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Nevada looks to stay in bowl contention

Darrell Moody
Nevada Appeal Sports Writer

Two wins needed to become bowl eligible and five games left on the schedule.

That’s the situation facing Nevada’s football team as it travels to Hawaii for a key Western Athletic Conference game Saturday in Honolulu.

Kick-off is set for 9 p.m. (KAME, ESPN Radio 630AM) at Aloha Stadium. Nevada is a 3-point favorite.

Nevada enters the game with a 4-3 overall record and 2-1 in conference, while Hawaii is 3-4 overall and 2-2 in conference. The Warriors actually have a tougher road because they have six games left which means they must get to seven wins.

Hawaii has been a tough game for Nevada in recent history in Honolulu. Nevada won in Honolulu in 1920, 1946 and 1948. However, Nevada has lost five straight on the island to the Warriors since then, including a 41-34 decision in 2006.

This is a different Hawaii team than the past few years, however.

Colt Brennan and his merry band of elusive receivers are gone. The Warriors lost three offensive linemen, too. The result has been inconsistency on offense, as Hawaii has used four different quarterbacks this season.

Inoke Funaki has been the starter, but UH head coach Greg McMackin hinted to the Hawaii media that Funaki may not play the entire game. Greg Alexander or Brent Rausch could see some action. Tyler Graunke is still not physically able to play, according to reports in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin.

“Inoke isn’t a true run and shoot quarterback,” McMackin said. “He was an option quarterback in high school. He is throwing with more velocity.”

Funaki threw four interceptions in the loss to Boise State, which opened up the game for Boise State in the second half. He does give the Warriors a different look on offense with his running ability. Alexander and Rausch are more pure passers, however.

“They are trying to run the ball a little more,” said Ken Wilson, Nevada’s linebacker coach. “He (Funaki) gives the offense an extra dimension. You still have to defend the run and shoot.”

Hawaii’s defense led by linebackers Solomon Elimimian and Adam Leonard, and defensive end David Veikune has been pretty solid, but it will have to contend with a high-powered Nevada offense led by dual-threat quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

“Their defense is one of the best in the conference,” Nevada coach Chris Ault said. “Look at the Boise game (UH trailed 10-7 at the half).”

Kaepernick, who is expected to start after being benched for a quarter last week against Utah State for not being properly prepared prior to the game, is impressed with Hawaii’s defense.

“Their defense is solid,” Kaepernick said. “Them (Hawaii) and Missouri do a lot of things defensively that do/can make it tough for us.”

Hawaii’s defense has been helped by the move of Elimimian from middle linebacker to outside linebacker in an effort to get the best three linebackers on the field. The Warriors give up 29.7 points a game and 369.7 yards a contest.

“Solomon has been all over the field,” McMackin said. “I was trying to get my best three linebackers out there. Solomon supported it 100 percent. Veikune is out there every ballgame. He never stops.

“Nevada is an excellent football team. They have a great quarterback and the new running back (Vai Taua) has worked out well. They are two of the best offensive players in the conference. Their offensive line is one of the best we’ll have faced.”

Nevada is averaging more than 500 yards a game (305 per game running), and can hurt you through the air with receivers Marko Mitchell, Chris Wellington and Mike McCoy, or on the ground with linemen Dominic Green, Kenny Ackerman, Alonzo Durham, John Bender and Mike Gallett opening holes for Kaepernick, Vai Tau, Courtney Randall, Brandon Fragger and Lampford Mark.

Taua has 736 rushing yards and nine scores, while Kaepernick has 613 yards on the ground and 11 scores. Kaepernick also has thrown for 1,348 yards and 10 TDs.

Notes: Wide receiver-running back Kealoha Pilares is not expected to play for the Warriors. In a surprising move, McMackin closed practice at least one day this past week … Greg Hall, whose MRI showed an ACL injury, is thought to be out for the season… Hawaii finishes with Nevada (home), Utah State (away), New Mexico State (away), Idaho (home), Washington State (home) and Cincinnati (home)… Nevada finishes with Hawaii (away), Fresno State (away), San Jose State (home), Boise State (home) and Louisiana Tech (away).