boise State safety George Iloka made an amazing tip-toe catch along the sidelines.

     With a comfortable 24-7 lead going into the half, Boise Nation forgot that Colin Kaepernick existed.

     And as soon as they did, Kaepernick did his best impression of Keyser Soze and unleashed the cruelest form of revenge a player can take upon an opponent.  He would leave the entire Bronco community wondering how such a travesty could  have happened so quickly, right under their noses.



Colin Kaepernick reacts to Boise Safety Jerron Johnson after scoring on a 3rd and 7 from the 18 yard line. (Photo by Mark Rauh of SilverandBlueSports.com)


     With a minute and some seconds left in the third quarter, still down by 17 points, Kaepernick did something that Boise Nation hadn't seen since that 2007 thriller.  On a third down and seven, Kaepernick broke containment, beat safety Jerron Johnson to the sideline, and ran in an 18 yard touchdown to pull the Wolf Pack within two scores.  It was the first rushing TD for Kaepernick since the 25 yard run in the second OT back in 2007.  And as Kaepernick headed back to the Nevada bench, something happened.  What was said, who will ever know?  But Kaepernick suddenly stopped and headed back towards Johnson to give him what was obviously his opinion on whatever it was that Johnson had yelled in his direction.

     Like Winston Churchill once said of our great country: "The United States is like a giant boiler.  Once the fire is lighted under it, there is no limit to the power it can generate".  So was our Nevada Wolf Pack's fire lit, with Kaepernick manning the bellows and the Nevada defense generating the power.

     A three and out later and Kaepernick would take over yet again.  Kaepernick would complete a key third and seven pass to Vai Taua to extend the drive, which would result in a 44 yard touchdown by Rishard Mathews two plays later.

     And after another three and out, Kaepernick would take over at the seven yard line and contribute 27 yards rushing while orchestrating the offense down into Boise territory for the game tying field goal.

     And when Boise State threw one last desperation punch in the form of a 79 yard touchdown pass by Kellen Moore to Doug Martin, Kaepernick would not be denied his revenge on the Broncos.  With just under five minutes left in the game and only one time out remaining for Nevada, Kaepernick would go 4-7 including a key third down and seven conversion and a game tying touchdown pass to Mathews with just 13 seconds left on the clock.



Nevada players celebrate as Boise misses a field goal in over time.  (AP)

     Forget about the missed field goals.  Boise State should never have even been in that position.  But they forgot about Kaepernick.  And now they will have to be reminded in the most painful of ways.  With their NC game dreams smashed, the kid who they declined to offer in favor of back-up QB Michael Coughlin, would begin to break records along with the hearts and spirits of Bronco Nation.

     Kaepernick will lay claim to becoming the first player in NCAA history to have passed for 2,000 yards and rushed for 1,000 yards in the same season three consecutive times.  And it will have come against the Bronco's number two defense in the greatest upset win in Nevada history.  Kaepernick will also lay claim to becoming one half of the all time greatest rushing duo in NCAA history along with running back Vai Taua.  And it will have come against the Bronco's number two defense during the greatest choke in Bronco history.  He will have lead the team to the greatest victory in Nevada history over the highest ranked opponent to ever have entered Mackay Stadium.  He likely not only ruined Kellen Moore's chances for the Heisman trophy, he likely ruined his chances for WAC offensive player of the year and first team all conference quarterback.  With the head to head win, the records, the probable 3,000 by 1,000 season and highest ranking in school history, how will the WAC deny Kaepernick those titles?

     And it will all have been done against the team who had forgotten him.  The team that was convinced that he didn't even exist.

     The senior will not face Boise State again.  Peterson and Co will get their shot at revenge against Nevada.  But they will not get their shot at Colin Soze.  He will have had the last laugh.  The loudest laugh in his personal war with the Broncos....

     And like that, poof.  He's gone.

.......Well that was awesome

"IT'S GOOD!! IT'S GOOD!! NEVADA WINS!! THE BOISE DREAM IS OVER!! Nevada wins the game, the stands emptying -- Boise is shocked."
~Ryan Radtke


Let me start by saying: most understated entry title EVER.

Well now that I've had nearly a couple of days to decompress and organize my thoughts...what can I say? What can I honestly say that hasn't already been said? Almost 48 hours after the final cannon shot, ol' Ludwig Van can still sum up what I'm thinking the best.

The biggest win in Nevada football history? Without a doubt. The greatest comeback in Nevada history? No question (sorry, Weber State -- yours was bigger in quantity, but not in quality). The biggest coup for the program, the University and the city of Reno since the run to the Sweet 16? With a friggin' bullet.

I want all of you to think back over the last few years. Remember all of the heartbreak and all of the various disappointments of those times: Northwestern, Fresno State, Boise State, Hawai'i, San Jose State, New Mexico, Texas Tech, New Mexico State, Maryland, Notre Dame, Colorado State, Missouri and SMU. Remember all of the quarterbacks and all of the receivers who laughed at the prospect of Nevada defending them. Remember all of the fans in Reno and elsewhere who said "Coach Ault doesn't have it in him. Coach Ault will never win the Big One." Remember all of those things before reflecting on this win and savor it that much more. From the coaches and players on the field to the fans in the stands, we've paid our dues in tears and we've earned this. Finally.

What can they possibly do for an encore? Tear themselves away from all of this euphoria somehow and beat Louisiana Tech on Saturday. The Miracle on Ice, after all, wasn't the gold medal-winning game for Team USA -- they still had to beat Finland to clinch it all. The Bulldogs are Nevada's Finland. None of this will mean anything unless they win that game, too.

More to come on Tech later this week. Until then...

The strength of the Pack is the Wolf
And the strength of the Wolf is the Pack

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Interview with OBNUG

I was approached this week by Kevan Lee, one of the contributors to the Boise State blog One Bronco Nation Under God. We exchanged sets of five questions with each other (no doubt while crossing our fingers and cursing each other under our breaths) and the following is what Kevan was kind enough to send back to us. You can find my responses to Kevan's questions here.

1. Describe your team's season to date in 100 words or less. "Potato" must be one of those words.

Boise State has had exactly the type of season that wildly optimistic OBNUG-type fans had hoped. The Broncos are undefeated, on the verge of BCS history, and dominating so thoroughly on both sides of the ball that it's borderline cruel. The potato in this season of bright, shiny apples has been the polls. Get rid of those suckers and Bronco fans couldn't be happier.

2. What's one thing you would change about your team's head coaching style? What's one thing you would change about the other team's head coaching style? Assume the changes that are made would both benefit their respective teams' on-field performance.

Based on the smallest body of evidence outside of DNA strands on Chris Ault, I would say that Boise State coaching could do better with its clock management. Rarely does this come into play, but there always seems to be the occasional burned timeout here and there for no real reason. Bad clock management is a pet peeve of mine, so maybe I'm hyper-sensitive. That, and it's really hard to find a flaw with this coaching staff.

I've heard that Chris Ault is full of himself, so getting rid of that would probably help. But I'm going to say that gameplanning is the one area where Nevada could improve. The Wolf Pack have the system and athletes to blow teams off the field without really trying, but when the opponent is an equal or better, the coaching edge just isn't there. When Greg McMackin is outscheming you, something's wrong.

3. Imagine you're in the Boise State locker room before kick-off and it's your job to give the team some final words before this game begins. What would you tell them?

I would probably make up some quote about a Nevada guy running his mouth and saying things he shouldn't. Oh wait. Brett Roy already did that. My bad.

First off, I'd make sure that the Broncos had a healthy respect for Nevada and understood that this was a very good team they were playing. Then I'd remind them of the team goals and that winning a WAC championship is always Priority No. 1. After that, I'd go over the past few weeks and tell them how I proud I was that they were playing so well. Then I'd play "Final Countdown," tear a phonebook in half, and brand each of their names onto various team assistants. That should do the trick.

4. Pick out three player-to-player match-ups that you believe will have the biggest effect on this game's outcome and explain why you believe they will.

I kind of already did this in a post on OBNUG today, but I thought of some more.

TE Virgil Green vs. NB Winston Venable. Oregon State's only real offense came on pass plays to the tight end, and Green may be the best tight end Boise State has seen since. Venable will have to walk a fine line between selling out to the run and covering Green, provided the Broncos leave him with that choice.

CB Isaiah Frey vs. WR Titus Young. Did you see the Fresno game last week? Young was abusing the one-on-one coverage, so it will be interesting to see if Frey does any better - or if Nevada even dares put him in that position.

HC Chris Ault vs. HC Chris Petersen. When the stakes are high like they are on Friday night, coaches often come into play with big decisions or crazy gameplans. I'm interested to see what develops and how each coach handles pressure.

5. On a scale of comedians, with Gallagher being "not at all" and Richard Pryor being "supremely", how confident are you that your team will win on Friday?

The strangest thing has happened over the course of the season: I have become supremely confident in Bronco victory week-in and week-out. This is strange because I am normally a skeptic, maybe a realist at best. But this Boise State team is something else.

The Bronco defense matches up so well with the Nevada offense that I really don't doubt their being able to grind the Pistol to a halt. On the flip side, the Boise State offense matches up really well with the Nevada defense, so I don't have any worries there, either.

Is an upset a possibility? You bet it is. College football is a crazy game and anything can happen especially when you factor in weather and road conditions. That said, Boise State wins this game 8 out of 10 times.

Put me down for a "Richard Pryor," or the white version of Richard Pryor - Brian Regan.

End

We also made a fairly simple bet: the blogger that covers the winning team will get to write an entry for the blog that covers the losing team. Thanks again to Kevan for getting in touch with me and helping to arrange all of this, and Happy Thanksgiving.

PWtW Week 12 Preview (Part 2)

"We have immense confidence...We're at home...And we don't lose at home."

"There is not a person in this building who thinks we're not going to beat Boise."
~Brett Roy, quoted in articles here and here.

Pop quiz: in what alternate universe would the above quotes be considered mean-spirited and disrespectful? If you answered "Whatever alternate universe has currently swallowed up the entire state of Idaho", no shit.

Apparently, alluding to your team's 6-0 home record or putting the belief in the abilities of one's self and teammates on record is considered bad form. If your parents taught you growing up that you have to believe in yourself before others can believe in you, then you're full of it! Leave it to Bronco fans to consider displaying self-confidence (without -- I'd like to point out -- making a prediction of the outcome or directing any actual insult towards Boise State) as being disrespectful. I'd hate to see the bunched up panties that would result from a Nevada player saying something that was actually meant to be interpreted poorly.

But to be fair, when your favorite team goes this long without someone else actually stepping up to beat them, I guess remarks like those are what passes for bulletin board material in Broncoland. What else can be stirred up for controversy's sake when your team (almost) literally doesn't ever lose? When a Louisiana Tech player says their team will play well for their seniors next week, remind me to act righteously indignant and shout "HOW DARE HE?!" at my computer screen.

"Self-respect is disrespectful. KNEEL BEFORE BOISE STATE!!"

Anyway, angry rant done. Let's pour over some stats.

If you love offense -- I mean really LOVE offense -- these teams will make pretty much any telecast a must-see event. Nevada is currently third in the nation in average total offense and Boise State is right behind them at fourth, and first downs are close, too (26.7 to 25.6 per game, respectively), but they're very different in how they go about tearing their opponents apart. The Pistol favors the run (304.4 yards per game), while the Bronco offense prefers the pass (323.4 yards per game), but for the sake of balance both teams can also switch it up and have some success with the other component. Neither team turns the ball over much (+7 margin for Nevada, +6 for Boise), fails to convert many third downs (55.7% for Nevada, an even 50% for Boise), or gives up many sacks (6 for Boise, 7 for Nevada) or tackles for loss (32 for Nevada and 34 for Boise). If offense was solely how this game would be decided, chances are it would come down to whomever has the last possession.

But that's where defense enters the picture, and the Boise State defense is Legit with a capital "L". Seriously, this is where it ceases to sound like actual college football and begins to sound more like a video game where you're taking out frustrations on hapless computer opponents. The Broncos are second in the nation at 229.2 yards given up per game -- that breaks down to 72.3 rushing yards (1st nationally) and 156.9 passing yards (7th). That's supplemented by 39 sacks (2nd in the country), 88 tackles for loss (3rd) and being able to hold their opponents to just 26.6% on third downs (3rd). As much as Coach Buh has improved this team's defense, it obviously still doesn't compare to numbers like those. Remember the "Dark Knight" reference I threw out in Part 1? Think of the Pack ground game as the unstoppable force and the Bronco rushing defense as the immovable object; it's likely the first and most important place where this game will be decided.

There's not much separation between the special teams units, oddly enough. They're fairly close to one another in punting distance (about 42 yards per punt) and kick-off returns (23.8 per return for Boise, 23.1 for Nevada). Nevada gives up lots of yards on kick returns (nearly 26 yards per return, 7th to last in the nation), while Boise gives up lots of yards on punt returns (12.6 yards per return, 102nd in the nation). If the game is close from the outset, a big play in one of these areas could really break it open for good.

Best-Case Scenario

The mistake-free game against Boise State that has eluded Nevada so many times in the past is finally realized. The stout Bronco defense, though not repeatedly gashed like previous opponents, is nonetheless methodically chipped away at by a successful passing attack that paves the way for a trademark Nevada rushing performance. The Pack finishes +2 or better in turnovers, and ends up winning a back-and-forth contest by a single score.

Worst-Case Scenario

History repeats itself to a horribly familiar tune and then some. The Bronco defense sets the tone early on, allowing Boise to jump out to yet another early lead which they never look back from. First half mistakes doom the Pack to play catch-up for nearly all 60 minutes, and the defense surrenders big play after big play. Like the Blues Brothers, the Broncos are on a mission from (the football) God and Nevada is brushed aside by multiple scores in the end.

So there you have it. A lot will have to go right for a Nevada win, but this whole season has felt pretty different than what we're used to. And barring a truly sadistic change of date and time, the next meeting between these teams won't be on a holiday-shortened week. Hopefully my blogging muscles will be in better shape by that time. Happy Thanksgiving to all of you, and Beat Boise.

Monday, November 22, 2010

PWtW Week 12 Preview (Part 1)

"An intense anticipation itself transforms possibility into reality; our desires being often but precursors of the things which we are capable of performing."
~Samuel Smiles

"We always feel better in anticipation. You don't think about somethin' and think 'Aw, it's gonna be shitty.' No! You say 'This is gonna be the greatest weekend ever! Sonuvabitch!' And then, by Monday, you're throwin' up and you're thinking 'Ya know, I always knew those guys were pricks!'"
~Lewis Black

I defy my readers to find a quote superior to that second one that better summarizes the experience of anticipating a Boise State-Nevada game of the last few years and the interactions with Bronco fans in cyberspace that have followed those losses.

I say "in cyberspace" because the personal interactions I've had with Boise State fans have almost all been exceptional, and are one aspect of Friday night's game I truly am looking forward to. It's when my attention turns to some of their Internet fans that my head starts throbbing, my faith in humanity wanes and I suddenly have an intense desire to commit seppuku.

Anyway, you read that title correctly: this is but the first part of a preview so big that it deserves TWO parts! Don't get all excited at once. The time has finally come -- let's do this thing.

Boise State Broncos


This is it, children. The Big One. What is arguably the biggest game in the history of Nevada Wolf Pack football, of the current Mackay Stadium and certainly of the current season of WAC football. Two nationally ranked teams. Twenty wins between them. A share of the WAC title on the line. Tickets sold out two months in advance. National championship implications for one team. Twelve years of pent-up frustration coming to a head for the other team. Chances to make different kinds of history for both teams. The last home game for Nevada's most accomplished group of seniors. No hyperbole or exaggeration here -- this is the real thing. Fuckin' A.

Both teams' respective seasons have been building up towards this Friday night, and the fact that they each have one game left after this is just an anti-climactic coincidence (you can probably thank Herr Bensonf├╝hrer for that one). Even when Nevada lost to Hawai'i back in October, all that did was eliminate any hopes they had for an outright championship. The road to a title still goes through Boise State -- it was true before that game, and it's still true this week.

Not only that, these teams need each other. With the exception of the Broncos' opening win against Virginia Tech, none of the opponents either team has beaten has given them much help in the strength-of-schedule department. BYU and Toledo will both be in bowl games somewhere, but they're just different shades of mediocre at this point. Cal needs to beat Washington for their sixth win, and Oregon State would have to beat either Stanford or Oregon to get theirs -- good luck with that. Colorado State, Wyoming and NSU are all putrid -- thanks for nothing, you worthless schmucks. And that's in addition to the always-stellar slate of Bottom 10 pillow fighters who come and go during conference play. The fact is that neither team has impressed many people to date with who they've beaten, with BSU obviously having the best win between them. Like Batman and the Joker, each team will give purpose and strength to the other (but for the record, Nevada gets to be Batman).

"What would I do without you? No, you complete me! And I'm not a monster. I'm just proven. And my field is blue."

Perusing the box scores of each of their games, neither Boise State nor Nevada has faced much in the way of serious adversity this year. Nevada has trailed in only two games, while BSU hasn't trailed in any game since Week 1. Each team is accustomed to having their way most weeks, and one of them will be very unhappy as soon as they fall behind. The only way there could be higher stakes for who wins that opening coin toss would be if this guy flipped it.

With that said, Boise State has arguably had the most convincing performances week in and week out of any team in the nation aside from Oregon. But even Oregon came uncomfortably close to losing at Cal, and if Nevada has a good plan of attack in place for Friday night and executes it, they can do the same. In the next entry, I'll immerse myself in all the important statistics and outline what it will take for Nevada to pull out a win.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

PWtW Week 11 Preview

"Adversity has the same effect on a man that severe training has on the pugilist: it reduces him to his fighting weight."
~Josh Billings

"Smooth seas do not make skillful sailors."
~African Proverb

I gotta tell you guys that my work isn't always easy. Granted, for a fan like myself this is still one of the best hobbies a guy can take up, but I hope you people appreciate what I do for you every week. Or rather, most weeks. OK, fine: some weeks.

I say this because while the rest of you are getting all geeked up for the rapidly approaching date with Boise State, I -- being the ever-responsible blogger that I am -- have to stay focused on the task at hand. And that task is typing up a preview of New Mexico State, the opponent being played this week. Hooray for responsibility. Did I mention that I loathe all of you right now? Because I do. Ever so much.

New Mexico State Aggies


If sequential football games were parts of a sandwich, then smushed between the hearty breads of the 'No Town Showdown and the HOLY FRIGGIN' SHIT MONKEYS THIS IS GONNA BE EPIC Boise State Game is a rancid little piece of expired lunch meat called New Mexico State. They're a near-permanent resident of espn.com's Bottom 10, they haven't had a winning season since 2002 and the last time they played in a bowl game the Eisenhower administration was in its final month. Oh, and thanks to Nigel Burton's defensive genius ("You mean it's not a good idea to leave my rookie corners on an island and expect them to make plays against offenses that pass a lot?") they beat Nevada the last time they came to Reno. No, I'm not thrilled either, folks, so just keep reading, bide your time and it'll all be over soon.

Name a statistical category and the likelihood is high that the Aggies are low in it. Offense? 108th in the country at 303.5 yards per game (Nevada averages seven more yards rushing per game). Scoring? 15.8 points a game, fifth from last in the country with 29 their highest one-game total (Nevada has topped that output in all but two of its games to date). Defense? Whether against the pass (238.9 yards per game, 93rd), the run (195.1 yards per game, 100th) or the scoreboard (36.3 points per game, 110th) the Aggies just don't cut it. Sacks? 0.6 per game and six total, along with just 34 tackles for loss, all last in the nation (Number of sacks Nevada's ten previous opponents have combined to put up against the Pack? Also six). The Aggies have been behind for all 60 minutes of five games and all but 8 minutes of a sixth, while the Pack has only found themselves behind in two games. Alright, that last one wasn't referring to a specific category, but you should have the idea by now that these guys aren't very good.

From the athletic program that brought you Tyrone Nelson and Jahmar Young comes the "no sex" fliers. Bless you, New Mexico State, and your inability to stop amazing us.

So aside from the usual bottom-of-the-WAC types of stats and an utter lack of star players worth hyping up, what does NMSU actually do well? In spite of my snark and immaturity, several things, as it turns out. Though he hasn't returned one all the way yet, wide receiver Taveon Rogers is a stiff test for any kick coverage unit, averaging 26.6 yards per return. In a testament to their improved quarterback and O-line play, they've only surrendered 10 sacks on the year, not far behind Nevada and Boise State. And the Aggie punt coverage unit is only allowing 5.3 yards per return, tied with Air Force for 18th in the country. Granted, it's a little easier to get down the field in time when your punter only averages 36.6 yards on his punts, but we can't harsh everything they do.

Best-Case Scenario

Nevada quickly builds up a comfortable lead and (more importantly) keeps it that way through the second half. Focus is not a problem, just as it wasn't a problem in Las Cruces last year. The home crowd is large and grateful for a long enough break in the weather to enjoy an actual day game at Mackay. No major injuries occur, and the second- and third-string offense and defense see more than their share of snaps. Just for good measure, a kick-off or punt is returned for a touchdown, and we all celebrate accordingly.

Worst-Case Scenario

Focus quickly becomes a big problem, as Nevada has great difficulty in not playing down to its competition a la San Jose State. The outcome of the game is never in doubt, but the meager crowd on hand can clearly see that the team's attention is elsewhere. On top of the crummy weather, more than one player is sidelined with a major injury. Instead of heading into the next game with their confidence solidified, questions outnumber answers both for Nevada's players and fans, and anxiety runs rampant.

No profound conclusions to draw here. Just show up, kick ass, and move on to Boise State.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

PWtW Week 10 Preview

"There is no greater challenge than to have someone relying upon you; no greater satisfaction than to vindicate his expectation."
~Kingman Brewster, Jr.

Given that Coach Ault often says that football is about doing your one eleventh and trusting your teammates to do theirs, I thought a win like Saturday's warranted a quote like this one. And on a related note, before Nevada's 844 yards against Idaho, their previous record for offense in one game was 794 yards against NSU in 1993. Needless to say, the Rabbles are grateful for this.

Fresno State Bulldogs


If you thought Coach Ault was the WAC coach under the most pressure heading into this season, you would've only been half right. Every coach's best seasons set the bar for where fans expect a team to continue to perform year after year, and Fresno State has arguably the steepest expectations outside of Boise in that regard. Pat Hill has set a high standard in his time at Fresno State, guiding his teams to numerous Top 25 appearances, bowl game wins, and the second-most wins over BCS-conference competition among non-BCS programs in the last decade (Utah has the most). With the fan support they often enjoy and the reputation they've built up, they're by most accounts a model football program at the mid-major level.

But ever since taking USC down to the wire in 2005 -- ranked #1 at the time and in the prime of their dynasty years -- Fresno State football has had a hard time reaching the same heights of their previous teams. They've gone 34-28 overall since that night at the Coliseum, including only one bowl win in that time period -- not up to par with typical Fresno State standards. During this time, Nevada has slowly but surely seen its program rise to increasing prominence, and Coach Ault has helped equalize things with the 'Dogs after Nevada lost six straight in the series from 1999 to 2004. Swiping more and more recruits out of the San Joaquin Valley -- once the front door step of Hill's prime recruiting area -- hasn't helped matters. And with the series assured of being continued for the foreseeable future in the Mountain West, the stakes for both programs will be heightened that much more.

This is the stage that both teams find set for Saturday night. Nevada, in the midst of what's been a (mostly) stellar season, seeks to continue its war path and reaffirm which 'No Town has the better team. And Pat Hill -- ever the motivator in these types of games -- would no doubt relish the chance to scalp another nationally ranked team and relieve some of the pressure he continues to face.

What jumps out first about Fresno State isn't their offense, which is neither great nor poor in terms of average yardage but has managed to put up plenty of points (34.8 per contest). Instead, it's the 3 sacks per game and 24 total sacks that Chris Carter and the defense have put up. Their opponents have only converted 34.8% of their third downs, but this is negated somewhat by their own offense's inability to do the same (35.2%). While Fresno boasts a surprisingly good pass defense yardage-wise (196.8 per game), the same cannot be said for their pass efficiency defense (131.02 per game, 79th in the country). Oddly enough, the reverse is true for Nevada. Both teams will seek to control the clock, with Nevada's average time of possession fourth in the country (33:46 per game) and Fresno not far behind at sixth (33:11). Special teams play -- normally one of Fresno's areas of strength -- is pretty much a wash, with neither team particularly standing out in any one facet.

Best-Case Scenario

Nevada strolls into a hostile environment unimpressed and remains so after the game. Kaep continues his hot passing streak, punishing the 'Dogs for committing to stopping the run. The run game is established later as a result, with Vai and another back combining for 250+ yards. A Nevada receiver gets 100+ yards worth of catches and a couple of touchdowns. Fresno, by contrast, is unable to keep pace, falling behind early and never catching back up. They have, in fact, jumped the shark.

Worst-Case Scenario

Fired up and eager to atone for last year's loss, Fresno's pass rush pushes Nevada out of its comfort zone and straight into the loss column. Fresh off of a strong rushing performance last week, the Bulldogs surpass Nevada on the ground. Offensive execution relapses to pre-Hawai'i status, with Kaep unable to pass often enough to open up the run. Third downs decide the outcome, with Fresno stymieing just enough of them to keep the Pistol off the field. They have not, in fact, jumped the shark.

The Bulldog offense is fine enough in its own right, but the fact is that the Pack's is still better. When Fresno finds itself in third-and-long situations, Nevada cannot afford to let them convert. The opposite battles between the Nevada offense and Fresno defense on third downs are ultimately where the game will be decided: Nevada excels at converting them, and Fresno excels at stopping them. Something has to give, and my money is on the visitors having their way.

Finally, if you happen to have a subscription at silverandbluesports.com (and why wouldn't you, really?), you can hear yours truly pitching in to the post-Idaho, pre-Fresno discussion here.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Idaho Road Trip Report

Let me start off this entry with a small disclaimer: my Dad and I were treated really well by Vandal fans in the time we spent in Moscow, and we had a ton of fun up there on Saturday -- a lot more than one might expect, in fact. Moscow is a great little town and the kind of place I could imagine eventually retiring to some day. But given the time it took to get up there, Nevada's future move to the Mountain West and the MUCH lower travel expenses that will accompany it, I would not be disappointed whatsoever if Nevada never played there in any sport ever again. Ever.

Things I Liked About Idaho
  • Cheap Gas - It goes without saying that anytime you spend nearly a full day's worth of time driving to and from somewhere, it helps to not have to spend too much on gas. We paid as little as $2.81 a gallon up there, and our wallets greatly appreciated this.
  • Friendly Fans - I've been to Boise on three different occasions and now to Moscow once, and I've had a grand total of one unpleasant experience between the two fan bases. We were greeted warmly and treated respectfully everywhere we went, and never once feared for our safety.
  • Certain Parts of the Drive Up - There are stretches of Highway 95 that wind through mountain passes and follow creeks and rivers that were all great to see up close and made what was a long-ass drive much more tolerable.
  • The Final Score - Duh.
Things I Didn't Like About Idaho
  • That Weird Smell - We stayed in Lewiston, a town about forty minutes south of Moscow on the Clearwater River. There's a huge pulp mill on the banks of the river which produces this weird odor that hangs over the whole town and smacks your nose the second you start to get close. It was like damp, smoldering newspaper mixed with rotten sauerkraut, and it stunk BAD.
  • The Weather on the Drive Down - Yes, I realize nobody in Idaho or anywhere else has control over this, but my Dad and I REALLY hated driving in pouring rain and gusting winds for hours on end. It takes its toll, and after a while I started thinking about what would go on my tombstone.
  • No Potatoes - How's an Irishman like myself supposed to get by in America's Potato Heartland without a few spuds?! A whole weekend spent in Idaho and not one single potato -- not even a glimpse! I feel tremendously cheated and demand that this senseless stereotype be shamelessly reinforced on my next visit.
And now the pictures, some of which I promise are worth checking out:

Looking down Main Street. Moscow is pretty much exactly what you'd picture "small-college-town America" to look like.

Pretty much every store front window downtown had a "Go Vandals" decal. Ignore the two men in the reflection.

The movie theater downtown still has the old-school marquee.

At the recommendation of some Vandals, we had lunch at Mikey's Gyros on Main Street. I will swear for years to come that this gyro was one of the best lunches I've ever had. It was so good I didn't think to take a picture of it until I had already stuffed my face with half of it.

Ugh....palm, meet my face.

The north half of the Kibbie Dome from our tailgating spot.

The "Stay True" car flags made an appearance...

...as did the spirit flag.

The game was designated as Military Appreciation Day, and as part of the festivities a helicopter was landed on the lawn next to the Dome where people could get pictures with it.

The west end of the Dome from the outside...

...and from our seats. Those panels were installed last year and let some much-needed natural light inside.

The east wall where the two teams came out on to the field. This is right about the time when my camera battery started dying.

But luckily, before that happened I managed to get at least one picture you'd actually WANT to see (Told you there'd be at least one!).

The goalposts in the Kibbie Dome are actually bolted on to the wall. This can be the only explanation for why Martinez shanked his two field goal attempts...in a way which I haven't figured out yet.

The team heading back to the locker room before kick-off. As you can see from the crowd, Renoites should be envious of such dedicated fan support.

This old guy was actually wearing a jacket with "Nasty and Inebriated" on the back, an homage to BSU President Bob Kustra's now-infamous remark about Idaho's fans. And this wasn't even the worst place I saw it: a young girl sitting in front of us who couldn't have been more than seven years old was wearing a t-shirt of it. This was either amusingly ironic or very disturbing.

At the Kibbie Dome, visiting coaches who normally work up in the press box calling plays down to everyone on the field have to run up through the seats to get there before each half starts. I already feel sorry for the BSU coaches who will have to do this through a sell-out (and very partisan) crowd on Friday.

Giant flag being held by military service members before kick-off.

Before the game started, a rarely heard Bing Crosby song called "You're the Gem State Wonder, Idaho" was played over the PA system with the lyrics on this screen. Very, VERY surreal. It was sort of like a swingin' 1950s tribute to Idaho's football team. Who knew Crosby was a Vandal fan?

The team emerging from the locker room before kick-off. Again, look at the student section on the other sideline and tell me you aren't proud of how far Nevada's students have come along for football.

Here's one cool ritual I'll admit you probably couldn't do at a "normal" football stadium. Keeping with the the day's military theme, these two soldiers rappelled down from the catwalk above the east end zone to deliver the game ball to the referees.

I tried to get a shot of Coach Ault chewing out a ref for a pass interference call, but I didn't know it would be the last penalty called on the Pack for the rest of the game. Damn you guys and your discipline!

Heading into the locker room after that awesome 46-second drive to end the first half. See all that confetti at the cheerleaders' feet? You can thank Silver and Blue Outfitters for it. And thanks to the ten confetti tubes my Dad and I brought, we became very unpopular in our section very quickly.

In an effort to boost sagging morale, the guy from the Armor All logo makes a special appearance.

And because you wouldn't believe me if I hadn't taken a picture of it...Boise State tortilla chips. Now fortified with extra self-righteous indignation!

So that was our road trip to Moscow. Lots of special thanks to everyone who welcomed us and made an already excellent weekend truly memorable. And even more thanks to Coach Ault and his players and coaching staff, since now my Dad and I can say we were there when Nevada put up that record 844 yards of offense. Hopefully I can link you readers to a special surprise when I preview Fresno State in my next entry.

Active Leader




Just how ridiculous is Colin Kaepernick?  After his five touchdowns, no interceptions performance against the Idaho Vandals this past Saturday (which btw, wasn't enough to earn him WPOY but did earn him the National Performer of the Week, go figure) we decided to dig up some numbers to see just where he stands these days in the world of college football.

According to the official NCAA statistics site, Kaep is ranked in numerous categories.  Here's a quick review:

First in rushing touchdowns and touchdowns responsible for.  That means no one in college football has carried the ball across the goal line more.  And no one has been involved in more plays (running, receiving, or passing) that resulted in a touchdown more than Kaep.

Second in yards per carry, total offensive yards, scoring touchdowns, and all purpose touchdowns.

Top five in rushing yards, passing touchdowns, total offensive plays, yards per game, and yards per play.

Top ten in passes attempted, passes completed, passing yards, and total points scored.

Top 20 in rushing yards per game, total carries, passer efficiency, and plays per game.

And if that wasn't enough, Kaep is already in the NCAA all-time record books in a number of categories and has a chance to become the only player ever to pass for 2,000 and rush for 1,000 three consecutive years.  He needs 10 yards passing and 207 yards rushing to accomplish that.  It's not impossible that he could do it all in Fresno this weekend, but more likely we'll get to see it at home the following week against the rAggies.

He can also be one half of the all time greatest rushing tandem, along with Vai Taua, by setting both the most points scored by teammates and most yards rushed for by teammates records.  Between the two of them, they need three scoring touchdowns to pass Reggie Bush and LenDale White as the greatest scoring duo in NCAA history.  And between the two of them they need 476 rushing yards to surpass Eric Dickerson and Craig James as the greatest rushing duo in NCAA history.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

PWtW Week 9 Preview

"Diligence overcomes difficulties, sloth makes them."
~Benjamin Franklin

"When you're traveling, you are what you are right there and then. People don't have your past to hold against you. No yesterdays on the road."
~William Least Heat-Moon

As we all saw, Nevada's defense made about five times its normal share of difficulties for itself in the second half of Saturday's game. And while it's true that new places afford one's self new opportunities for first impressions, Heat-Moon clearly isn't familiar with the power of college colors. Your past might not mean much to a stranger in a new place, but the jersey you're wearing definitely can.

Idaho Vandals


You have to give some credit to Idaho for coming up with a truly unique nickname for its teams. There are enough Tigers, Eagles, Bulldogs, Aggies, Wildcats, Panthers, Lions and Spartans in this country at every level of competition to fill all the stadiums in all the world. But how many Vandals are there? Probably only enough to fill one over-sized phone booth (not unlike the actual Kibbie Dome). Additionally, for an amateur history buff like myself, that kind of name is always worth a couple of style points.

It's also hard not to be at least a little happy for their football team after the years upon years of epic suckitude they laid down and bad luck they experienced before their eight-win season last year. After all, this was the program that gave us Tom "I'm not an NFL coach, but I do coach the Raiders" Cable and Dennis "I'm not going anywhere -- I swear that's not a moving van" Erickson. If Washington State's athletic director doesn't have Robb Akey on speed dial yet (he was previously the Cougars' DC), pitchforks and torches should be at the ready.

Thanks mostly to some big losses on their offensive line and a penchant for penalties (76.5 penalty yards and 7.9 penalties per game), the Vandals have taken a step down from the heights they reached in 2009. Although Nathan Enderle and his corps of receivers have still ruled the air (335.5 passing yards per game, 4th nationally and 2nd in the WAC), Idaho's O-line hasn't been able to either give their QB consistent protection (30 sacks allowed, fifth from last in the country) or establish much of a running game to compliment the pass (87.9 yards per game, sixth from last nationally). They're not very good with covering or receiving kicks and punts, but do boast a good kicker in Trey Farquhar (13 field goals made) and punter in Bobby Cowan (44.1 yards per punt, 2nd in the WAC behind Brad Langley and 29th nationally). Their passing and running defenses aren't particularly good stats-wise, but they do lead the nation with 14 fumbles recovered. Although Nevada has thus far avoided giving up an inordinate amount of fumbles, they've nonetheless shown an unfortunate propensity for putting the ball on the turf, and Idaho would be all too eager to capitalize on such carelessness.

Best-Case Scenario

Nevada continues its run of good games against Idaho with a comfortable and convincing road win. Whatever bad juju has plagued Kaep in previous games is shaken off, and he turns in a performance more reminiscent of the electrifying, game-changing player we all know. Rested up and fully healed, Taua also returns to form with a vengeance. The defense channels their earlier efforts against Colorado State and BYU -- NOT the second half clusterfuck against Utah State -- and keeps the Vandal air attack in check.

Worst-Case Scenario

Idaho hurls its way to a win in another shootout. No lead Nevada earns is safe as the Vandals answer their visitors score for score. The Pack is once again unable to assemble a complete, four quarter effort, repeatedly done in by a lack of urgency and dozens of self-inflicted mistakes. Turnovers rule the day, and Idaho pounces on each and every opportunity Nevada presents them with. All the previous talk of renewed focus and determination from the defense ends up being just that: talk.

As I type this, I'm preparing for the long, long LONG drive up to Moscow tomorrow morning. But it's all gravy, since my Dad will be right there with me. Hopefully you've read my previous entries and know what I have in store for you folks once I get back. No need to wish us luck or urge us to vaya con Dios -- I can assure you I'll be doing enough of that for both of us.