When the Nevada football team last played at Sam Boyd Stadium in 2018, it was thought that'd be the Wolf Pack's final game at the stadium.
But college football is playing through a pandemic, so weird things are bound to happen.
One of the weirdest yet is the Wolf Pack playing New Mexico on Saturday in Las Vegas, a city more than 450 miles away from both of these campuses. But the Lobos have been forced out of their state due to strict COVID-19 restrictions and have relocated to Las Vegas, where it will host Nevada on Saturday at the former home of the UNLV Rebels. Technically, it will be a neutral-site game. Also, technically, Las Vegas is closer to Reno than Albuquerque by more than 100 miles.
“It kind of goes with this whole year," Nevada coach Jay Norvell said of the venue change. "We pretty much early on as a team just kind of kept our focus short term. It’s, ‘Hey, we know it’s going to be an unusual year of adjustments.’ We just have to deal with what’s given to us this week. We’re going back to the same hotel (as we stayed against UNLV), fly down through the same spots we were at a week ago when we played Vegas. We’re not playing in the big stadium. We’re going to play in Sam Boyd, and that’s fine. We’re just excited to get an opportunity to take another step.”
The last time Nevada played at Sam Boyd Stadium was the 2018 regular-season finale against UNLV when the Wolf Pack built a 23-0 lead before losing 34-29. With the Rebels moving to Allegiant Stadium this year and the Las Vegas Bowl, also played at Sam Boyd for decades, dropping the Mountain West as a conference affiliate, that 2018 game was expected to be the last one for Nevada in the stadium. But the Wolf Pack will head to Las Vegas for the second time in as many weeks after beating UNLV at Allegiant Stadium, 37-19, on Oct. 31.
“We adapt," linebacker Daiyan Henley said. "New things happen. Coronavirus and stuff, that’s all different, so we’re just adapting to it. The change in venue doesn’t matter to our team. It’s about battling New Mexico whether they’re in New Mexico, in Nevada or down south, we’re going to battle them whenever and wherever. We just go to prepare for this game like we did our last game and try and get that 'W.'”
The change is location isn't a bad thing for Nevada, which won't have to leave its home state for any of its first five games, which include three home games in Reno and two contests in Las Vegas. The relative lack of long travel is a big plus for the Wolf Pack, which last played on Thursday against Utah State, with Nevada treating the extended time to prepare for this week's game as a pseudo bye as it navigates playing eight games in eight weeks.
"It kind of felt like it," Norvell said of the bye comparison. "We tried to give them some rest. Last week was hard preparation because we had to squeeze a whole week's worth of preparation into basically three days. We did give them a break Friday. We practiced without pads Saturday and gave them a break Sunday. They were pretty fresh going back (Monday). I think one of the things you can't discount as a coach in the year of COVID is all the extra demands the players have on them that wear them down.
"We have to basically carve two hours out three days a week just to test. That throws a challenge into your schedule when the kids have class and studying and weight training. You can't discount how that wears on people after a while. The most important thing about football is being alert and excited to play, and you don't want those kids to not have an edge when it's time to compete."
No fans will be allowed at Sam Boyd Stadium for the game.