Bowl berth could be on the line
Appeal Sports Writer
RENO – Win and hope for help.
That’s what both Louisiana Tech and Nevada face when they collide in the final game of the Western Athletic Conference regular season Saturday (1 p.m., 630 AM) at Mackay Stadium.
The Wolf Pack (5-6, 3-4) and the Bulldogs (5-6, 4-3) both need a win to become bowl eligible. Neither is in control of its own destiny, however. No matter who wins, it will take Hawaii beating Washington and going to a BCS game for a third bowl spot to open for the conference’s fourth-place team.
Nevada is looking to go to a third straight bowl for the first time in school history, while the Bulldogs are hoping to land in a bowl for the first time since 2001.
Nevada coach Chris Ault, whose team has lost five times by a combined 20 points this year, has had a big challenge this week.
“The situation is interesting,” Ault said during the weekly WAC teleconference earlier in the week. “Certainly the media has (will) take care of that part of the hype. The most important part of the hype is that this is the last home game of the season.
“We’ve had a season where close doesn’t count. It’s Senior Day. There are a whole lot of things that mean a lot to a lot of different people. I expect the team will rally and be ready to go (today).”
Ault said it wouldn’t be wise for the Pack to look at anything other than Louisiana Tech.
“They better not be,” Ault said. “We’ve lost two in a row. That would be ridiculous because we’re not that good. Their focus has to be on Louisiana Tech. It’s a one-game season, and that’s the way we’ve approached it.”
The Bulldogs , led by running back Patrick Jackson, quarterback Zac Champion, linebackers Quin Harris and safety Antonio Baker, have been the success story in the WAC this year. They were picked to finish near the bottom of the conference, but they have made a smooth transition with a new coaching staff.
“It’s an exciting day for both teams,” Tech’s first-year head coach Derek Dooley said. “There is a lot at stake – the opportunity to win six games and certainly a chance to go to a bowl game.
“I think our players have bought into the system and embraced everything we’ve done. They had the strength to fight through things when it got a little bit tough earlier this year.”
Ault and Ken Wilson, the Pack’s defensive coordinator, certainly have noticed a difference in the Bulldogs this season.
“They are playing better as a team and playing hard,” Ault said. “Their offensive scheme is much more diverse. On defense, they had a lot of veterans back that have been through the wars.”
Jackson has gained 884 yards rushing and needs a big game against the Pack to reach 1,000 yards. Champion has passed for 2,107 yards and 13 scores.
“They are a lot more balanced,” Wilson said. “There are a lot more tendencies to prepare for than in the past.”
Inside linebacker Kevin Porter said it will take one of Nevada’s best defensive efforts to win.
“They have a great running back (Jackson),” Porter said. “We’ll just try to slow their offense down. All 11 of us on defense are going to have to step up and play well.”
Dooley said that Champion has done a better job of managing games as the season has progressed, and that comes with more time in the offense.
Dooley is impressed with Nevada’s offense, led by running back Luke Lippincott (1,268 yards and 11 touchdowns), wide receiver Marko Mitchell (993 yards, 8 TDs) and quarterback Colin Kaepernick (1,634 yards, 16 TDs).
“They are an outstanding football team,” Dooley said. “Certainly without question they are a very physical football team. They have the best running game (in conference). They play tough football.”
Nevada was blanked in the final two quarters against San Jose State, mostly because of the way the Spartans controlled the ball and ate up the clock. When you only have nine minutes of possession time like Nevada did, scoring opportunities aren’t plentiful unless you’re Hawaii and Nevada’s offense is nowhere near as potent as the Warriors’ offense.
Nevada needs to establish the run, and Lippincott needs to get at least 100 yards for Nevada to be successful. The Pack is 4-3 in games where he’s rushed for at least 100 yards. UNLV was the only game Nevada won without Lippincott reaching 100 yards.