Brian Polian is now just 232 victories behind Chris Ault.
Polian, the Nevada’s rookie head coach, earned his first victory Saturday night as the Wolf Pack trounced the UC Davis Aggies 36-7 in front of 27,052 fans at Mackay Stadium.
“I wasn’t thinking about it during the game,” said Polian of his first head coaching victory. “But with about two minutes to go, it hit me. You only have so many firsts in your life. So when you get your first victory as a head coach, it’s pretty cool.”
Also in attendance for the Wolf Pack’s home opener was Ault. The Wolf Pack honored their former head coach and his 233 career victories in 28 seasons before the game by naming the field in his honor.
“I wish we would have gotten the first win last week in the Rose Bowl (a 58-20 loss to UCLA),” Polian said. “But to get it on a night when we honored Coach Ault, that is special.”
Polian and the Pack made sure the evening was a Wolf Pack success from beginning to end. One more point -- the Pack botched two extra points -- and the Pack would have had a 30-point victory just one week after losing by 30 points or more. That has happened just twice before in school history, in 1929 and 1947.
“It was far from perfect,” Polian said. “There are a lot of things we can do better, no doubt about that. But we will never apologize for a win. They are too hard to come by.”
The victory over the Football Championship Sub-division Aggies of the Big Sky Conference was never in question. The Pack jumped out to a 20-0 lead and then completely dominated the second half.
“It just felt great to get that bad taste out of our moths after the UCLA game,” Pack quarterback Cody Fajardo said. “We have thing we need to improve on but it’s just a great feeling to get a win.”
The Wolf Pack, playing without injured starting running back Don Jackson, used a pair of lightning quick drives to jump out to a 13-0 lead in the first quarter. The two touchdown drives lasted just 1:58 combined.
It took the Wolf Pack just three plays and 50 seconds to score the first time they touched the ball on the newly dedicated Chris Ault Field. The 24-yard drive, which was set up by an interception by strong safety Bryan Lane, was capped off by a 7-yard touchdown run by Fajardo with 13:59 to go in the opening quarter.
“That play created a lot of energy and gave us momentum,” said Lane, who was moved to safety from linebacker because starting safety Charles Garrett was one of two players (along with offensive tackle Kyle Roberts) suspended for the game for disciplinary reasons.
Fajardo then guided the Pack on an 80-yard, four-play scoring drive for a 13-0 lead. The Pack covered the 80 yards in just 68 seconds, thanks to a 40-yard touchdown strike down the middle from Fajardo to Richy Turner. Turner finished with six catches for 136 yards.
“Throwing the deep ball is something we wanted to improve on from last year,” Polian said.
“We knew we wanted to take some shots downfield on them,” Fajardo said. “We knew they were going to play man coverage a lot of the times and all I really had to do was throw the ball up there and my receivers made a lot of great plays for me.”
The Wolf Pack offense then slowed down on its third scoring drive.
Starting at their own 20-yard line with 7:39 to go in the second quarter, Fajardo handed the ball eight times to running back Kendall Brock, two times to Nate Lytle and kept it himself for a pair of runs. Brock picked up 42 yards on the 16-play drive, including a 2-yard touchdown run that gave the Pack a 20-0 lead with 1:51 to go in the half.
Brock got the bulk of the work at running back because of an ankle injury suffered by Jackson in practice on Thursday. Brock, a wide receiver the past two seasons, carried the ball 27 times for 116 yards and his first two rushing touchdowns of his career.
“I didn’t even know until right before the game that I was going to start and Don was injured,” Brock said. “It just felt to be able to contribute like that to a win. I knew I had to grind it out. Grinding it out isn’t really my style but I knew I had to get out of my comfort zone a little and run the rock. It took me back to my glory days, so to speak.”
“His performance was gutsy,” said Polian of Brock. “The guy hasn’t played much tailback since high school.”
Fajardo and the bulk of the offensive starters only played three quarters. The Pack quarterback, who completed his first eight passes, completed 18-of-21 passes for 239 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 36 yards and another score. He also survived a minor scare late in the first half when a Davis defender fell on his right knee.
“I’m a competitor,” smiled Fajardo. “It’s hard to keep me off the field.”
Davis ended the Wolf Pack defense’s shutout hopes with a late touchdown in the first half. Quarterback Jimmy Laughrea found a wide open Tom Hemmingsen down the middle for a 23-yard touchdown pass with 61 seconds to go before halftime.
The Pack defense, though, played well for the most part. Davis, whose starting running back (Gabe Manzanares was also injured and missed the game), did pick up 224 total yards in the first half. But the Pack defense held the overmatched Aggies to no points and just 72 yards and just two first downs in the second half.
“We didn’t change a thing (in the second half),” Polian said. “We just did what we do and we did it better. We’re not going to let one bad performance (at UCLA) and let it doubt our (defensive) system. It’s a process. We’ll get better at what we do.”
Defensive end Ian Seau had 2.5 tackles for a loss (four tackles overall) and also forced a fumble.
“This game was big for us,” Seau said. “It helped us get our confidence back up, get our momentum back up and get our self esteem back up.”
The Wolf Pack put the game away with a couple of touchdowns in the third quarter.
Brock’s second touchdown of the game (a 6-yard run) capped a seven-play, 75-yard scoring drive as the Pack took a 27-7 lead. The lead reached 33-7 as Fajardo found Brandon Wimberly on an eight-yard slant for a touchdown with 4:38 to go in the third quarter. The final three points came on a 23-yard field goal by Brent Zuzo with 10:30 to play.
“We shouldn’t be fooled by the score,” said Polian, who added that the game was more difficult than the final 29-point margin of victory might suggest. “And I’m not doing cartwheels. But we’ll learn from this.”