The Wolf Pack football team returns home Saturday to host San Diego State looking for the first in-season two-game winning streak in Jay Norvell's tenure. The Wolf Pack is 0-5 when following a victory under Norvell (unless you count this year's season opener, which came after a win over UNLV in last year's finale). In anticipation of its game with the Aztecs, the Wolf Pack held its weekly press conference Monday. Here were the top 12 quotes to come from it.
“I was really proud of our effort in the fourth quarter. We out-scored (Hawaii) 14 to eight. Our kids really responded, looked each other in the eye and we really did what we had to do in the fourth quarter. I was really proud of how we ran the ball in the fourth quarter. We were physical. Everybody had a part in it.” - Nevada head coach Jay Norvell
Nevada's win over Hawaii was probably its best all-around game this season. The Wolf Pack snapped a three-game skid of not scoring in the fourth quarter by putting the Rainbow Warriors away in the final frame. Nevada rushed for 52 yards and two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, taking a 27-14 lead and stretching it to a final of 40-22.
“We’re into the ninth game of the season. There’s a lot that will be decided in the next month in this conference. That’s the one thing that we understand. A lot of the top teams in the league still have to play each other. This conference will not be decided in October. It will be decided in November. We want to continue to play and play well one week at a time and keep our focus at what’s at hand, and that certainly for us that's San Diego State.” - Norvell
It actually might have been decided in October from the Wolf Pack's perspective, but Nevada does still have a shot at winning the MW's West Division. The Wolf Pack would have to run the table, have Fresno State lose to Boise State and San Diego State, have San Diego State lose at least one more (outside of a theoretical loss to Nevada) and then win the tiebreakers. Not likely, but the Wolf Pack isn't completely out of it.
“Rashaad Penny’s a great back. They just don’t come around that often. San Diego State has made a point to play with very good backs year in and year out. Their style of play lends to that. The guys playing for them now are very, very capable backs. I’m happy he’s not playing this weekend to be honest with you. But we’ll be up for a real challenge with their running game, their offensive line and their schemes. They’re committed to pounding the ball at you, and you have to be ready for that when you play this football team.” - Norvell
Penny destroyed Nevada last season, rushing for 222 yards and two touchdowns while scoring on kick and punt returns. His 429 total yards were a school record and he was the first FBS player since at least 1996 with two rushing touchdowns, a kick return touchdown and a punt touchdown in the same game. Nevada doesn't face that this week. (Penny plays for the Seahawks now). The Wolf Pack also might not face his backup as Juwan Washington has been out with a fractured clavicle. SDSU's quarterback Christian Chapman also has missed the last five games with a sprained MCL. SDSU's offense is depleted. Nevada must take advantage.
“I’ve just been so impressed with his mindset. I saw Korey (Rush) before our game sitting out under the shade and I just talked to him for a minute. He’s just so focused on playing well and that rubs down on the younger players. When the younger players see the older players focused on their preparation and how much every game means to them, it brings a sense of urgency for everybody involved. Korey has done a great job of leading. He’s kind of the poster child for the rest of our team on what a senior is supposed to do in their senior year, and he just plays with such energy up front. We need him to continue to do that up front.” - Norvell
Rush, the Wolf Pack's senior defensive end, was the first Nevada player this season to earn a conference player of the week award. He won the defensive honor after recording four tackles for loss and a career-high three sacks against Hawaii. He's playing at an All-MW level.
“I need to talk to Coach Bruce about that. We’ll take care of that. We’ll see. Maybe this week some time. But we’ll take care of that. It was a friendly wager. We wish the Dodgers luck in the World Series against the Sox. It will be a big challenge for them. We’ll see if they’re up to it.” - Norvell
Norvell and Wolf Pack baseball coach T.J. Bruce made a wager prior to the start of the NLCS. If the Brewers won, Bruce had to coach practice in full football uniform. If the Dodgers won, Norvell had to coach practice in full baseball uniform. The Dodgers (and Bruce) won.
“Getting your mindset ready to know what team you’re going to face. With San Diego State, we know they like to run the ball and it’s going to be a very physical game. The have O-linemen who can move people out of the way and create gaps. Their backs can run wild.” - Wolf Pack linebacker Gabe Sewell
Sewell was asked about making the switch from defending against the Run and Shoot last week to SDSU's run-first, physical style this week (the Aztecs run the ball 68.3 percent of the time). Nevada has been good against the run this season, limiting the opposition to 3.52 yards per carry. For as much as SDSU runs the ball, it averages just 4.10 yards per carry. That's not great for a run-oriented team. This is a key matchup.
“It’s been an incredible step. Since I’ve been here, this is the most road wins I’ve ever had since I’ve been here. It’s an amazing feeling that we can win road games.” - Sewell
Sewell was talking about the team recording back-to-back road wins. Prior to those two games, Nevada was 1-13 on the road in Sewell's playing career.
“Toa’s a goofball. He’s a great kid. He has a spunky personality about him. You can see in the way he runs. You can hear him laugh every time he cuts back on the defense. He’s in love with the game. You can see it. He comes from a great football family, and he’s just a great person to be around.” - Sewell
Sewell was asked about Nevada true freshman running back Toa Taua, who recorded his second 100-yard rushing game in the win over Hawaii. He's up to 575 rushing yards (6.3 yards per carry) and five touchdowns this season.
“We have to keep winning. There are other teams that have some tough games ahead of them. We kind of have to see what happens to those teams, but we’re still in the race for the Mountain West championship.” - Wolf Pack linebacker Lucas Weber
Nevada has championship aspirations.
“I think a lot of it is guys understanding we’re late in the season and we get in with the trainers and get our bodies back to normal and the coaches are doing a great job giving us time off from the practice field and giving us more time in the meeting room to rest our legs a little bit. Guys are taking advantage of that down time to stretch, roll out and get our bodies back to normal.” - Weber
Weber was asked about the Wolf Pack looking strong despite entering its ninth straight game without a bye (its bye comes after the SDSU game). The Wolf Pack didn't practice Monday (it held meetings), which marks the first time this season it hasn't hit the field for a Monday practice.
“We’ve grown a lot. I like what we’re doing a lot. I didn’t think we’d be able to do it. Hawaii’s a great team. Boise we competed with them, a great team. It’s only up from here. We can win out. We can do a lot.” -Wolf Pack wide receiver Elijah Cooks
Nevada (or at least Cooks) is surprised at how well it has played of late.
“Most definitely (we can win out), especially with the four games coming up they’re very winnable. If we just buy into the plan and execute what we need to do, we can for sure win these games. They’re going to be tough, though. They’re going to be tough.” - Cooks
Winning out has been a bit of a rallying cry for Nevada, which sits at 4-4 but faces a coin-flip game against SDSU followed by three games in which it will be favored (Colorado State, San Jose State, UNLV). Winning out would put Nevada at eight wins, something it has done just seven times in its FBS era (since 1992). Six of those seasons came under Chris Ault.
Sports columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @MurrayNSN.