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Nevada defense looking to stop Aggies’ air attack

BY DARRELL MOODY

Nevada Appeal Sports Writer

RENO ” Nevada coach Chris Ault makes no bones about the fact that he’s concerned about his defense.

The Wolf Pack boasts one of the top teams in the country in run defense, but even Ault acknowledges that statistic is deceiving: Teams aren’t running much because they’ve had plenty of success throwing the ball against his defense.

Missouri torched Nevada for 519 yards, Texas Tech for 297 yards and UNLV for 327 and even Idaho managed 292 yards through the air.

Nevada’s secondary will get another stiff test today when the New Mexico State Aggies invade Mackay Stadium for a Western Athletic Conference football game at 1:05 p.m. (ESPN GamePlan, ESPN Radio 630 AM).

The Aggies run from a spread offense and quarterback Chase Holbrook is one of the top passers in the country.

Holbrook ranks second in the WAC with 280 yards per game and second in pass efficiency at 155.6. He has thrown for more than 300 yards in three of the Aggies’ four games. The lone exception was a 142-yard effort in a 38-7 loss to Nebraska in the Aggies’ opening game.

His favorite receivers ” A.J. Harris and Chris Williams ” are talented and dangerous. Harris leads the WAC with 6.5 catches a game, while Williams sits in third place. Williams caught six passes for 128 yards last week against Alcorn State, while Harris had eight grabs and 116 yards two weeks ago against New Mexico. Marcus Anderson has caught six TD passes in the last three games.

Williams needs just 107 yards to become the school’s all-time leader in reception yardage. He needs eight more scores to pass Lucious Davis as the all-time TD reception leader.

“They are a very good football team,” Ault said of New Mexico State. “They are as good a throwing team as there is in the country. We have to limit yards after catch. That’s where they are really dangerous.”

The Aggies appear to be running the ball a little more and Marquell Colston is coming off a 127-yard effort against Alcorn State.

One Nevada player Ault would like to see get off the snide is middle linebacker Josh Mauga, who has just 19 tackles in five games. Part of reason is because Nevada has played some throwing teams (Tech and Missouri) and part of that is teams seem to be running away from him.

“I’m somewhat concerned,” Ault said. “He has to be a productive player for us. I expect him to have a big game. He’s been quiet so far.”

While Holbrook will be expected to fling the ball all over Mackay Stadium, look for Nevada to control the clock with its run game.

Nevada ranks fourth in the nation in rushing offense at 308 yards per game. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick is 24th nationally at 102.2 yards per contest. Nevada also is getting good production from Vai Taua, who stepped in as the starter after Luke Lippincott went down with a season-ending knee injury. Taua is averaging 85 yards per game.

“I think he’s bigger and faster than he was last year,” NMSU head coach Hal Mumme said of Taua. “He makes good decisions and has a knack for big plays. He’s a terrific player. It will be difficult to stop him.”

The Aggies’ 3-3-5 defense is the same type of defense that New Mexico plays, and the Lobos shut out Nevada in the New Mexico Bowl last year. No doubt the Aggies’ coaching staff has taken a good hard look at that game film.

“I expect to see a lot of blitzing, ” Kaepernick said. “That’s what that defense is all about: blitzing different people from different places.”

Mumme said the Aggies are getting better every week win their new defensive scheme. NMSU has four of the top six tacklers in the conference, and the unit is led by safety Derrick Richardson, who is averaging 15.3 tackles per game.

“We’re definitely tackling better this year,” Mumme said. “We’re getting things down. We’re not there yet.”

The unit got a boost with Jamar Cotton’s first start last week. Cotton had six tackles, a forced fumble, a sack and returned a fumble for 33 yards.

And Nevada certainly hopes that the Aggies don’t pick today to put all the pieces together on defense.

– Contact Darrell Moody at dmoody@nevadaappeal.com or (775) 881-1281

NEW MEXICO STATE (2-2, 0-0) AT NEVADA (3-2, 1-0)

When: Today, 1:05 p.m.

Where: Mackay Stadium

TV/Radio: ESPN Game Plan (pay-per-view); ESPN Radio (630 AM, pregame at noon)

Coaches: Nevada’s Chris Ault (194-87-1) is in his 24th year; New Mexico State’s Hal Mumme (10-31) in his 4th season

Last year: Nevada 40, New Mexico St. 38