Nevada Football: Sheraton Hawaii Bowl Is a "Business Trip" for Wolf Pack

Kevin RileyContributor IDecember 24, 2011

Nevada Wolf Pack head coach Chris Ault and mascot Wolfie Jr. compliment the teams at the 2011 Outback Steakhouse Barefoot Pep Rally on Dec. 20, 2011. (Photo Credit: Sheraton Hawaii Bowl)
Nevada Wolf Pack head coach Chris Ault and mascot Wolfie Jr. compliment the teams at the 2011 Outback Steakhouse Barefoot Pep Rally on Dec. 20, 2011. (Photo Credit: Sheraton Hawaii Bowl)

Honolulu—It is bowl week in Hawaii and the atmosphere couldn't be more festive.

There are luaus, beach parties, trips to Pearl Harbor and everything else that a first-time visitor to the 50th State could desire during a week's stay in paradise.

The University of Southern Miss—favored by six points in the 10th Annual Sheraton Hawaii Bowl—seems to be taking full advantage. At Tuesday's press conference, the contingent of Golden Eagles scheduled to appear was more than 30 minutes late.

Southern Miss' tardiness was due to traffic while returning from practice. But one could have assumed they'd been playing in the waves off Waikiki Beach and simply lost track of time the way head coach Larry Fedora, quarterback Austin Davis and linebacker Ronnie Thornton bounded into the room full of life and excitement.

The University of Nevada, on the other hand, was more business-like. After all, it's the Wolf Pack's fourth visit to the island in the last four years. In 2008 and 2010 Nevada played Western Athletic Conference foe Hawaii and in 2009 it played Southern Methodist in the Hawaii Bowl, a 45-10 loss.

"The mindset is," said Nevada junior offensive lineman Chris Barker, "we can leave all the fun to the young guys who might not play a lot.

"But (the older guys) we've been here before, we know what it's like going to Pearl Harbor and doing all that. So our mindset is just focus up, this is a business trip and come get the victory."

It will be tough against the No. 21 Conference USA champions, Southern Miss (11-2), but longtime Nevada head coach Chris Ault sees it as an opportunity for redemption after a season that didn't go as expected.

"We've been an interesting team this year," Ault said. "We had a chance to do some nice things and found a way at the end not to get it done. So to have an opportunity to play a team of this caliber that's ranked in the country, and a chance to play and represent the WAC conference, we're looking forward to it.

"We're familiar to what (Southern Miss does) from the standpoint that they spread the ball, they're in a one-back (offense) like a lot of our teams in the conference. I just think they got better athletes...They're as good a football team as we've seen all year long."

Coming off its most impressive win of the season, beating the undefeated and No. 6 ranked Houston Cougars to win the C-USA title, Southern Miss is certainly riding a big wave into Saturday's game at Aloha Stadium (5:00 p.m. PT, ESPN).

Led by senior quarterback Austin Davis, Southern Miss averages nearly 38 points per game. Against Houston Davis threw for 279 yards and four touchdowns.

"We got to play sound football," Nevada senior defensive lineman Brett Roy said when asked about stopping Davis and the Golden Eagles. "Play in our gaps, not try to do too much. We call it doing our one-eleventh and if everybody controls what they can control in the scheme, and the realm, of the defense no team should, on paper, be able to beat us.

"So that's our goal. And playing Nevada football is playing our one-eleventh."

Nevada itself is no slouch offensively. The Wolf Pack (7-5) average nearly 252 rushing yards per game, good for eighth best in the nation, scoring 32.9 points per game.

"We just can't think about how good they are," Barker said.

"We got to think about how good we need to be. We know what we're capable of, the season didn't turn out as well as it could have been, but we know what we could have done. So we just got to stay focused throughout the game.

"We got to protect (quarterback Cody Fajardo), give him as much time as he needs. He needs to focus, receivers need to step up, running back and defense. It should be a good game."


Kevin Riley is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand.