In the deconstruction of his Nevada football team’s 54-3 loss to Hawaii – the program’s most lopsided at home since 1950 – Wolf Pack head coach Jay Norvell first pointed the finger at himself.
“The facts of the game are we got out-played in every phase of the game,” Norvell opened his Monday press conference saying. “Offense, defense, special teams. I've always believed that when we win, the players deserve all of the credit. They players are the ones making the plays. When we lose, I believe it is my responsibility and I take full responsibility for what happened Saturday night.”
But in discussing the loss and how he hoped Nevada rebounded from it, Norvell said he needs more from his players. The Wolf Pack is actually in a decent spot through its first five games, sitting at 3-2, with a win over the Big Ten’s Purdue, entering its bye week. But Nevada has been crushed in its two losses. A 71-point loss at Oregon made some sense. The Ducks are a high-octane Pac-12 team. The 51-point loss to Hawaii, a team the Wolf Pack was favored to beat, was a little harder to understand.
That loss has Norvell questioning the mental toughness and physicality of his players.
“Every team has a different personality and the personality of our football team is we’ve just been inconsistent in our mental toughness, in our physicality,” Norvell said. “We do it at times very well and other times we’re not nearly good enough. When games like this happen, we kind of go back to the basic things you really believe in. The one thing that is constant that I believe in is the players are reflection of the coaches. We want our players to reflect the things that we believe in as coaches.”
Norvell said if players are not doing what is asked of them by the coaches – basically if they’re not executing the game plan – they’re going to be replaced. Nevada was clearly out-classed by the Hawaii in its Mountain West opener.
“Every player is responsible for his own effort and his own physicality and toughness,” Norvell said.
Asked if he had an issue with his team’s effort following the lopsided loss, Norvell said he did not.
“I don’t think so,” Norvell said. “I don’t think there’s been a problem with effort. I just don’t think we collectively brought the fight. We got beat in every statistical category. What the means is we weren’t doing anything well, and that’s what we have to live with. It’s not a good feeling. It’s not a good taste in your mouth to live with that type of performance, but we have to do things to change that. That’s just life. We have to go back to work and demand certain things of players. The other part of life is this: If we don’t get what we’re asking for then we’re going to get it from somebody else.”
Norvell went on to say, “the best motivation is the bench” and seems prepared to make personnel changes when Nevada plays San Jose State on Oct. 12. One of the changes could come at quarterback, where Carson Strong has started four of five games. Cristian Solano has split time with him. And Malik Henry got two series at UTEP earlier this season. Nevada is searching for an answer at the position.
“It’s the same old thing,” Norvell said. “Until you have an established quarterback, you’re looking for that. We do have guys who are all capable of helping us win. Obviously when you don’t play well you look more critically at that, but we would like to get consistency at that position. We don’t like to have a revolving door at quarterback. At the same time, you have a responsibility to your team, and if we feel like a guy can help give us a shot or put us in a better position to win as a team we’ll certainly use that.”
Norvell was more animated and more openly upset following the lopsided loss to Hawaii than to Oregon, saying he had a “come to Jesus” discussion with his team. He said he didn’t know if the loss to the Rainbow Warriors was “an eye-opener,” but “it’s obviously beyond disappointing and embarrassing.”
“There are a whole bunch of players and coaches over at Cashell (FieldHouse) that got their eyes opened this morning,” Norvell said of his Monday review with the team. “I can guarantee you that.”
Norvell said the Wolf Pack was not hitting its standard on offense and was giving up too many easy plays on defense. With more wins than losses but also the fourth-worst scoring margin among 130 FBS teams, Norvell is still trying to figure out his team.
“It’s kind of an interesting dynamic,” Norvell said. “If you take the three games that we won and the two games that we lost, they’re completely different contrasts. The truth of our football team is somewhere in the middle of those games. But we really have to be more consistent. We have to be able to hang our hat on certain things offensively. This is not our standard offensively. We need to get back. We have plenty of season to get into a rhythm and play the way we’re capable of and we’ve got to just get back to that.”
Sports columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @MurrayNSN.