Nevada football rolls past Fresno State
Nevada Appeal Sports Editor
FRESNO ” After Fresno State’s defense was gashed for 280 yards on the ground by Louisiana Tech last week, you just knew Nevada was licking its chops waiting for its chance to wreak some havoc.
Nobody in the Western Athletic Conference runs the ball like Nevada, and the Wolf Pack ground game was in high gear all night, and for the second straight week, the Bulldogs were helpless on defense.
Nevada, on the strength of a season-high 472 yards rushing yards and 600 yards total offense, got back into the bowl chase with a 41-28 victory over Fresno State Friday night before a crowd of 33,207 at Bulldog Stadium.
The victory snapped a four-game losing streak in Fresno and put Nevada at 5-4 overall and 3-2 in conference. Fresno State dropped to 5-4 and 2-3, respectively.
“This was a big win,” Nevada coach Chris Ault said. “To go on the road and win is big. To be competitive, you have to win on the road.
“I’m proud of our defense. I think the defense played probably its best game since the UNLV game. Tom Brandstater is a heck of a quarterback. He can throw the ball.”
Nevada’s offense made it easy for the defense, holding the ball for 38 minutes compared to 22 minutes for Fresno State. Nevada held the ball for nearly 14 minutes in the final quarter.
Winning on the road also is made easy when Vai Taua rushes for a career-best 263 yards and a score, while quarterback Colin Kaepernick runs for 118 and two scores. Kaepernick passed for 128 yards and a score.
Taua was quick to praise the men up front ” Dominic Green, Alonzo Durham, Brad Eskew, Kenny Ackerman, Mike Gallett and John Bender. No matter who the Pack had in there, gaping holes were the norm.
“The linemen did most of the work,” Taua said. “We’d seen film on Sunday and saw what Louisiana Tech did. We had to do something to improve on what they did.”
Green treated the effort like it was just another day at the office.
“We have all the confidence that we can run like that against anybody we play,” said the senior center. “We were No. 2 in the nation, and who knows after this week. Running the rock is fun.
“We saw the numbers (Tech put up), and you get excited. Everybody is saying Tech did this or Tech did that. We set a goal of 300 yards (rushing).”
Nevada almost had that in the first half. The Pack outgained Fresno State 330-120, including a 249-26 edge on the ground. Unfortunately, Nevada only had 17-7 lead to show for it.
Nevada opened the game with an impressive possession, driving from its own 31 to Fresno State’s 15 thanks to a 26-yard run by Kaepernick and a 23-yarder by Taua. On second and third down from the 15, Kaepernick was unsuccessful trying to get the ball to Marko Mitchell in the end zone.
The two big gains were wasted when Brett Jaekle pushed a 32-yard field goal attempt to the right.
Nevada’s much-maligned defense came up with a big play on Fresno State’s first possession, as cornerback Mike Evans tipped a Tom Brandstater pass on second-and-19 and Jon Amaya pulled the ball in at the Nevada 34.
Nevada was able to convert, driving 66 yards in eight plays with Kaepernick scoring from the 16 on a read option play. Jaekle’s PAT made it 7-0 with 6:02 left.
Tight end Virgil Green gained 14 on a first-down option play and Taua followed with a 16-yard run down to the Fresno State 36. Three straight plays by Kaepernick netted zero yards, and Ault elected to go for it on fourth down. Kaepernick tried to connect with Taua on the left hashmark, but Sharod Davis was nailed for pass interference to give Nevada a first down at the 21. The Pack scored three plays later.
Fresno State took advantage of a 38-yard kick-off return by A.J. Jefferson to set up a 57-yard game-tying scoring drive.
Anthony Harding ran for 12 yards on a third-and-4 play down to the Nevada 39. On a first-and-20 play from the Nevada 37, Brandstater connected with Bear Pascoe for 12 yards down to the Nevada 25. After a short gain by Harding, Brandstater found Seyi Ajirotutu on a short crossing route which turned into a score when Antoine Thompson couldn’t catch the FSU receiver.
Nevada came right back for a score, driving 64 yards on eight plays, five of them runs.
The Pack was so efficient it didn’t face a third down play until the seventh play of the possession. Kaepernick was stopped for no gain on third-and-1.
Again, Ault elected to go for it on fourth down, and his gamble paid huge dividends. Kaepernick found Mike McCoy on the left sideline. McCoy caught the ball at about the 15 and managed to elude Davis and tip-toe down the sideline for a score. Jaekle’s point-after made it 14-7.
Nevada’s defense, which held Fresno State to 2.6 yards per carry on the ground, stopped the Bulldogs and forced a punt.
Nevada, behind the running of Lampford Mark, Kaepernick and Taua, moved the ball from its own 18 down to Fresno State’s 25.
Mark, who went to high school in Fresno, ran for 11 yards on his first carry, and Kaepernick completed a 24-yarder to Mitchell for a first down at the Fresno State 47. After three running plays netted 13 yards and a first down at the 34, Kaepernick kept for seven yards down to the 27.
A 5-yard penalty put Nevada in a quick hole, and the Pack had to settle for a 34-yard field goal by Jaekle and a 17-7 lead.
Nevada had one more chance to stomp on Fresno State’s throat at the end of the half, but failed.
Nevada had the ball first-and-goal at the Fresno State 2. Taua was stopped short of the end zone, as time ran out. Ault stormed on the field to argue with officials to no avail.
“I was trying to call timeout with 13 seconds left and they didn’t look my way,” Ault said. “They’re supposed to look and nobody did.”
Fresno State trimmed the lead to 17-14 with 9:08 left in the third quarter when Lonyae Miller scored on a 34-yard run, shaking off a Mike Evans tackle attempt at the 25. Kevin Goessling added the PAT.
Nevada went three and out on its next drive, and the Bulldogs appeared headed for another score when disaster struck.
On first-and-10 from the Nevada 34, Tom Brandstater completed a pass to Pascoe, who was hit by Uche Anyanwu and fumbled. Nevada recovered at the 21.
“They got me before it happened,” Pascoe said. “I fumbled. It’s all on me. I didn’t secure the ball. It happens.”
Fresno State turned the ball over four times which led to 14 Nevada points.
“Turnovers can kill you,” Ault said. “We forced three or four tonight and we didn’t have any. That makes a big difference.”
Nevada took advantage of the miscue to make it 24-14 on Kaepernick’s 2-yard run with 3:16 left in the third quarter.
The Wolf Pack sent the partisan crowd streaming toward the exits on their next possession, driving 72 yards in two plays. Courtney Randall capped the possession with a 15-yard scoring run. Taua ran for 57 yards on the first play of the drive.