For Saturday, November 12, 2011
POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Nov 12, 2011
LAST UPDATED: 5:23 a.m. HST, Nov 12, 2011
RENO, NEV. » Thankfully, for all concerned, that was quite possibly the shortest eve-of-the-game walk-through in football history. It was a mere 30 minutes of moving around the Mackay Stadium field for the University of Hawaii team in preparation for tonight's game against Nevada’s Wolf Pack.
All of us standing around watching were grateful to get out of the cold so quickly. Graduate assistant Inoke Funaki, who played in the game the only time UH won here, in 2007, was happy to return to the heated confines of the Grand Sierra Resort and Casino, too. But offensive lineman Matagisila Lefiti said practicing in 30-degree weather was fine for him. “Just right,” Lefiti said.
These are, after all, football players. They pride themselves in taking on the elements nearly as much as the team on the other side of the field.
The forecast for this evening is 29 degrees and partly cloudy. The hosts are more used to the cold; but the real climate factor that might mean something is the wind — that could play havoc with the quarterbacks’ passing, and Hawaii relies more on the aerial game than does Nevada.
The Wolf Pack defense isn't really anything special overall, having allowed 38 and 34 points in its past two games, wins over Fresno State and New Mexico State. But it also wasn’t in 2003, when it held UH to a season-low 14 points in icy, windy conditions at Mackay.
When some of the locals here see a point spread that has Nevada giving 15 points, they’re not sure why their team is favored by so much. They know that Hawaii has a winning record at 5-4, and in the WAC at 3-2. They’re also aware their Wolf Pack have won four in a row — and 15 straight at home, going back to a 2009 loss to Missouri.
They understand Nevada better as a two-touchdown favorite when told of UH’s injury problems at receiver and offensive line. These units were already fragile because of inexperience, and both have now been plagued by injuries — often causing trickle-down effects. If Royce Pollard can’t go, will Darius Bright be ready? Or does Billy Ray Stutzmann move back outside again?
Don’t forget that last year at Aloha Stadium the Warriors shut down Nevada’s pistol offense and won 27-21. The Wolf Pack came in averaging 545 yards and 43 points, but UH held it to around half of that production and dealt Nevada its only defeat. This year’s offense with new playmakers is improving, but still is not nearly as high-powered as the 2010 group led by Colin Kaepernick.
UH needs to win two of its last four regular-season games to earn a Hawaii Bowl berth. But what looms larger than that is what a Warriors upset tonight could mean for the future of head coach Greg McMackin.
Would winning out, starting here, get him an extension on his contract (but at lower than the current $1.1 million per year) that expires after next season? And, on the flip side, does a tailspin that includes a blowout loss in what some predicted before the season would be the WAC’s de facto championship game turn buyout rumors and speculation into reality?
The Warriors have pulled off some big road upsets on McMackin’s watch. One here seems unlikely, but is not out of the question and would have a huge impact on the head coach’s and program’s future.
Tonight, things are still very much up in the frigid air.