RENO -- The Nevada Wolf Pack thought it had discovered Paul Bunyan in quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
That's how he looked as he launched his 6-foot-6 frame like a Patriot missile around and through Boise State that stunning Sunday night two weeks ago. Reno didn't know if it had found a quarterback or hit blackjack with $50,000 on the table. Kaepernick wowed the ESPN audience with his five touchdowns and stork-on-the-loose act but he positively stopped traffic in The Biggest Little City In The World.
Two games later, it's possible Kaepernick -- the hard-to-miss graduate of Pitman High -- remains on track for icon status. His skills truly border on the Bunyanesque. Then again, he's also showing signs of what he truly is today -- a redshirt freshman three starts into his career.
And that's not necessarily a bad thing.
Kaepernick touched on both extremes during Saturday afternoon's 37-21 Western Athletic Conference win over Idaho. He passed effectively, appeared to be stumped at times by the blitzing and switching Vandals, and -- in the fourth quarter -- poured out his athleticism like a gentle waterfall on the nearby Truckee River.
Not jaw-dropping. Certainly not Boise-ish. But more than enough.
Kaepernick assessed his day as "average," which jibed with coach Chris Ault's "OK." He passed for 203 yards and iced Idaho with a 28-yard dart of a touchdown pass to Marko Mitchell with 4:22 left.
"It was an average day with my reads and throwing and running," Kaepernick said afterward. "I know I'm capable of more."
Kaepernick shouldn't grade on such a steep curve. Since he inherited the QB job from the injured Nick Graziano, he's done thus: 1. Passed for 10 touchdowns against one interception, 2. Rushed for 351 yards and three TDs, 3. Improved to 2-1 as a starter, and, 4. Lit up Boise on its own blue turf, though the Broncos escaped 69-67 (not a typo) in four desperate overtimes.
See, it always comes back to Boise for Kaepernick. Even if he wished, he can't dodge the expectations he ratcheted through the roof.
It's not his fault last year's Nevada quarterback Jeff Rowe, now with the Cincinnati Bengals, tossed five interceptions at Boise State while Kaepernick left the Broncos breathless.
Game of adjustment
Problem is, the Pride of Pitman rushed for only 43 yards against the 1-8 Vandals, compared to his 187-yard joy ride at Boise. What's happening is opponents have scouted Kaepernick and are game-planning against him. He's like the good young hitter whose weaknesses -- along with his strengths -- no longer are mysteries. The solution: Adjust and stay ahead of his pursuers.
"Colin's technique needs a lot of work," Ault said. "He needs a lot of fundamental technique work."
Such was Ault's concern, he blocked Kaepernick from any media interviews this week. His quarterback received the Category 5 media rush post-Boise and, because of the attention, lacked sharpness last week against Utah State. Ault, a quarterback guru, put the blinders on his latest project.
"I thought his second half was better and made some nice adjustments," Ault said, "and in the fourth quarter he made some nice plays."
Kaepernick's biggest, however, was nothing more than a quarterback sneak late in the third quarter. It's this episode, more than his often sensational passes or footwork in Ault's Pistol offense, that opened a window to what Kaepernick could become.
Nevada's 17-0 lead was shaved to 17-14 and, with confidence waning, it faced a 4th-and-inches on its own 33. Nine of 10 coaches would have punted. Ault kept the ball in Kaepernick's hands, and the important 3-yard gain was the precursor to three game-clinching touchdowns.
"Everybody said, 'Let's get this,' " the QB said. "Our offensive line has been dominating everyone lately. Why not go for it?"
Whoa there. Had the gamble backfired, Nevada would have positioned itself for an embarrassing loss. The point is that Ault had confidence in his young and precocious leader and believes he could grow into something special. Some of his teammates think he's already there.
"I'm proud of the guy just because he's from our area," said tackle Matt Hines, the Beyer High graduate and Nevada defense captain. "I love seeing him out there doing well. I think he gives our team a different element. He makes plays with his feet and keeps people honest."
Better still, he entertains. Wolf Pack football will not be boring the next four years.
Bee sports columnist Ron Agostini can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2302.