Dear Mr. Football: What did Nevada coach Brian Polian mean when he said “we’re not playing the ’85 Bears”?
A: The Wolf Pack can’t possibly be awed by Arizona. Those 2012 and 2014 games, in which Arizona twice beat Nevada but was outgained 1,088 to 1,085, are the basis for which Nevada senior linebacker Bryan Lane told the Reno Gazette-Journal that Arizona can neither pass nor run on the Wolf Pack defense.
Them’s certainly fightin’ words, but these games are so unpredictable that, over 60 minutes, Lane’s likely to be half-right, or worse.
It doesn’t matter that Arizona spent $29 million on its football program last year, or that Nevada spent a mere $7 million. It doesn’t matter that Rich Rodriguez has been allowed to hire four full-time “analysts” in addition to his nine-man coaching staff, and that the Wolf Pack can’t afford to let Polian hire even one “analyst.”
A road game in football changes the music. Even the mighty 1985 Chicago Bears (15-1) struggled on the road, winning by eight against a 2-14 Tampa Bay team and by six against a Green Bay team that finished 8-8.
This should be a 60-minute struggle.
Dear Mr. Football: Is it Friekh Layth or Layth Friekh?
A: UA fans freaked out when No. 58, Layth Friekh, started and played most of the UTSA game at left tackle. Where was No. 72, Freddie Tagaloa, who had been advanced as the school’s top NFL prospect and game-changing lineman? (He was injured.)
Actually, Friekh is a legacy on campus. His father, Akram Mohmed Friekh, graduated from the UA in 1993 with a civil engineering degree and became an engineer for ADOT.
The Friekhs might’ve had as good a season in football as anybody in Arizona in 2014. On Nov. 29, Layth was on the field and his family was in the stands when Arizona won the Territorial Cup. A night later, Layth and his family were in the stands in Phoenix when Glendale Centennial High School won the state championship, watching his brother, Humza Friekh play for the Coyotes. Huzma made 17 tackles for the state champs last season.
Dear Mr. Football: Is Haden Gregory in over his head as Scooby Wright’s replacement?
A: Gregory wasn’t recruited out of Peninsula High School in Rancho Palos Verdes, California. His main prep sport was lacrosse. He was an All-South Bay midfielder for the Panthers.
But Gregory more than put in his time in football; he started as a junior on an 0-10 Peninsula team and then made 56 tackles as a senior on a team that struggled to be 2-8.
At Long Beach City College, Gregory had similar growth: 26 tackles as a 195-pound freshman, and a team-high 70 tackles as a junior in 2012. Unfortunately, LBCC went 0-10 that year and almost no college recruiters knew that Haden Gregory made a Scooby-ish 15 tackles-for-loss.
Since that dreadful 0-10 season in Long Beach, Gregory has grown to 231 pounds. He is so earnest about his starting assignment that he declined interview requests this week, insisting he had not played well enough to deserve the attention.
Dear Mr. Football: Would you take Nevada tailback Don Xzaviar Jackson over Arizona’s Nick Wilson?
A: Jackson is probably the least likely 1,000-yard (potentially) rusher in college football. He grew up in what he told a Reno reporter was “South Sac Iraq,” a not-so-subtle way of describing life on the wrong side of the tracks in Sacramento.
Four members of his family served jail time, including his mother. He told Wolf Pack beat writer Chris Murray “when people close to me started getting murdered, it was eye-opening.”
Jackson ultimately changed his lifestyle, played two seasons at Iowa Western Community College and has thrived at Reno. He’s a graduate student and averaged 9.5 yards per carry in Nevada’s season opener.
About the spelling of his middle name: Xzaviar? Rhymes with caviar. That’s what the Wolf Pack will figuratively dine on if they beat the Wildcats.
Dear Mr. Football: Did Polian come out of nowhere?
A: Polian played football at Division III John Carroll University, which can rightfully be called the Cradle of NFL Gurus.
John Carroll U plays its football games in Don Shula Stadium. Yes, that Don Shula. He is a Blue Streaks grad. He was followed by David Caldwell, general manager of the Jacksonville Jaguars; Nick Caserio, director of player personnel, New England Patriots; Tom Telesco, general manager of the San Diego Chargers; and Josh McDaniels, offensive coordinator of the New England Patriots.
As football pedigrees go — Polian’s father, Bill, was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame last month — you can’t beat the Blue Streaks.
Dear Mr. Football: Washington just accepted $41 million from Alaska Airlines to rename Husky Stadium for the next 10 years. How much did Nevada get to name Mackay Stadium?
A: Between 1910-1935, Clarence Mackay’s family spent about $2 million building athletic facilities at Nevada, including the football stadium. That’s about $40 million in today’s money. Mackay wasn’t hurting; his father was one of four partners credited with discovering much of the Comstock Lode, a historic silver ore vein near Reno. Mackay’s worth in the 1800s was estimated at $100 million. The Wolf Pack erected a statue of Mackay in 1911.
Dear Mr. Football: Has Tucson ever had a prominent athlete play for the Wolf Pack?
A: Three-year PGA Tour regular Rich Barcelo of Sahuaro High School played two seasons for Nevada. Pueblo High shooting guard Michael Perez, who led the state of Arizona in scoring, 29.9 points per game in 2010, started 54 games for Nevada.
Perez warns that the “Blue Crew,” the Wolf Pack’s student section, can be a factor.
“I think it will be a tough game,” he told me. “I wish I were there to experience it because Mackay Stadium is a great environment. The Blue Crew can get pretty rowdy. I love UA and have been a lifelong fan, but just like the last two times Nevada and Arizona faced off, I’m going to have to go with Nevada.”
Perez might be right.
Arizona’s defense was a sieve against UTSA (no QB sacks in 45 passing attempts) as the Wildcats seemed scattered and disinterested. A similar cavalier approach at Mackay Stadium wouldn’t be as forgiving.
Nevada could beat UTSA with its eyes closed. It’ll take a wide-eyed performance for the Wildcats to win this one.
Arizona 41, Nevada 30.