The Nevada football team hits the road Saturday for its regular-season finale in what is always the biggest game of the year, the Battle for the Fremont Cannon against rival UNLV. In anticipation of its game with the Rebels, the Wolf Pack held its weekly press conference Monday. Here were the top 12 quotes to come from it.
“We play for probably the most significant trophy in college football with this rivalry. The Fremont Cannon is completely unique. It’s the most amazing thing that teams get to play for. It sits outside of our office every day of the year and it’s been here every day since I’ve been at Nevada.” - Nevada head coach Jay Norvell
Norvell has been a part of the Oklahoma-Texas, UCLA-USC, Iowa-Minnesota, Wisconsin-Minnesota and Arizona-Arizona State rivalries, but he puts the Fremont Cannon as the top prize.
“I had a conversation with Al Groh, who is a former head coach at Virginia and a long-time New York Jets assistant (he also was the Jets' head coach in 2000) and I thanked him. I told him, ‘You have no idea what kind of effect you had on our program when a year ago you told us we were small and slow on defense.’ That really motivated me and our staff to make the necessary changes we had to make to improve our football team. And he smiled and laughed and we talked for about 15 minutes after the game. But what a class gentleman and a super knowledgeable football man and a coach’s coach. It was great to see him.” - Norvell
On signing day last year, Norvell mentioned Groh calling the Wolf Pack small and slow on defense. Who knew Groh, who was on the call for the Nevada-SJSU game and talked to Norvell post-game, was the unsung hero of the Wolf Pack's 2018 season?
“The 2018 team has a chance to win eight football games Saturday. The significant thing of that is we’ve played at a school with tremendous football tradition and the four years you get to play college football is your opportunity to add to that football tradition. That’s what our kids have done. They want to make the jersey better, and what’s significant about this 2018 team? This 2018 team has a chance to win eight football games. Since the University of Nevada has moved to the Mountain West Conference it hasn’t won eight games. That’s significant. They get a chance to leave a legacy, they get a chance to add to the great football tradition of the University of Nevada.” - Norvell
Since moving to the FBS in 1992, Nevada football has won eight-plus games seven times (2010, 2009, 2006, 2005, 1996, 1995 and 1994), so it's not unprecedented but it is somewhat rare (roughly 30 percent of the seasons).
“We probably couldn’t say it publicly until now, but our goal was to win eight games. We wanted to win two games in every quarter and if you do that that’s eight games. My Iowa education tells me that’s eight. That was our goal. We didn’t really talk about it publicly. I complimented our kids today. When we came here, we were 128th in rush defense in the nation (out of 128 teams) when we came here and took this program over. You can’t win many football games when you’re 128 in rush defense. I believe we’re 24th in the nation right now, which is tremendous progress and a great credit to our defensive players and a great credit to our defensive coaches and our offseason training the way we’ve prepared. We have to continue to build on that. If you play good run defense, you have the chance to win every week.” - Norvell
Now they tell us the team goals! (And the run defense has been great. I'm interested to see how it stacks up against a running quarterback in Armani Rogers).
“We won the game Saturday and it wasn’t pretty and I credited our players because we weren’t really happy after that game as a team. We were not pleased about the way that we played, and I think that shows the change in the expectations of our players. Our players expect to play good. They expect to play well. And when we don’t they’re disappointed, and that’s good. That means they have high expectations of their performance and we have expectations of them to go out and perform a certain way.” - Norvell
Fortunately the Wolf Pack was playing San Jose State. The challenge against UNLV will be a little stiffer.
“Rivalry games really come down to the way you prepare. You throw the records out. The records don’t mean a whole lot in a rivalry game and typically the most physical team and the team that protects the football wins.” - Norvell
The "throw out the records" line is a rivalry cliché, so I looked up if the records actually do matter. Does the better team (on paper) usually win the Fremont Cannon game? Yes, they actually do. The team with the better end-of-season record is 32-6 in this series (five times the teams had the same record at the end of the year, so I didn't include those in that 32-6 count). Seems like the records do matter to a large degree, which favors Nevada in this game.
“I realized the magnitude of the game when I first got here to be honest. Before I got here, that’s pretty much all they talked about. When I was recruited, when I came on a visit here, they mentioned UNLV and how animated and how active the game is, how it’s always back and forth and how people get up and play for this game. No matter what goes on during the season, people always get up for this game.” - Nevada outside linebacker Malik Reed
Reed and Nevada's fifth-year seniors are 3-1 against UNLV.
“To walk past it when you do get a chance to see it it’s amazing to know how many people played for it and the games that’s been played (in the series) and how great they’ve been over the years. To just have it and see it down the hallway is amazing. It makes you want to not let it go to the other side.” - Reed
Reed, on seeing the Fremont Cannon every day in Cashell FieldHouse
“I know Coach (Chris) Ault mentioned it in his meeting today, this is the difference between being good and great. I feel like we’ve been a good team this year and to have a chance to win eight or nine games would separate us from being good to great. I feel like this is a tremendous opportunity.” - Reed
Nine wins would be tied for the second most in school history in Nevada's FBS era.
“It was really cool. I remember (Ault) coming in last year and we were in a different position last year. Coming in this year and the message he brought this year about where we’re sitting, it really got us fired up. He must have been a pretty cool guy to play for, too, given how much energy he brings and how much passion he brings to the game, especially this game. He really got us fired up.” - Nevada linebacker Lucas Weber
Weber seems like an Ault-type linebacker.
“Last year was a really big win. The season didn’t go as we wanted it to go, but last year that last win things just started clicking, with the run defense, too. Guys just started understanding the defense better. It was our first year with the defense and last year just gave us a lot of hope going into this year.” - Weber
I'll have a full story on this later in the week, but Nevada's regular-season finale win over UNLV was a turning point for the Norvell era.
“It’s really cool to think about. I try not to think about it too much and I try to take it game by game, but you do think about it. I would like to say we left a good legacy with this senior class, but we’ll see. First we have to win this game and then win a bowl game and then I think we could definitely say something like that.” - Weber
Weber, on the legacy this year's seniors are trying to leave.
Sports columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @MurrayNSN.