Editor’s note: This is the latest in a six-week series where we will take an early look at each of Arizona’s 12 opponents this season. Today, we look at Nevada. Up next: Cal on Friday.
Two weeks after his team lost to Arizona in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl in 2012, Nevada coach Chris Ault had had enough.
After 28 seasons as the head coach of Nevada, the former Wolf Pack quarterback retired. He never officially blamed it on his team’s one-point loss to the Wildcats in the bowl game, but it couldn’t have helped.
Forced to look for a coach for the first time in nine years, Nevada settled on Brian Polian, the son of former Indianapolis Colts general manager Bill Polian. The younger Polian, who came to Nevada from Texas A&M, where he was the special teams coach, struggled in his debut year in Reno.
The Wolf Pack didn’t adapt to Polian’s style as quickly as the coach would have hoped, and Nevada slid to a 4-8 season.
Now a year removed from the struggles, Polian will try to get on the same page with his crew and turn things around in 2014.
Here’s a closer look at the Wolf Pack:
When: Saturday, Sept. 13, 8 p.m.
Where: Arizona Stadium
Last year’s record: 4-8
Projections: The preseason prognosticators are confident Nevada will have a bounce-back year, but aren’t sure how big the bounce will be. Nevada is ranked 72nd nationally by Lindy’s and picked to finish third in the West Division of the Mountain West Conference. Athlon ranked Nevada No. 82. USA Today also put the Wolf Pack at No. 82.
Position to watch in fall camp: Unlike the first two installments of this series, we’re going to look at a position other than quarterback. The position to watch with Nevada this fall is wide receiver. Brandon Wimberly, Nevada’s leading receiver from a year ago, graduated. Aaron Bradley, the team’s third-leading receiver from 2013, left the team in the offseason, as did Nigel Westbrooks, who was supposed to be a big part of the Wolf Pack offense this season. The most reliable receiver coming back is Richy Turner, who had 755 yards and four scores last year as a junior.
Three names to know
Quarterback Cody Fajardo: You remember him from the 2012 New Mexico Bowl. He’s back as a senior after throwing for 2,668 yards and 13 touchdowns last season. He also added 621 rushing yards.
Running back Kendall Brock: Brock played in 11 of 12 games last season and rushed for 812 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Linebacker Jonathan McNeal: The Wolf Pack had a shaky defense last year to say the least, but McNeal was a bright spot, leading Nevada with 103 tackles.
Three numbers to know
258.5: Arizona running backs should be able to have a big game against Nevada. The Wolf Pack gave up 258.5 rushing yards per game last season, 122nd worst in the nation.
3.90: Nevada averaged just 3.9 yards per carry last year on offense.
According to USA Today, it had only averaged that low a total in a single game nine times in the previous five seasons.
4,493: Arizona will have its hands full with Fajardo, who has passed for 4,493 yards in his career and rushed for 1,815. He’s played in 22 career contests.
How they’re different than last time: They’re younger and not quite as explosive. When the two teams met in the 2012 bowl game, Nevada featured Fajardo and running back Stefphon Jefferson, and put up 48 points against the Wildcats. Fajardo had a stable of receivers to choose from and Jefferson behind him.
He doesn’t have those weapons anymore, and Nevada’s high-octane offense took a step back last year under Polian.
The Wolf Pack will look to re-establish the run this season in hopes of opening things up.