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CFB: Kap vows Pack won’t overlook La. Tech

JOE SANTORO For the Nevada Appeal

RENO – Colin Kaepernick isn’t going to allow his teammates to overlook the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs on Saturday.

“Not at all,” the Nevada Wolf Pack quarterback said. “Everybody is coming out this week and is focused on Louisiana Tech.”

Kaepernick and the Pack’s travel to Ruston, La., for a noon Saturday game (KAME-TV, Channel 21).

“We know what’s at stake,” the senior said. “We need one more win to get a (Western Athletic Conference) championship. I’d say that is pretty good motivation.”

Wolf Pack coach Chris Ault is grateful he has the carrot of a WAC title to dangle in front of his players’ noses coming off what he called the greatest victory in school history last Friday night, a 34-31 overtime victory over Boise State.

“We haven’t won a championship yet,” Ault said. “Our players have to understand that. If we don’t win on Saturday, Boise won’t matter.”

The Wolf Pack, 11-1 overall and 6-1 in the WAC, can only grab a share of the WAC title. The WAC might be looking at its first three-way tie for first place since 1999 when Hawaii, TCU and Fresno State all finished 5-3 and in first place.

Hawaii, which beat the Pack 27-21 in October, has already claimed a piece of the title at 7-1. Boise State, which beat Hawaii last month, can join Hawaii by beating Utah State on Saturday. The Pack will be hoping for its first WAC title since 2005.

“I remember when I was a senior in high school (Tulare, Calif.) in 2005 watching them win the WAC,” Pack tight end Virgil Green said. “That’s something I’ve wanted to do ever since I was a freshman (he red-shirted in 2006). Now I have a shot. We just have to go out and take it.”

Louisiana Tech, 5-6 overall and 4-3 in the WAC, also has a lot at stake. The Bulldogs, coming off consecutive victories against New Mexico State (41-20) and San Jose State (45-38), are one victory away from becoming bowl eligible.

“When we started the season we were not a very good football team,” said Bulldogs coach Sonny Dykes, referring to his team’s 1-4 start. “A lot of teams would have just mailed it in a little bit at that point. But this team kept working hard.”

The Bulldogs have feasted on the bottom half of the WAC, beating Utah State, Idaho, New Mexico State and San Jose State. The top half of the WAC (Hawaii, Boise and Fresno), though, has been a different story for the Bulldogs.

“Nevada is a real dominant offensive football team,” said Dykes, whose Bulldogs are ranked 117th in the nation (out of 120 Division I-A teams) in total defense. “They are very good at what they do and that’s the biggest compliment you can give an offense. Their scheme fits their players and allows them to play at a very high level.”

Louisiana Tech’s offense also has played at a high level for much of the season. The Bulldogs are led by junior running back Lennon Creer, who is third in the WAC in rushing at 1,132 yards. The Pack’s Vai Taua leads the WAC with 1,372 yards.

Creer, who played two seasons at Tennessee, had 252 yards and three touchdowns last week against San Jose State. He also went over 100 yards this year against New Mexico State (107), Boise State (149), Idaho (179) and Utah State (120).

“Lennon has completely changed himself as a person this season,” Dykes said. “He’s matured mentally and physically. He’s really bought into the program. His role increased as his work ethic increased.”

The Bulldogs also finally settled on senior Ross Jenkins as their quarterback after trying sophomores Colby Cameron and Tarik Hakmi the first month of the year. Jenkins, who has started seven of the 10 games he’s played in this season, has passed for 1,572 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Dykes, though, knows his Bulldogs can’t get into a shootout with the high-powered Pack offense. The Wolf Pack has averaged 43 points and 537 yards on offense this year.

“We have to eliminate the big plays,” Dykes said. “It’s going to be a great challenge for us. You have to play aggressive against their offense but, at the same time, you have to guard against giving up big plays. So it’s tough.”

The Wolf Pack has won five games in a row against Louisiana Tech, scoring 35 or more points in all five games. The Pack beat the Bulldogs, 37-14, a year ago in Reno as Kaepernick passed for three touchdowns and ran for two more in Ault’s 200th career victory.

“We know we have to come out and work hard in this game,” Green said. “They played Boise tough this year (the Bulldogs lost 49-20). We know they’re not just going to come out and let us have this victory.”

“They move the ball on everyone,” Ault said. “They scored on Boise.”

The Pack’s biggest obstacle to a WAC title, though, just might be their ability to forget the biggest victory in school history.

“Our confidence level is up and everybody is still excited, no question,” Ault said. “But that’s all right. We just have to channel that.”

“That’s over,” said wide receiver Rishard Matthews, who caught 10 passes for 172 yards and a touchdown and also scored on a 44-yard end-around against Boise. “We celebrated last weekend. But that’s behind us now.”

The Pack hopes to stage another celebration this weekend.

“The Boise thing was great,” Ault said. “But, unfortunately, we can’t enjoy it too long. We have to move forward.”