Nevada to face Fresno State | NevadaAppeal.com

Nevada to face Fresno State

DARRELL MOODY

Appeal Sports Writer

FRESNO, Calif. – Starting the season with a conference game isn’t the best scenario in the eyes of most football coaches, but Nevada’s Chris Ault is embracing it in a positive manner.

“It’s certainly a great opportunity for our program,” Ault said of tonight’s 5 p.m. nationally televised game on ESPN. “Anytime you get national exposure for your program against a quality team like Fresno State, it’s an exciting time. I’m looking forward to the opportunity.

“It doesn’t matter, it’s there. It’s a heck of an opportunity. The team that loses has to fight its way back up and the team that wins sits at the top. We have to rise to the challenge.”

Indeed. The Pack haven’t beaten Fresno State in Fresno since 1998 when the Pack pulled out a 27-24 victory. In their last three trips to Fresno, the Pack have gotten spanked 58-21, 38-30 and 54-17.

Still, Fresno State coach Pat Hill is expecting a tough game from Ault’s crew.

“It’s great for the conference, for the fans,” Hill said. “It’s a great opportunity.

‘When they walk in here, they are going to hit you right in the mouth. They are a veteran team with an outstanding quarterback (Jeff Rowe), and a team that won a conference championship. It’s going to be a great game.”

Rowe said he’s anxious to get out and start playing, and he knows that Fresno State’s defense is a tough one, especially linebacker Marcus Riley, defensive back Marcus McCauley and linebacker Dwayne Andrews.

“They do it well,” Rowe said. “They come in and try to beat you with their athleticism. I think we’re ready. We have to execute and be disciplined in our offense. Momentum is a big thing, and we can’t make mistakes that will shift the momentum (their way).”

Rowe is expected to have his favorite receiver, Caleb Spencer, at his disposal. Spencer missed the last scrimmage with a tight hamstring, but he’s been back at practice all week. Mike McCoy is the probable starter at flanker, while the X receiver could either be Marko Mitchell, Andy McIntosh or Dwayne Sanders.

“That will be a game-time decision,” Ault said, referring to the third receiver. The veteran coach did say that the receiver slots are interchangeable.

For the first time in five years, Nevada’s defense will face a quarterback other than Paul Pinegar, who graduated after four sensational seasons.

Hill has awarded the job to third-year sophomore Tom Brandstater, who completed 6 of 13 passes for 49 yards and a touchdown in eight appearances last season.

Brandstater won the job over sophomore Sean Norton because of his knowledge of the Bulldogs’ system, according to Hill. The Bulldogs’ coach said that Norton has gotten more comfortable, and that Hill doesn’t have to change the offense when Norton is in the game.

“We know of both of them,” Ault. “One (Brandstater) is a drop-back passer. The other (Norton) is a runner (and roll-out guy).”

Brandstater will throw to Joe Fernandez and Paul Williams, two of the better wide receivers in the pass-happy WAC.

Dwayne Wright is back after a 2005 injury, and Hill hopes to have Clifton Smith, who suffered a knee injury against Oregon last year, back at some point during the season. Shannon Dorsey could also see some action.

Hill is more of a run first, pass second type of coach even when Pinegar was around.

“That’s his M.O.,” Ault said. “You put your focus on what they’ve done in the past. They want to run the football.”

Fresno State will see the same 3-4 defense that Nevada went to last year, but there are some new faces and old faces in new spots. J.J. Milan and Erics Clark are the new starters at defensive end, and will team up with Matt Hines. Fallon’s Josh Mauga has moved from outside to inside and will team with Jason DeMars. Magua’s old spot is being taken by Jeremy Engstrom, who played middle his first three years at Nevada. Ezra Butler is the other outside linebacker. Joe Garcia and De’Angelo Wilson are at the cornerback spots, and Nick Hawthrone, coming off knee surgery, is the probable starter at free safety alongside Uche Anyanwu, who appears to have beaten out Mike Samples.

“The most important thing I believe is that you can’t focus on what your opponents do,” Ault said. “You have to focus on what you can do, and execute your game plan, especially when you are opening up and don’t have (new) tapes to look at.

“Going on the road is a tremendous obstacle. You find out a lot about your team, yet you have to be realistic of where you are right now and what you can do against the competition.”

And, Ault knows the Bulldogs have a score to settle. That 38-35 loss was tough to swallow as were the two losses after that to finish the season.

“We don’t think about last year,” Hill said. “It has nothing to do with this year. We’re getting ready to start this year off right.”

Notes: Ex-Manogue star Bobby Lepori, who left Nevada’s program, is the starting left tackle for the Bulldogs. Fresno State also has kicker Clint Stitser and defensive tackle Charles Tolbert, both formerly of McQueen, and linebacker Ryan McKinley, formerly of Reno High, on their roster … Hill said during the WAC conference call earlier this week that up to six true freshmen will see action this year, including running backs Lonyae Miller and Anthony Harding, who played high school ball with Nevada’s Colin Kaepernick

Contact Darrell Moody at dmoody@nevadappeal.com, or by calling (775) 881-1281

FRESNO STATE VS. NEVADA

When: Tonight, 5 p.m.

Where: Bulldog Stadium (41,031, grass)

TV: ESPN

Radio: ESPN Radio 630 AM (Dan Gustin and Billy Daniel), pregame starts at 4 p.m.

Point spread: Fresno State by 11 1/2