By Jack Rieger
Keystone Light sales in Reno have skyrocketed, coach Brian Polian is yelling at referees and Nevada almost lost to an FCS opponent. In other words, college football is back. Here are five things we learned about the state of Nevada football after Friday’s near-disaster.
Nevada is better at tailgating than playing football
If the amount of beer cans consumed by students correlated with the football team’s success, Nevada would be a top-25 program. An hour before the game started, the student tailgate section of the north end-zone parking lot looked like a scene from “Project X,” except more Chubbies shorts and body odor. A U-Haul truck overflowing with sexually aroused 19- to 22-year-olds was anchored at the west end of the tailgate, while pickup trucks containing more sweaty, disorderly students lined the north and south ends of the tailgate, creating a parabola from hell.
The center of the parabola was pure chaos, as full cans of Coors Light flew by the mob of students like stray bullets in a war zone. Some especially desperate tailgaters resorted to picking up the exploding beer cans and inhaling whatever fluid they could salvage from the leaking containers. There was a deafening blare of music coming from speakers lined up around the parabola that made having a conversation nearly impossible. Steven Reilly, a senior-year finance student, spoke very highly of the tailgating experience.
“I had an unbelievable time,” Reilly said. “It was really one of the better tailgates I’ve ever been to in my life. I did not expect it to be like that, but it was top-notch.”
While the tailgate was filled with energy and excitement, most students seemed completely disinterested in going to the game, including Reilly.
“I got too drunk,” Reilly said. “I went to Archies instead to sober up. I really wanted to go before the tailgate started but things kind of got out of control and it was just out of the question. I heard we almost lost though.”
For the students who didn’t go to the game, Steven was right. Nevada barely avoided losing to Cal Poly, an FCS opponent better known for its computer science program and alumnus Weird Al Yankovic than its football team.
Brian Polian is still yelling at referees
In an exclusive conversation with Reno Gazette-Journal columnist Chris Murray last week, Polian said, “I don’t want people to just have an image of me red-faced.”
Over the past three years, Polian has earned a reputation with fans and opponents as a hothead who is quick to lose his temper with officials while on the sideline. In a game against Arizona last season, Polian was guilty of two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties and fined $10,000 by Athletic Director Doug Knuth for his behavior.
During the conversation with Murray last week, Polian went on to say, “I love my job. I smile a lot. I love coming to work. I love our kids. I love our coaches. I love working with the athletic department staff. Obviously there are certain times of the year where all eyes are on you, and if you act a certain way you create a reputation and now I have to try and battle that a little bit.”
On Saturday, Polian was back to his usual shtick, repeatedly berating officials on the sideline for calls he thought they missed. In Polian’s defense, screaming at officials is basically in a college football coach’s job description, but Polian does it so frequently that it visibly wears down officials and makes Polian — a first-time head coach — look childish.
Wolf Pack’s young front seven did not look good
Cal Poly’s triple-option offense wore down Nevada’s inexperienced front seven with a relentless running game. Cal Poly netted 383 rushing yards to Nevada’s 174 and ran 83 total plays, while Nevada ran just 58. Polian mentioned his defense’s fatigue in the postgame news conference.
“One thing that happened to us in the first half is we got physically worn down,” Polian said. “When the difference between plays is 83 to 58, your defense is going to get get worn down and you’ve got to get off the field.”
Nevada’s defensive front seven consists of six new starters and an especially inexperienced linebacking core anchored by redshirt freshman Gabe Sewell. The defense’s lack of depth was exposed when a couple of minor injuries forced Nevada to play more linebackers and linemen with even less experience.
To be fair, Cal Poly’s triple option is an unusual offense to contain. The triple option is designed to create chaos and misdirection and gives less talented offenses a chance to even the playing field. It’s sort of like when Donald Trump resorts to name-calling and insulting Hillary Clinton instead of participating in civilized debate. In other words, the triple offense is the Trump of football.
Mackay Stadium received a major face lift
In case you haven’t heard, the oversized high school field that was Mackay Stadium received a $14 million face-lift over the summer. Most notably, there is now a video screen from the 21st century and a sound system that emits audible, relevant noises. The cracked red track has been resurfaced and colored blue and silver, and a two-story permanent restroom has been added. According to Knuth, 4,084 blue chair-backs were added to seven sections of the bleachers (Reno chiropractors are going to lose some business). Lastly, a 9,000-square-foot club level was installed below the stadium’s press box, which can hold up to 300 people and host non-gameday events.
The renovations were a real bright spot on Friday night and were desperately needed. Finding an open urinal in Mackay before Friday was more difficult than graduating in four years (let’s stop building dorms and consider building more classrooms). Tip of the cap to Doug Knuth and Nevada Athletics for listening to the fans and improving a Reno landmark.
Tyler Stewart and receiving core look dangerous
Nevada lacked a playmaking aerial attack last season, and the offense was almost completely dependent on the running game to produce points. On Friday night, Tyler Stewart looked awfully comfortable in his second season as the starting quarterback, completing 17 of 23 passes for 189 yards and two touchdowns. Six minutes into the game, Stewart delivered an off-target fade pass in the corner of the end zone to junior Wyatt Demps, who miraculously hauled in the ball with one hand.
Stewart had success connecting with his receiving core throughout the first quarter as the senior quarterback completed his first seven passes, helping Nevada jump out to a 21-7 lead. He completed all five of his third-down passes and also ran for 31 yards. Stewart and the offense became less effective as the game progressed, especially when Cal Poly was able to establish a consistent pass rush.
Last season, Stewart only completed 57 percent of his passes and threw for just 15 touchdowns. It’s a small sample size against a subpar opponent, but 17 for 23 and two touchdowns is a good sign for an offense desperate for a dangerous passing game.
Jack Rieger is a finance and economics student. He can be reached on Twitter @JackRieger or Jrieger@sagebrush.unr.edu