The Bullet Points
- First, a clarification: struggling to beat a mediocre FCS team in the first week of the season is not necessarily a guarantee of failure in and of itself. Michigan State, for example, had similar trouble in dispatching Furman on the same night as Nevada’s game. The fantastically named Paladins (please tell me some of their players are D&D fans!) were picked to finish seventh out of nine teams in their FCS conference. The SEC is always good for at least one or two near misses against lower division teams each year. And last year, Washington State lost outright to Portland State — admittedly much better than Cal Poly — before winning nine of their next twelve. That worked out so well for them, they’ve evidently decided to try that same tactic again. That’s the good news for Nevada: they’re neither the first, nor the last, nor even the strongest FBS team to schedule a patsy who ended up giving them much more than they anticipated. As for the game itself, Wyatt Demps’ touchdown catch was also “on fleek,” as you kids would (apparently) say. And I really hope you don’t say that, because that’s objectively terrible slang.
- The bad news is that Friday’s game did not take place in a vacuum, and cannot be examined as such. There were lots of surrounding circumstances that made Nevada’s overtime win against Cal Poly much more troubling than a simple case of playing down to your opponent would normally be. First was the timing: this was the first game of year four of the Brian Polian era at Nevada. Struggling with an FCS team in your first year as a head coach is excusable. But four years in? Not so much. In fact, Polian’s performances against FCS teams have gotten worse since his first year at Nevada, when he comfortably beat UC Davis 36-7. In retrospect, saying “I wonder why we agreed to the game, quite frankly” should’ve been the first sign that something was amiss. He openly wondered why a team picked ninth out of thirteen Big Sky teams was playing his own team. Credit should absolutely be given to an opponent who takes you to the limit, as Polian did on Friday night. But when coupled with his prior comments, it paints the picture of a coach lacking confidence in his own team at a crucial time for both. He did not sound like a man who was “holding back” anything for his next game, quite frankly.
- On that note, the second disconcerting takeaway from Friday night is what’s at stake for the program and the athletic department as a whole. When you’re counting on a newly renovated stadium with fancy amenities to bring in bigger crowds and more revenue, necessity dictates the team on the field should at least be on par with those renovations. But after a promising quick start in the first quarter, Nevada went completely flat, and gradually frittered away a 14-point lead before waking up just in time to escape with a win. Putting your best foot forward this was not. With Friday night drawing the smallest crowd for a home opener in six years on top of an already dwindling season ticket base, new fans were not thrilled with Nevada’s effort against the Mustangs. Just like “you are what your record says you are,” Mackay Stadium’s attendance portrays a community increasingly out of love with its college football team. If Doug Knuth was hoping for a season-opening game which would send the message to fans that this year is going to be different and better, his wish wasn’t granted.
- Here’s a different light in which to consider Friday’s win: think back to Nevada’s game at Cal in 2012. The Wolf Pack were supposed to be the Golden Bears’ ceremonial whipping post to help celebrate their completely rebuilt Memorial Stadium with an easy win. But Nevada won that game instead, and Cal head coach Jeff Tedford was fired at the end of their 3-9 season. Fast forward four years to Nevada’s more modest housewarming party, and an outcome that was only marginally better for the home team. Have we witnessed our own version of that Cal meltdown? There’s still time for Polian to change his team’s fortunes and course-correct to a season with eight or more wins. But all we saw in week one were the same frustrating quirks we’ve already grown tired of in previous years repackaged with a fancy new bow. The same overthrown passes, the same unimaginative play-calling, the same stalled drives, and the same Swiss cheese defense. The slack on the metaphorical leash is tightening. When the best excuse you can hope for is “they were holding back,” I believe you should start preparing for the worst.
- And in spite of all the evidence to the contrary, Nevada had better hope that’s the case as they prepare for their second-ever trip to Notre Dame. What’s actually in the Pack’s favor? They get an extra couple of days to prepare for a Fighting Irish team coming off of a short week. And if you think that isn’t a potenitally big deal, just ask Virginia Tech how five days of rest worked out for them against James Madison in 2010. Throw in Notre Dame’s no-cigar-but-oh-so-close upset loss at Texas on Sunday, however, and that’s about it for the Pack’s chances. There just aren’t many scenarios in which I can envision the Pack pulling off the upset that don’t involve some huge calamity befalling the Irish (congenital heart defects, anyone?). Maaaaybe if they stretch the field enough against a secondary that looked relatively vulnerable on Sunday, they could find enough ways to score and make it interesting. But that’s asking a lot. Just try to keep it respectable and be prepared to burn the film afterwards. Notre Dame 56, Nevada 13.
Goose Island Pere Jacques 2012 Belgian-style Ale (Chicago, IL) ~ Just from reading that name, I know what you’re probably thinking: look at this beer hipster with his fancy-pants French-sounding beer with an official year! And that’s a perfectly normal reaction. My explanation for this week’s brew is two-fold and simple. First, Goose Island is in Chicago, right down the road from South Bend and Notre Dame. Second, I found this bottle on sale at the Total Wine in south Reno a few months ago for seven bucks. Some people get excited for clothes shopping bargains — I get excited for beer bargains. Pere Jacques is a dubbel that poured caramel brown in my glass with a pretty flat head owing to its being aged for four and a half years. The smells included raisins and figs along with caramel malt, and the tastes ranged from caramel to those same dark fruits to a little bit of burnt sugar. The whole thing was pleasantly smooth, but not as flavorful as Goose Island’s more famous one-off beers like Bourbon County. Think of a really strong Belgian quad, then scale it back, and this is what you’ve got. The bottle boasts that this beer can be aged for up to five years, and this tasted like it was towards the end of that range. But considering how little I paid for it, it was still a great bargain. I give it four tipsy Wolfies out of five.
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