RENO — Brian Polian hopes his Nevada Wolf Pack football team learned a valuable lesson this year.
“It’s important to understand that even though you’ve come to play football at the University of Nevada, an eight or nine-win season is not a birthright,” the rookie Wolf Pack head coach said this week. “You have to make it happen. A lot of great players here made it happen in the past. Our new crew this year and a new staff, we fell short.”
The Wolf Pack, with just two games remaining this season starting tonight (7:35 p.m., ESPNU) against San Jose State at Mackay Stadium, has now officially fallen short of all of its important goals. At just 3-7 overall and 2-5 in the Mountain West, the Wolf Pack will not win a conference title, will not go to the Mountain West title game, will finish under .500 in conference play and will not go to a bowl game for the first time since 2004.
“This is real life,” said Polian, whose team is mired in a five-game losing streak. “People fall short in real life. You are not going to be successful all the time.”
The Wolf Pack has not been successful since a 45-42 win over Air Force on Sept. 28. Today’s game against the Spartans (5-4, 4-2) will mark the 49th day since the Pack last tasted victory for its longest stretch without a win since 2000 (56 days).
“We have nothing to do but go up,” Pack wide receiver Brandon Wimberly said. “It’s been a rough year.”
Wimberly, though, promised that the Wolf Pack is not going to coast home over its final two games.
“We’re going to get up and keep fighting,” Wimberly said. “Our fight’s not out. We’re not done yet. We have two games left (against San Jose State and against BYU at home on Nov. 30). We’re going to try to ruin their seasons like ours is ruined.”
San Jose State still needs another victory to become bowl eligible under first-year head coach Ron Caragher.
“Nevada will be a prideful team,” said Caragher, who was 44-22 in six seasons as San Diego’s head coach from 2007-12. “We know they are going to want to get a couple wins here at the end of their season to get the program on an upswing. Nevada is a tough place to win. The last Spartan win there was 2000.”
The Wolf Pack has dominated the Spartans having won its last four and nine of its last 10 against the Spartans. It was just four years ago in 2009 that the Pack rushed for 517 yards and eight touchdowns in a 62-7 win at San Jose State and had four (Vai Taua, Colin Kaepernick, Lampford Mark, Luke Lippincott) 100-yard rushers in the game.
“It’s going to be a great challenge for us,” Caragher said.
San Jose State, which won four in a row until a 34-30 loss to San Diego State last weekend, will also pose a challenge for the struggling Wolf Pack. The Spartans feature quarterback David Fales, who has passed for 2,876 yards and 21 touchdowns this year. Fales, who was a red-shirt freshmen for the Wolf Pack in 2009, has passed for 300 or more yards in 13 of his 22 career games at San Jose State the last two years.
“They have explosive skill on offense,” Polian said. “Fales is an excellent thrower. They can put up a lot of yards.”
Wolf Pack quarterback Cody Fajardo, who has worn a knee brace for the past six games (the Pack is 1-5 in those games) has been hobbled by a sore foot this week in practice. Caragher, though, fully expects to see Fajardo play on Saturday night.
“He makes their offense run,” Caragher said. “He’s a veteran of the system and he can hurt you a lot of ways.”
The Wolf Pack looks at its last two games as an opportunity to build momentum for 2014.
“Obviously, the season didn’t turn out like we wanted it to be,” defensive end Brock Hekking said. “In reality we are going out there these last two games and playing like we have nothing to lose.”
Two more losses, though, will equal the program’s longest losing streak (seven games in 2000) since 1963-64 when the Pack lost 11 in row (the last two in 1963 and the first nine in 1964).
“In our minds we know we’re better than this,” Pack junior defensive end Brock Hekking said. “We know our potential.”
The final two games of the season are sort of a mini tryout for the Wolf Pack heading into next season.
“We are building something here and what we do right now matters,” Polian said.