Nevada hosts Hawai’i today | NevadaAppeal.com

Nevada hosts Hawai’i today

When: Today, 1:05 p.m.

Where: Mackay Stadium (31,900, field turf)

TV: KREN-TV

Radio: ESPN Radio 630 AM, pre-game starts at 12:05 p.m.

Tickets: $25 reserved, $18 general admission

Series: Hawai’i leads 5-4

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Coaches: Nevada coach Chris Ault is 172-73-1 in his 21st season; Hawai’i coach June Jones is 43-30 in his 7th season

By DARRELL MOODY

Appeal Sports Writer

RENO – Nevada and Hawai’i find themselves in the same boat entering today’s Western Athletic Conference football game at Mackay Stadium (1:05 p.m., KREN-TV).

Both are coming off losses last week and both talent-laden offensive squads are fighting for their post-season lives with just a month left in the regular season.

Nevada, 4-3 overall and 3-1 in conference, must win two of its last four to become bowl eligible and finish no worse than third. Hawai’i is 3-5 overall and 3-3 in conference. Playing a 12-game schedule, the Rainbow Warriors must win out to get to the required seven wins.

The Wolf Pack is favored today by six points, part in fact that Hawai’i has played poorly away from the island, and the fact that Hawai’i has lost two straight to Nevada at Mackay Stadium (2001 and 2003). Nevada also is a sure bet to be favored in the next two weeks against New Mexico State and Utah State.

There isn’t a lot of bowl talk swirling around the Wolf Pack team, though most, if not all the players, know what has to be done. Chris Ault is a one-game-at-a-time coach, and you know he’s had only Hawai’i on his mind this week.

Hawai’i found itself in the same predicament last year, and the Rainbow Warriors came through with wins over Idaho, Michigan State and Northwestern to earn a bid in the Sheraton Hawai’i Bowl.

“We’ve just got to keep getting better each day (in practice) and hopefully play like champions the next four weeks,” Hawai’i coach June Jones said of the finishing schedule of Nevada, Utah State, Wisconsin and San Diego State.

The last time Hawai’i played in Nevada, the weather was nasty, and the Pack knocked off the Timmy Chang-led Rainbow Warriors 24-10. The weather isn’t expected to get over 60 degrees today, and could be as low as the high 40s. That would be music to Nevada’s ears.

“You talk about it, but you don’t focus on it,” Jones said. “You tell them (the players) what it’s going to be like, like I have already.

“Then you just go play. The bottom line is everybody has to go up there and do it just like everybody has to come here.”

No doubt this will be a huge test for the Nevada defense. Thanks to quarterback Colt Brennan, Hawai’i has the third-best passing attack in the nation. Brennan averages 347 yards per game through the air, and has a plethora of talented receivers including Ryan Grice-Mullen (96 yards per game), Davone Bess (94 yards per game) and Ross Dickerson. Nate Illaoa averages 44 yards per game rushing.

“I’m impressed with them,” Ault said. “They played a great game against Boise State, and had a chance to beat Fresno State until the back broke the long run. They have the best passing game and they might have the best quarterback (Brennan) in the conference.

“June’s offense takes a special player to play quarterback much like it does ours. Colt fits that very well.”

As Nevada found out last year, you just can’t sell out on the pass and ignore the run. Hawai’i topped Nevada 48-26 last year and Michael Brewster ran for 150 yards on nine carries, the school’s first 100-yard rusher since 2001.

“In a different way, it’s an option offense,” said Tim DeRuyter, the Pack’s co-defensive coordinator. “They take what you give them. If our linebackers run out (into pass coverage) too fast, they have a 245-pound fullback (Illaoa) and they have a big line.

“New Mexico State used two linebackers and four up front, and Hawai’i threw it I think the first 55 plays before I saw a pass. They use the shovel pass which is a run in my opinion. You have to respect the run first. We’ll mix in three and four-man fronts. We’ll be in nickel probably 80 percent of the time. We need to play well to have a chance to win it.”

DeRuyter said that Roderick Stallings, the normal strong safety, would be the nickel back and that Sergio Villasenor and Michael Samples would be the safeties. Samples had an impressive starting debut stat-wise with nine tackles.

Nevada’s offense moved the ball well last week against Boise State, garnering more than 400 yards, but failed to get any points on six of its seven trips into the red zone. Jeff Rowe broke the 300-yard barrier, but threw four interceptions.

The Pack should be able to move the ball against Hawai’i, which gives up more than 430 yards a game total offense. Ault said he hasn’t noticed a huge difference with ex-NFL head coach Jerry Glanville calling the defense for Hawai’i this year.

“They have always been very physical,” said Ault, who has been happy with the Pack’s pistol offense. “They can run and they do a nice job with their blitz package.”

Hawai’i has made some changes this week on the defense. Kenny Patton, who has a shoulder injury, will be back at cornerback, joining Turmarian Moreland at cornerback. Lamar Broadway has moved from cornerback to free safety, joining free safety Lolo Manners.

“He (Ault) thinks he invented a new offense,” Jones told the Star-Bulletin in Honolulu. “It’s basically a modified single wing.”

No matter. The Rainbow Warriors need to stop it or their bowl dreams are history.

n Contact Darrell Moody at dmoody@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1281