Nevada football can’t overlook Utah State
Appeal Sports Writer
RENO – Nevada achieved bowl-eligible status last weekend with its big win over Idaho, but quarterback Jeff Rowe doesn’t want it to stop there.
“We’re not satisfied,” Rowe said earlier this week. “We don’t want to be a 6-6 team that goes to a bowl game. We want to win the rest of our games.”
The Wolf Pack (6-3, 3-2) go after their seventh win of the season today at 1 p.m. when they host Utah State (1-8, 1-4) in a Western Athletic Conference football game.
Nevada enters the game a whopping 29-point favorite over the Aggies, who are coming off a 63-10 loss to Hawai’i. Complacency or overconfidence would be a mistake, considering that the Aggies knocked off Fresno State 13-12 back on Oct. 7, and the Pack lost to the Bulldogs 28-19.
“They have nothing to lose,” Rowe told reporters. “They have nothing to lose. We’re going to have to play a strong game.”
Head coach Chris Ault pointed out that Nevada had a tough time against Utah State last year, escaping Logan, Utah, with a 30-24 victory.
“Last year they played us tough defensively speaking,” Ault said. “I would expect more of the same thing.
“They have a unique offense. They run their quarterback (freshman Riley Nelson) on gap plays and power plays. We have to play disciplined defense.”
Nelson was inserted into the Aggies’ starting lineup for the Fresno State game, and he led a late rally to upend the Bulldogs, who haven’t won a game since knocking off Nevada to start the season.
Nelson has completed 62 of 103 passes for 789 yards and six scores. Also, he has run for 234 yards.
“Nelson is having a good year,” Nevada co-defensive coordinator Barry Sacks said. “he has a good feel for the game and an extremely good arm.”
Utah State coach Brent Guy saw Nelson play a lot in high school, but didn’t envision that his freshman quarterback would be able to do the same things at the college level.
“I knew he had the intrinsic stuff that quarterbacks have,” Guy said. “I never realized he would be able to make the type of plays he has running the football. Okay when he gets in the WAC, he won’t be able to make people miss like he did in high school. He contiunues to do that every week. He’s done a good job.
“Last week he threw an interception that wasn’t his fault. The receiver went outside and should have stayed inside. He’s taken on the leadership role well.”
Marcus Cross, the Aggies’ leading rusher with 608 yards and three scores, suffered a mild concussion last week against Hawai’i but Guy said Monday he expected Cross to play. Nelson’s favorite target is the dangerous Kevin Robinson, who has 26 catches for 383 yards.
Guy knows the Aggies will have a tough time against Nevada’s defense which has allowed just 35 points in the last three games. The group has played solid since the second week of the season when it gave up 52 points to Arizona State and had a few blown assisgnments, too.
Ezra Butler, J.J. Milan, Josh Mauga, Joe Garcia and Matt Hines are just a small group that has made Nevada one of the best defenses in the WAC. Nevada is second in rush and pass defense.
“The defensive coaches have done a great job this year,” Ault said.
Guy said the defensive group is more athletic than a year ago.
“I think so,” he said. “They run around better. They understand the scheme better than they did a year ago.”
Guy also is impressed with Nevada’s offense which averages 31.1 a game and runs for nearly 180 yards a game.
“They are balanced enough in their offense, running and throwing,” Guy said. “They are hard to defend. we’re going to have a challenge. I think they are hitting their stride right now. In November, they are playing very well.
“Nevada is a team that can play with anybody in the league because they do it as a team. They are consistent on offense and defense.”
Nevada has been all about ball control on offense, as Robert Hubbard (773 yards) and Brandon Fragger (270 yards) have carried the load. At various times Luke Lippincott, who gained 93 yards and scored twice against Idaho, has had some success. Redshirt freshman Mike Kanellis gained a career-high 66 yards last week against Idaho, and could see time if Fragger (sore shoulder) doesn’t play again.
“Hubbard is a great football player,” Guy said. “They have a lot of (good) running backs.”
The Pack’s running game may have robbed Rowe of piling up some big stats, but you don’t hear the senior QB complaining. Rowe has completed 67 percent of his passes for 1,402 yards and 14 TDs. Rowe was able to get the ball upfield several times against Idaho, and he’d like nothing more than to continue that trend today.
“I feel good throwing it,” said Rowe, who is in the top 10 in school history in completions (633), attempts (1,038), yards (7,367) and touchdowns (51).
“It’s simple football. Running the ball like we do sucks them (the secondary) up and helps play-action passing.”
Caleb Spencer remains the Pack’s leading receiver. He’s caught 42 for 475 yards and two scores. Marko Mitchell has 31 catches for 347 yards and two scores, and Mike McCoy has 21 catches for 332 yards and nine scores.
Notes: There are several promotions on tap for Nevada’s Fan Appreciation Day. Bully’s Sports Bar is sponsoring a pancake feed from 9 to 10:30 a.m. in the Community Corner outside the northeast corner of Mackay Stadium. One thousand Wolf Pack tumblers will be given away to tailgaters. Fans can use their football stub to get in free to Nevada’s women’s season-opening basketball game against Cal-Poly San Luis Obispo. Also, fans in attendance will receive a coupon for free admission to the Nevada-Auburn women’s game on Dec. 1.
UTAH STATE (1-8, 1-4) AT NEVADA (6-3, 3-2)
WHEN: TODAY, 1 p.m.
WHERE: Mackay Stadium
TV: http://www.wac-TV, cost is $7.95
RADIO: ESPN 630 AM, pregame at 12:30 p.m.
THE PICK: Nevada 28, Utah State 10