Timing is everything.
Following a 30-14 victory over San Diego State last Saturday night, Nevada will hit its second bye of the season this week. On the heels of a three-game winning streak (its longest such streak since 2012) the bye week could not have come at a better time for the banged-up Wolf Pack. Giving a handful of players much-needed rest and allowing the other pieces of the Mountain West puzzle to fall into place will go a long way in determining Nevada’s post-season fate.
Even though the Pack is riding high, many were questioning whether injuries had already caught up to Nevada, thanks to a sluggish start against SDSU.
During the first half, it was evident that some Pack players on the offense were dealing with several nagging injuries. The offensive line allowed a sack, the running game was only able to manage 48 yards and there were several key drops by Nevada receivers.
However, the Wolf Pack turned it around in the second half. Nevada ended up with 229 rushing yards and scored 20 unanswered points. Propelled by Fajardo (who became the second quarterback ever to pass for 9,000 yards and rush for 3,000 in a career), two turnovers by the defense and two long runs by running backs Don Jackson and James Butler, the Pack buried the Aztecs.
With the momentum from the win carrying them over, some key positions will get some needed time to lick their wounds. According to head coach Brian Polian after the game, all three starting wide receivers (Richy Turner, Jerico Richardson and Hasaan Henderson) missed time in practice last week due to injuries. Offensive linemen Matt Galas and Austin Corbett both have been battling persistent leg injuries and defensive captain Jordan Dobrich has also been playing hurt.
History might not be on Nevada’s side in games following a bye (they are 1-2 the last three years), but this season’s group of players have seen a significant change. Both Jackson and linebacker Jon McNeal said post-game that this year’s squad has more heart than prior seasons and this is evidenced by the team’s incredible turnaround in the fourth quarter. After being torched in the second half of games last year (Nevada was buried by a total margin of 95 points), the Pack has hit its stride after halftime. Through nine games this year, the Wolf Pack has outscored opponents in the fourth quarter, 118 to 45 (+73), the best mark in college football.
A final positive about this bye week is, aside from SDSU playing a dreadful Idaho team (who is 1-7 this year) at home, San Jose State will square off with Fresno State. That will make the middle of the West Division more of a quagmire. The best case scenario here is if the Spartans knock off the Bulldogs, since Nevada already has a head-to-head advantage over San Jose State, thanks to a win earlier this year on the road.
The team has said multiple times throughout the year that they are taking the season week by week and with this extra time, the Pack will plan for the home stretch of the year.
For the seniors, the time is now to make a run.
Chris Boline can be reached at cboline@ sagebrush.unr.edu