Wolf Pack defense off to slow start | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Wolf Pack defense off to slow start

Joe Santoro
Tribune News Service
Nevada quarterback Cody Fajardo fires a pass over San Diego State linebacker Derek Largent during the second quarter of an NCAA college football game on Friday, Oct. 4, in San Diego.
Lenny Ignelzi / Associated Press | AP

Remaining games

Oct. 19 at Boise State * 5 p.m.

Oct. 26 vs. UNLV * 3:05 p.m.

Nov. 2 at Fresno State * TBA

Nov. 9 at Colorado State * 12:30 p.m.

Nov. 16 vs. San Jose State * TBA

Nov. 20 vs. BYU 12:05 p.m.

Dec. 7 Mountain West Championship * TBD

Bold denotes home games.

Nobody has to tell head coach Brian Polian that his Nevada Wolf Pack has one of the worst run defenses in the nation.

“Of course I’m concerned,” Polian said.

The Wolf Pack ranks 121st in the nation out of 123 teams against the run, allowing 267.2 yards a game. The Pack has allowed 377 yards on the ground to Florida State, 375 to Air Force, 345 to UCLA and 255 in its last outing, a 51-44 overtime loss at San Diego State on Oct. 4.

The only games in which the Pack defense has been respectable against the run were against UC Davis, a Football Championship Subdivision team (118 yards allowed) and Hawaii, traditionally one of the worst Football Bowl Subdivision running teams in the nation (133 yards allowed).

Polian, though, says the Wolf Pack isn’t panicking.

“We’re six games into a new system,” Polian said. “We’re not going to change who we are. We’re going to continue to do what we do. We just need to do it better.”

Polian reminded the media this week that the Wolf Pack wasn’t all that good against the run last year also. The Pack was 110th against the run in 2012, allowing 211.85 yards a game.

“It’s not just the system,” Polian said. “Look, does it matter what (system) you play if you are getting off your blocks and tackling? On defense it’s that simple.”

The Pack, Polian said, is not getting off the blocks and tackling.

“We just need people to do their jobs,” Polian said. “We need all 11 guys to do their job and the system will work just fine.”

BOISE BEATING PACK ON AND OFF FIELD: It didn’t take long for Polian to feel to grip that Boise State has on the Mountain West. Polian spent less than a month recruiting for the Wolf Pack after being named Nevada’s head coach last January but he quickly felt the aura of the Broncos.

“When guys get Mountain West offers, that’s the one they are looking for,” Polian said of Boise State’s influence on west coast recruits.

Polian, who will face the Broncos for the first time on the field on Saturday (5 p.m.) at Bronco Stadium, said he is well aware that he also has to battle against the Boise football machine off the field.

“We compete against them in recruiting,” Polian said. “We’re not dealing with all of the same kids but we deal with some of them. If a guy knows he is a Mountain West player, let’s face it, Boise is pretty high profile.”

ONE TIGHT END OUT, ANOTHER BACK IN: Tight end Kolby Arendse broke his right foot against San Diego State and will miss the rest of the season. Arendse had season-ending surgery earlier this week, Polian said.

“Losing him is a big blow for us,” Polian said. “Now other guys have to pick it up.”

One of those guys is expected to be Bishop Manogue graduate Stephen Jeffers. Jeffers, who has been out all season with an injured foot of his own, is expected to play Saturday at Boise State, Polian said. Jeffers, one of the Pack‘s top blocking tight ends, is expected to boost the run game.

“He’s not going to play 80 plays but he should be able to go 25-35 pays, which is good for us considering the loss of Arendse,” Polian added.

Arendse had 16 catches this year for 183 yards and two touchdowns. His absence is expected to be filled mainly by Jeffers and Jarred Gipson, who has five receptions for 43 yards. Jeffers, a 6-3, 265-pound senior, has four catches in his career for 28 yards and a touchdown.

FAJARDO TOTALLY HEALTHY: Quarterback Cody Fajardo, who has completed 71-of-105 passes for five touchdowns, 782 yards and no interceptions the last two games against Air Force and San Diego State, says he is 100 percent healthy now.

“The bye week was great,” Fajardo said. “I feel like myself again.”

Fajardo, who missed two games earlier this season with a sprained knee, said he will continue to wear his knee brace through the end of the regular season.

“It doesn’t hinder my performance at all,” Fajardo said. “I feel like I can run like I always have with it.”

Fajardo added that his improved health will allow the Pack to run “the real pistol offense” this week against Boise State. The last two weeks, Fajardo said, he really wasn’t allowed to turn it loose as a runner. The junior quarterback, though, did run well against Air Force and San Diego State, picking up 130 yards and two touchdowns on 28 carries combined in the two games.

“We didn’t do a lot of the quarterback run stuff,” he said. “The last two games we just went with the power run offense (handing off to the running backs) and I didn’t run too much myself. I’ll be able to run like I used to now. It will help us out offensively.”

AULT-POLIAN COMPARISONS CONTINUE: Wolf Pack players this week were asked once again to compare Polian with former Pack coach Chris Ault.

“Both are great coaches,” offensive tackle Joel Bitonio said. “Coach Polian lets the coordinators coordinate. Coach Ault was more hands on with the offense.”

“Coach Polian lets (offensive coordinator Nick Rolovich) run the offense,” Fajardo said. “Coach Ault, the pistol was his baby. He ran the offense.”

“Coach Polian is more of a general manager,” Polian said. “He kind of oversees things more and lets the (assistant) coaches coach.”

SEAU GETTING FIRST START: The Wolf Pack is making a change at one of its defensive end spots, starting Ian Seau over Lenny Jones against Boise State.

“We’re in a production-based business,” Polian said. “Ian Seau deserves to start. Lenny Jones isn’t in the doghouse. This is not personal.”

The move to Seau is surprising given that the sophomore hasn’t produced big numbers in a backup role. The small Seau (6-2, 227 pounds) has just nine tackles this year in six games. The 6-3, 255-pound Jones, who has started the last five games and 18 overall in his two-year career, has 20 tackles, and two sacks this year.

“We tell players all the time that what happened before in the past doesn’t matter,” said Polian, explaining the switch.

Polian, though, said Jones and Seau will likely share playing time against Boise.

“Both will probably play the same amount of plays,” Polian said.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around the Lake Tahoe Basin and beyond make the Tahoe Tribune's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.