The Early Glimpse: Cougs vs. Wolf Pack

WASHINGTON STATE is 0-1. Not 0-4 or 0-12 or end of the world as some post-game reaction would have you believe. I’m not often right when it comes to football wisdom, but one thought that has always served me well is not to overreact to the first game. Or react much at all.

It’s a given football openers are sloppy, over-emotional and often not indicative of what’s ahead. I much prefer to base my thoughts on the future of a football team during Week 2, when coaches and players have had a chance to fix some of the bugs, emotions are a little more even, and the team has better developed its rhythm and chemistry.

It was a blow, no question. When Cougar fans did their schedule checklist this summer (win this one, lose this one, win, win, win…) most certainly put Rutgers in the win column. As you’re aware, that didn’t happen. It was a game Washington State probably should have won.

There were times when the offense appeared unstoppable. Special teams were good enough. But in the end, the Cougars were undone by a defense that couldn’t stop the run, tackled erratically and let Scarlet Knights quarterback Gary Nova off the hook too many times.

Which makes Friday’s game at Nevada one to watch. Throughout his career, Mike Leach is much more accustomed to winning the opener than losing it, but his track record is strong when it comes to bouncing back from an 0-1 start.

In this spot, Leach is 3-0. In 2002 at Texas Tech, the Red Raiders erased an 0-1 record with a 24-14 win over Southern Methodist. Leach started 0-1 his first two seasons at Washington State, only to win Week 2; in 2012, it was an unimpressive 24-20 win over Eastern Washington (but still a win); last year, it was a 10-7 win at USC in Week 2.

In fact, the three times Leach started 0-1, his teams not only won Week 2, but Week 3 as well.

The kickoff: Washington State (0-1) at Nevada (1-0), 7:30 p.m. Friday in Mackay Stadium, Reno, Nev. ESPN will televise.

The rankings: Neither team is ranked or earned votes in the preseason Associated Press or USA Today polls. However, in USA Today’s preseason ranking of all 128 FBS teams, WSU was No. 61, and Nevada No. 82.

The line: The Cougars opened as a 3-point favorite, and it was down to 2 at press time.

About Nevada: Times are changing at Nevada, where coach Brian Polian begins his second season. Polian took over for Chris Ault, who retired after a successful 28-year run, where he won 233 games and led the Wolf Pack to eight consecutive bowl appearances.

Year 1 of the Polian era resulted in a 4-8 record, Nevada’s first losing record during a regular season since 2004. The reasons were obvious: the Wolf Pack couldn’t run the ball, or stop the run. Generally, that’s a recipe for disaster.

Nevada kicked off its 2014 season with a 28-19 win over Southern Utah, a barely average Big Sky team that you might recall lost to the Cougs 48-10 a year ago. Nevada was in control the entire game, and its offense rolled up 547 yards.

The Wolf Pack leader on offense is quarterback Cody Fajardo, otherwise known as the guy who succeeded Colin Kaepernick. In the opener, the Nevada senior completed 30 of 41 passes for 303 yards and a touchdown. Few quarterbacks this season will be able to match experience with Connor Halliday, but Fajardo is one. He’s a four-year starter who has thrown for nearly 7,500 yards and 40 touchdowns.

Nevada has a veteran offensive line, led by center Matt Gates, right tackle Kyle Roberts and guard Jeremy McCauley. The running game features Don Jackson, who ran for 110 yards in the opener. Richy Turner is Nevada top returnee at receiver, but look out for Jerico Richardson, who caught 13 passes for 177 yards against Southern Utah.

Defense was a big issue for Nevada a year ago, so much so that Polian fired defensive coordinator Scott Hazelton after one season and replaced him with Scott Boone. The Wolf Pack have a good set of linebackers in Jonathan McNeal, Jordan Dobrich and Bryan Lane, and some beef up front in tackle Rykeem Yates and end Brock Hekking.

The series: This is just the third game between WSU and Nevada. The Cougars are 2-0 against the Wolf Pack, winning 31-7 at Seattle in 2002, and 55-21 at Reno in 2005.

Familiar faces: Three Nevada players graduated from high schools in Washington, Gabe Lee, a senior linebacker from Duvall; Jimbo Davis, a freshman receiver from North Bend; and Tere Calloway, a freshman defensive back from Seattle. Nevada sophomore long snapper Tyler Wilson is the son of WSU linebackers coach Ken Wilson, who spent 23 years at Nevada before coming to WSU. Cougar running backs coach Jim Mastro is also a former Wolfpack assistant.

Stat of note: Mike Leach is a man who knows how to make adjustments following an opener. His teams are 11-1 in the second game of the season.

Read Nick Daschel’s occasional Pac-12 ramblings at twitter.com/nickdaschel

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