Chris Ault left a long list of impressive accomplishments for Brian Polian to live up to as the Nevada Wolf Pack’s head football coach.
Beating the Boise State Broncos on a consistent basis is not one of them.
“I know that since (1999) we’ve beaten Boise State just one time,” said Polian, whose Wolf Pack will play at Boise State on Saturday (5 p.m., CBS Sports Network) in a pivotal Mountain West game. “That’s not lost on us.”
The Wolf Pack’s struggles against Boise State are clearly not a secret. The Pack has lost 12 of its last 13 meetings with the Broncos, losing every season starting with 1999 except 2000 when no game was played and 2010 when the Mackay Miracle took place and the Wolf Pack escaped with an improbable 34-31 overtime win.
The streak of futility has covered three conferences (Big West, WAC and Mountain West) and three head coaches on both sidelines (Boise’s Dirk Koetter, Dan Hawkins and Chris Peterson against the Pack’s Jeff Tisdel, Chris Tormey and Ault). Ault was 8-18 against Boise. No other team he faced in his 28 seasons as Nevada head coach beat him more than seven times.
How much history has passed since the Pack’s string of sorrow against Boise State began? Well, when it started in 1999, Mackay Stadium still had natural grass and didn’t have lights, Ault was just the athletic director and his name wasn’t on the field, David Neill was the Pack quarterback and Colin Kaepernick was in sixth grade.
“Boise State, in my opinion, has been the standard for the WAC and the Mountain West and schools like ours,” Polian said. “We’re chasing them down.”
They rarely catch them.
The Pack has been outscored on average, 45-21, in its last 13 meetings with Boise State. Last season’s 27-21 loss to Boise at Mackay Stadium was the first time the Pack has held the Broncos under 30 points since 1998. But the Wolf Pack’s numbers against Boise aren’t pretty no matter what angle you look at them from or what light you shine on them. The one that might mean the most on Saturday is that the Pack, 0-3 on the road this season, is 2-16 at Boise State since the rivalry started in 1971, winning only in 1986 and 1997.
“Ever since I got here (in January) the two games that everybody has told me about are UNLV first and Boise second,” Polian said. “I know this game means a lot to our fan base.”
This game also means a lot to this Wolf Pack season. The Wolf Pack, coming off a disappointing 51-44 overtime loss at San Diego State on Oct. 4, likely cannot afford another conference loss if it intends to win the Mountain West’s West Division and advance to the conference title game. The Pack is 3-3 overall and 2-1 in conference play behind Fresno State (5-0, 2-0), UNLV (4-2, 2-0) and San Diego State (3-3, 2-0) in the West Division. Boise is 4-2, 2-1 and behind just Wyoming (4-2, 2-0) in the Mountain.
“To be honest, I haven’t even thought about that,” said Polian of the Mountain West championship game on Dec. 7 between the winners of the West and Mountain Divisions. “All I think about every week is going 1-0.”
Considering the Wolf Pack has finished a week 1-0 just once this century against Boise State, the Pack has a tough challenge on Saturday. “To get to the Mountain West championship game we know we have to knock off Boise,” Pack quarterback Cody Fajardo said. “Both teams have one loss already (Boise lost to Fresno State) and if you lose two games you are probably done.”
The Broncos’ offense features quarterback Joe Southwick (264.8 passing yards a game), running back Jay Ajayi (90.7 rushing yards a game) and a host of quality wide receivers (Shane Williams-Rhodes, Matt Miller, Gerald Boldewijn, Kirby Moore). The defense is led by junior defense end Demarcus Lawrence and tackle Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe. Lawrence, Tjong-A-Tjoe, Tyler Horn and Armand Nance are all in the top seven for tackles for defensive linemen in the Mountain West.
“They don’t hurt themselves,” Wolf Pack offensive tackle Joel Bitonio said. “They play good, fundamental football. We’ll have to play our best to beat them.”
Southwick, who will at times operate out of the pistol formation, completed 27-of-29 passes against Air Force and was 30-of-44 for 335 yards and two scores in a 34-23 win over Utah State last Saturday.
“He manages the game very well, “ Polian said of Southwick. “And he’s become a more dangerous passer than in year’s past. Teams are doing everything they can to stop (Boise’s run) and saying, ’You (Southwick) have to beat us,’ and he’s done that.”
Ajayi, who had 109 yards against Utah State, also concerns Polian. The Wolf Pack is last in the Mountain West in rushing defense, allowing 267.2 yards a game on the ground.
“At 6-foot, 220 pounds, he’s a load,” Polian said. “He’ll be tough to handle for us.“
Boise’s defense, though, has struggled this year. The Broncos are still second in the Mountain West in total defense but they allowed 38 points to Washington (in a 38-6 loss) to start the year and they lost at Fresno State 41-40. They also allowed 23 points to Utah State, which was without its starting quarterback Chuckie Keeton because of a season-ending knee injury. Boise, though, has also allowed an average of just 13.6 points a game at home this year.
“Boise is a great team but I don’t think they are unbeatable,” Pack wide receiver Richy Turner said.
The Wolf Pack came close to beating Boise last year at home, losing by just six points when tight end Zach Sudfeld fumbled away a sure touchdown just as he was about to enter the end zone.
But beating Boise at Bronco Stadium is another matter. The Broncos are 82-4 at home since 2000 and none of those four losses were against Nevada.
“I’ve heard a lot about how great the game day experience is at Boise State,” Polian said. “I’ve never been there and I’m looking forward to it.”
Boise is averaging 34,906 fans at its home games this year. The Pack has also allowed an average of 57 points a game on the road this year.
“I told the guys, ‘Let’s not be afraid of it. Let’s enjoy it,’” Polian said. “To play in front of a full house, a rowdy crowd in a great atmosphere, that‘s fun.”
The Wolf Pack, which has played at UCLA, Florida State and San Diego State this season, won’t likely be intimidated by the Boise crowd.
“Our whole team has confidence,” Turner said. “It’s great to play in those places with the stadium packed. It won’t phase anyone.”
Boise’s famous blue turf also won’t scare the Pack.
“We can’t be concerned about blue turf,” Polian said. “Who cares? It’s still 100 yards.”
“The blue turf, it looks cool for about the first five minutes,” Bitonio said. “After that you just play football.”