Pack all about finishing on a solid note
The Nevada Wolf Pack football team has just one goal left to accomplish this season.
Finish in style.
“It is very important to finish this off the right way after what this team has accomplished this year,” said head coach Chris Ault whose Wolf Pack (12-1) will meet the Boston College Eagles (7-5) in Sunday’s (6 p.m., ESPN) Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl at San Francisco’s AT&T Park.
The Wolf Pack, ranked 13th in the nation by the Associated Press and 15th in the Bowl Championship Series standings, will take a four-game bowl losing streak into the game.
“It’s been a little bit like the good, the bad and the ugly in our bowl games,” said Ault, who has a career record of 1-5 in bowl games. “But now we just have to find a way to finish it.”
There’s that word again.
“No question,” said Ault, whose Pack last played on Dec. 4 in its Western Athletic Conference championship-clinching 35-17 victory at Louisiana Tech. “That’s what we’ve talked about all month.”
The Wolf Pack seniors have talked about it for an even longer period of time.
“This is something we’ve worked hard for ever since our bowl game ended last year,” quarterback Colin Kaepernick said, recalling the 45-10 loss in the Hawaii Bowl to SMU.
Kaepernick is 0-3 as a starter in bowl games. No other Wolf Pack quarterback has ever lost more than one bowl game as a starter.
“The past games haven’t gone our way,” Kaepernick said.
Kaepernick’s best bowl game performance was two years ago in a 42-35 loss to Maryland in the Humanitarian Bowl in Boise when he passed for 370 yards and three touchdowns and also ran for a 15-yard score. It was one of the most courageous performances in Pack postseason history as Kaepernick played with a noticeable limp after getting sacked on back-to-back plays in the second quarter.
But the Pack quarterback has had a tough time in the postseason trying to showcase all of his many talents.
He has passed for 684 yards and four touchdowns in his three bowls but he’s also been sacked nine times and has been intercepted three times. He’s also rushed for just 64 yards on 34 carries in the three bowls combined.
It also hasn’t helped that Kaepernick and the Pack have rarely played with a lead in bowl games the past three years. The Pack had led just twice and for a mere 69 seconds over the three games.
Both leads were in the Maryland game two years ago. The first lead (7-6) lasted all of 13 seconds as Maryland returned the following kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown and the second lead (14-13) lasted 56 seconds as Maryland scored after just two plays on a 53-yard run.
“We’re going to do everything we can this time to make sure things go our way,” said Kaepernick, who will play in the Senior Bowl on Jan. 29 in Mobile, Ala. “This is huge for the seniors. We want to get one of these before we leave here.”
Boston College, which won its last five games after losing five in a row, features the top-ranked rushing defense (allowing 80.2 yards a game) in the nation.
“They are the No. 1 rushing defense in the country,” Ault said “They didn’t get that title for nothing. Their linebackers are as good as we’ve seen all year. That includes Boise State.”
The Eagles’ run defense starts with linebackers Luke Kuechly and Mark Herzlich. Kuechly, a sophomore, leads the nation with 171 tackles. Herzlich, a senior who missed all of last year while he was receiving treatment for cancer in his leg, has 60 tackles and four interceptions.
“They are a great rushing defense,” said Pack running back Vai Taua, who has rushed for a personal-best 1,534 yards and a school-record 22 touchdowns this year. “We have to find a way to break that down.”
“You always want to go against the best,” said Kaepernick, who has rushed for a NCAA-record 59 touchdowns in his career (tied with Nebraska’s Eric Crouch) and is the third quarterback in history to rush for 4,000 yards along with Missouri’s Brad Smith and West Virginia’s Pat White.
“Our running game is something we take a lot of pride in. We want to beat the best.”
Kaepernick, though, knows that running the ball with success against the Eagles won’t be easy.
“They are a very physical defense, very disciplined in everything they do,” Kaepernick said. “We know they are going to smack us in the mouth the whole game.”
Boston College, though, also knows that the Wolf Pack offense will present challenges they have yet to face this year. The Wolf Pack boasts the third-ranked rushing offense (305.9 yards a game) and the third-ranked total offense (535.5 yards) in the nation.
“It’s something we’re not familiar with,” Eagles’ coach Frank Spaziani said this week, referring to the Wolf Pack’s Pistol offense. “It’s a little more than a pistol to us. It’s like a bazooka.”
Spaziani has also become of fan of Kaepernick.
“He’s a fantastic football player,” Spaziani said. “I have a strange suspicion that he’ll be better in real life than he is on film. He does it all. He’s big, he’s fast, he fits their type of offense.”
Spaziani’s Eagles lost to USC in this same bowl game (it was called the Emerald Bowl then) last year, 24-13. The Eagles will be playing in their 12th consecutive bowl game. The Pack will be in its sixth in a row.
“They (Nevada) are only a couple plays away from being 13-0 and probably arguing for a BCS game,” Spaziani said. “The more I watch them the better they get. We have our hands full.”
The Wolf Pack is 3-7 in bowl games. They won the 1948 Salad Bowl (13-6 over North Texas), the 1996 Las Vegas Bowl (18-15 over Ball State) and the 2005 Hawaii Bowl (49-48 over Central Florida).
“This is a chance for us to go up there and do what we do best and that’s win,” said senior defensive end Dontay Moch.
A victory will equal the Pack’s school record of 13 victories in a season with the 1986 (13-1) and 1990 (13-2) teams. This team, though, can do something that not even those two teams accomplished.
It can win its final game of the year and finish the year off the right way.
“We have a chance to put an exclamation mark on our season,” junior defensive end Brett Roy said.