The Nevada Wolf Pack's football season came to a close a week ago at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans at the hands of the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns. They finished the season 7-6, going 4-4 in the Mountain West. Led by QB Cody Fajardo on offense, they finished in the top 100 for passing yards (99th) and points for (66th) , while finishing in the top 40 for rushing yards (37th). On defense they were led by the mullet himself, DE Brock Hekking, ranking 66th in the country in points allowed with 27.2 PPG. Overall, it was a positive step for second-year head coach Brian Polian, as the team improved from a 4-8 record the year before, and even reached a bowl game which, is by no means an easy task. Let's reflect on the Wolf Pack's season to see how they got to New Orleans.
Nevada 28, Southern Utah State 19
The Nevada football season started off a little bit slower than some expected against an FCS opponent in their season opener. The Wolf Pack had the game in control with about 10:00 minutes left in the fourth quarter when they let the Thunderbirds of Southern Utah State back into the game by giving up a touchdown, and then when Fajardo threw an interception that was returned to the house. Nevada did eventually hold on to win, however, earning their first win of the season. S Nigel Haikins had a big game with an interception and a fumble recovery. Sophomore wideout Jericho Richardson impressed with a big game by exceeding the 100 yard mark.
Nevada 24, Washington State 13
In their first matchup against an FBS opponent, the Nevada offense ran over the Cougars, using the read-option to amass 214 yards rushing. Nevada did all the running however, as the Wolf Pack defense held the Cougars to a mere 38 yards on the ground in the game. Cody Fajardo ran for over 100 of those yards, and passed for another 100 yards. RB Don Jackson, who was anticipated to have a big season the year before, but underperformed, had 69 yards on 22 carries, with 2 touchdowns. Fellow RB James Butler ran for 55 yards and had a touchdown of his own.
Nevada 28, Arizona 35
Arizona was the toughest opponent on Nevada's schedule, and was one of the bigger games of the season. Arizona came into the game as 20-point favorites. Nevada started out strong on offense, with a first drive that lasted 9:26, but failed to punch the ball in and settled for a field goal. Although they had issues moving the ball on first and second down, the field seemed to open up for the Wolf Pack on third down, as they converted eight times on third down. Arizona's main threat on offense, WR Austin Hill, was completely shut down by Nevada's defense, only catching two balls for 17 yards. Arizona managed to stop Nevada's run game, however, they had no answer for Cody Fajardo, as he threw for 321 yards and 3 touchdowns. The Wolf Pack had a chance towards the end of the game, but the drive stalled near midfield, and they turned the ball over on downs after an overthrow by Fajardo.
Nevada 21, San Jose State 10
Before this game, Nevada had a bye week, and at the same time, fires near Reno disrupted practice schedules, forcing practices to be cancelled or moved. This erratic schedule showed during the game, as the team looked very out of sync. This game was also the game of firsts for head coach Brian Polian. It was his first win on the road and his first comeback win after trailing at the start of the fourth quarter. The defense came up big for Nevada, as the forced three turnovers, one of which was returned to the endzone by Nigel Haikins. Don Jackson surpassed the hundred-yard mark on the ground, and Cody Fajardo passed Luke Lippincott for the seventh most rushing TDs in school history with 34.
Nevada 46, Boise State 51
In this game, the Wolf Pack faced one of it's biggest rivals in Boise State. They have played each other every year since 1971, with the exception of four seasons. Boise State scored first after an interception from Cody Fajardo, but then Nevada fought back, and the game went back and forth for a while. Towards the end of the second quarter, Cody Fajardo threw another interception, which was returned all the way to give Boise State the lead. The next play for Nevada, Fajardo threw yet another interception. After receiving the ball after halftime, Fajardo threw his fourth interception of the game, all of which resulted in a touchdown for the opposing Broncos (note that Fajardo only threw four interceptions all of last season). Nevada refused to go away, however, and thanks to a pick six by Ian Seau and a Bronco fumble. With two minutes remaining, the Wolf Pack forced a punt, but never managed to do anything with it and turned it over on downs. The Wolf Pack defense couldn't stop Boise State running back Jay Ajayi, as he ran for 152 yards and 3 TD. Nevada receiver Hasaan Henderson exploded for 141 yards on 7 catches, but it wasn't enough to overtake the Broncos.
Nevada 24, Colorado State 31
Nevada struggled mightily out of the gate after the slugfest the week previous. The Wolf Pack fell to a 31-3 deficit into the third quarter, but Fajardo and the offense rallied to bring it to a one touchdown game. Fajardo threw what would have been a game-tying touchdown to Jerico Richardson, but the play was called back on a questionable offensive pass interference call. The comeback could not be completed, as Fajardo was intercepted in the end zone to seal the win for Colorado State. The Nevada defense had no answer for Rams WR Rashard Higgins who caught 10 passes for a total of 194 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Fajardo continued to chase history as he passed David Neill for the second most total yards in Nevada history with 11,145 yards.
Nevada 42, BYU 35
BYU came into the game with a number of injuries, including star quarterback Taysom Hill. Despite this, the Cougars controlled the game going into the half, leading 28-13. The Wolf Pack came out firing in the second half, scoring 29 unanswered points and forcing 3 BYU turnovers. BYU scored late to bring the game within one touchdown, but fumbled the ball, and game, away. It was the first time BYU had lost back to back home games since 2004. BYU quarterback Christian Stewart faced little resistance from the Nevada secondary, throwing over 400 yards with four touchdowns. Fajardo had over 300 total yards, and scored 3 touchdowns.
Nevada 26, Hawaii 18
Nevada faced the tall task of making the long trip out to Hawaii to play the Rainbow Warriors in Halawa. The Wolf Pack played from behind yet again, and trailed 10-0 before dominating the second half by scoring on their first four possessions in the second half, and holding the ball for 15:30. Hawaii made a late comeback bid, but failed to recover the onside kick, giving Nevada the win. Fajardo had another 100/100 game, running for 133 yards and throwing for another 132 yds.
Nevada 30, San Diego State 14
After making two comebacks the two games previous, the Wolf Pack managed to do it again against the San Diego State Aztecs. The Wolf Pack were down 14-10 at the half, but came back to score 20 unanswered points, thanks to Jonathan McNeal's 12 tackles and two turnovers. Nevada had no problem running the ball, as Don Jackson ran for a career 124 yards and a touchdown. His running mate James Butler ran for 103 yards with a touchdown. The Nevada Wolf Pack controlled their own destiny to win the MWC West division.
Nevada 38, Air Force 45 (OT)
Nevada went against the Air Force Falcons with a three game winning streak, all of which were comeback wins. The Wolf Pack defense could not stop Air Force's triple-option, as the Falcons ran for 342 yards. In the third quarter, the Wolf Pack kicked a surprise onside kick, which was recovered by K Brent Zuzo. Nevada tried to convert a fourth-and-1, but Jackson was stopped and the Falcons got the ball on their own 44. They went back and forth for most of the game, and were tied five times. Nevada had a chance to win the game towards the end of regulation, but failed to get the ball in the endzone, and had to kick a field goal, which tied the game. In overtime, Air Force scored a touchdown on its first possession thanks to a three yard run from RB Shayne Davern. The Wolf Pack could not match it, as Cody Fajardo overthrew WR Richy Turner on fourth down, giving Air Force the win. The Wolf Pack suffered a major injury, as WR Hasaan Henderson was tackled hard and then did not move on the ground. The game was stopped, and the stadium was silent. He had to be carried off on a stretcher, but had feelings in his extremities in the hospital later that day. Fajardo threw for 275 yard and two touchdowns, and ran for another 100 yards. Don Jackson ran for over 100 yards for the second straight game, with a trio of touchdowns.
Nevada 20, Fresno State 40
The Wolf Pack defense struggled for the umpteenth time this season against Fresno State on Senior Night in Reno. The Nevada defense was no match for Fresno State quarterback Brian Burrell, as he threw for 313 yards and five touchdowns. Fresno State finished the game with a staggering 551 yards, and had 16 more first downs than Nevada. The Wolf Pack lost three fumbles, after not losing a fumble all year. Fajardo had another 100/100 game, along with all three Nevada touchdowns. The loss eliminated Nevada from the MWC Championship race.
Nevada 49, UNLV 27
The annual battle for the Fremont Cannon was held on Rivalry Weekend this season for the first time. UNLV had won the cannon for the first time in eight years, and Cody Fajardo was not happy about it. One of his main goals going into the season was beating UNLV in his final regular season game, and bringing the cannon back to Reno. Fajardo made sure that the cannon came back to Reno, as he ran for 143 yards and a touchdown, while throwing for three more touchdowns. In what seemed to be the theme of the season, the Wolf Pack trailed 17-7, when they scored to make it 17-14 going into the half. In the second half, Nevada outscored UNLV 21-3 in the third quarter, which led to the 49-27 blowout. The Wolf Pack ran all over the Running Rebels defense, going for 408 yards. Nevada intercepted UNLV QB Blake Decker 3 times, and recovered a muffed punt. The win made Nevada eligible for a bowl game, which would be the final game of Cody Fajardo's legendary career.
R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl: Nevada 3, LA-Lafayette 16
The illustrious career of Cody Fajardo, along with the Nevada Wolf Pack's season came to a close in New Orleans at the hands of the LA-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns. The offense struggled all day, and scored a measly three points, their lowest total since 2009. It was also the first time since the 2011 National Championship a team had not scored a touchdown in a bowl game. The defense did all they could to keep themselves in the game, only allowing 16 points and coming up with big plays, such as Brock Hekking's sack at the end of the first half that took ULL out of field goal range, and a strip sack of ULL QB Terrance Broadway. The Wolf Pack remained in the game into the fourth quarter, but just could not generate any offense. The Wolf Pack had many pregame issues, such as the game being played at 8 am Nevada time, a very unusual time to play football, especially for the players who develop a routine throughout the season. The loss dropped Nevada to a 3-9 in modern postseason bowl games.
Cody Fajardo threw for 9,000+ yards in his career, and rushed for 3,000+ yards, a feat only done by former Wolf Pack quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Don Jackson was the leading running back for Nevada, rushing for 957 yards and 7 touchdowns. Jericho Richardson led all wideouts with 655 yards on 56 receptions. Richy Turner led the team in receptions with 63.
The biggest loss the Wolf Pack will face is the loss of QB Cody Fajardo. He is only one of two quarterbacks in NCAA history with 9,000 yards passing and 3,000 yards rushing. They also lose one of the most productive defensive players in school history in DE Brock Hekking, better known as the guy with the awesome mullet. They also lose C Matt Galas, CB Charles Garrett, the team leader in pass break ups, and back up QB Devon Combs. Normally backup QBs aren't a big loss, but Combs was very key the past four seasons. He won games when Fajardo had gone down, and was a leader of the team. He was also one of the toughest players on the team, as he played an entire game on a torn ACL against Florida State the year before.
It will be very exciting to watch the quarterback battle this spring and all the way leading up to the season. The current candidates are RS JR Tyler Stewart, RS SO Dante Mayes, and RS FR Hunter Fralick (Years are as of Spring 2015). Currently, Tyler Stewart looks to be the favorite, as he has been in the system for the longest. However, Fralick is a very impressive athlete, and is viewed highly by the coaching staff. Head coach Brian Polian is a very good recruiter, so there is no reason that improvement will not continue, after this season. Expect a drop in 2015 as the team adjusts to life without Fajardo, but Coach Polian will look to build on his first bowl appearance. The OOC schedule looks tough for the Wolf Pack next season, with notable games at Texas A&M, and home against Arizona. Nevada football finally seems to be on the rise again, and hopefully Brian Polian can continue to build to the immediate goal of Mountain West champion.