By Neil Patrick Healy and Jack Rieger
WHAT IS A REALISTIC GOAL FOR THE REST OF THE SEASON?
Neil Healy: Despite all the negativity coming from Jack, there is still hope on the horizon. A West Division win and a berth in the MWC championship game is still plausible not because of Nevada’s overwhelming talent, but because the rest of the Division is atrocious. The next five games are against bottom- feeders that Nevada should be able to beat. The two tough games remaining on the schedule are two straight road games to end the season with trips to Utah State (not in the West Division) and a Thanksgiving weekend showdown against SDSU. The SDSU game will most likely determine the winner of the Division, so Nevada shouldn’t give up hope just yet. Winning cures all ills, Jack.
Jack Rieger: Neil, quit sucking up to Nevada football and be a journalist for a second. You’re right about the West division being terrible this year, but Nevada is a contributing member to that terrible division. The Wolf Pack lost two out of three games to UNLV at Mackay Stadium for the first time since 2003 and there was nothing fortuitous about it. Nevada was outplayed by UNLV for the majority of the game and deserved to lose. A 6-6 season would be a success at this point for Nevada football, which would land the Wolf Pack in an illustrious Idaho Potato Bowl.
HAS TYLER STEWART LOST HIS GRIP ON THE STARTING QB SPOT?
J: Former Nevada quarterbacks Cody Fajardo and Colin Kaepernick have spoiled Nevada fans for the last eight years with all-conference-level play. Tyler Stewart isn’t as talented or dynamic as his predecessors, but he is not entirely responsible for the offensive woes. Although he would probably never admit it, Stewart’s role in the offense is much more “game manager” than “game winner,” as Nevada’s offensive efficiency depends much more on the running game than it does on the passing game. Stewart still has a firm grip on the starting quarterback position, and I wouldn’t expect that to change any time soon as Nevada enters the easiest part of their schedule.
N: Jack, I’m going to need you to pipe down before you hurt yourself. Stewart went 20-for-44 passing (45 percent) and his fourth quarter interception returned for a Rebel touchdown was the eventual difference- maker in the game. May I remind you that Nevada had two passing yards in the first quarter. TWO! That is unacceptable in a rivalry game and in a conference opener. When the Pack’s running game goes south, which it did mightily against the Rebels, Stewart isn’t the kind of quarterback that can win a shootout. We may see redshirt freshman Hunter Fralick sooner rather than later if Stewart keeps this kind of play up.
HAS THE BALANCE OF THE RIVALRY SHIFTED IN UNLV’S FAVOR?
N: The tide is turning toward the Rebels. This rivalry tends to swing back and forth, with one team reeling off a long winning streak and then the other reels one off right after that. Before Nevada’s eight-game winning streak from 2005-2012 UNLV won five in a row. The Rebels have taken two out of the last three meetings (both at Mackay) and it doesn’t look like Nevada has made big improvements from year one to year three of head coach Brian Polian’s career. Rivalry games mean a lot to a fan base, and Polian losing two out of three to the Rebels will surely make the natives restless.
J: Neil I hate to agree with you, but this rivalry has become much more competitive in the last few years, which is a healthy sign for both teams. According to economic theory, competition promotes growth and development for both parties involved. This rivalry hasn’t been balanced for a long time, but that seems to have changed with UNLV winning two out of the last three contests. I expect the rivalry to continue to be competitive, especially with new UNLV coach Tony Sanchez being involved. Sanchez gives UNLV football a sense of urgency that they have desperately needed for a long time, and I believe he will continue to improve their team. Don’t be surprised if UNLV keeps the cannon red for a few years.
Neil Patrick Healy can be reached at Neil@Sagebrush.unr.edu and on Twitter @NeilTheJuiceMan
Jack Rieger can be reached at Jrieger@Sagebrush.unr.edu and on Twitter @JackRieger