Nevada to face Miami
December 30, 2006
Throughout preparations for the 10th annual MPC Computers Bowl, Nevada players said they wanted the weather to be cold because it would give them an advantage.
The Wolf Pack players got their rush.
Game-time temperatures are expected to be in the low 20s when Nevada, 8-4, faces off against Miami, 6-6, today (4:30 p.m., ESPN) on the famed blue turf at Boise State’s Bronco Stadium.
The weather has been frigid in Northern Nevada during recent Wolf Pack practices, and the players seemed to adapt well, though some admitted it took more focus than usual.
Miami, meanwhile had been practicing in 80-degree weather prior to coming to Boise earlier this week.
Miami’s outgoing coach Larry Coker said right from the get-go he would not use the climate as an excuse, and no doubt he’s been talking to the players about that all week.
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“It comes down to execution, attitude and mentality,” said Todd Berry, the Hurricanes’ new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. “Some of the guys didn’t handle that first practice as well as I wanted. You’ve got to be mentally tough to play this game. We’ve got to make that adjustment, and if some of them don’t, they aren’t going to see much of a role in the game.”
There’s no way Miami could assimilate the weather, but on the flip side, there is no way Nevada players could prepare for the speed and athleticism they will face on Sunday.
“They remind me of past Miami teams – big, fast and athletic,” Nevada coach Chris Ault said of the five-time national championship program.
Especially on defense. The Hurricanes are one of the top teams in the country against the run, allowing only 66 yards a game. Nevada goes into the game as the 22nd-best rushing team in the nation at 177.3 a game with Robert Hubbard (936 yards rushing) and Luke Lippincott (456 yards rushing) doing most of the damage.
Defensive end Calais Campbell finished with 49 sacks, including 20 stops behind the line of scrimmage, and tackle Kareem Brown finished the regular season with 8.5 sacks. Linebacker Jon Beason led the team with 66 tackles and safety Brandon Merriweather was second with 57.
The pressure will be on tackles Dominic Green and Charles Manu plus the rest of their offensive line mates to keep quarterback Jeff Rowe, who completed 65 percent of his passes for 1,715 yards and 16 touchdowns, upright as much as possible.
“Randy Shannon (defensive coordinator and soon-to-be head coach) has done a great job with that group,” said Tim DeRuyter, Nevada’s co-defensive coordinator. “They play hard and they are so quick at every position.”
Miami’s offense has been the team’s weak point all year. The unit averaged only 19.5 a contest.
Sophomore Kirby Freeman took over for starter Kyle Wright, who broke his thumb in early November. Freeman’s numbers weren’t gaudy, but he seemed to improve every game. He completed 54 percent of his passes for 600 yards and five scores.
“He adds the threat of running,” said Nevada co-defensive coordinator Barry Sacks. “He’s explosive with the ball in his hands running. He’s an efficient passer.”
“He (Freeman) doesn’t have that much experience,” Nevada defensive end J.J. Milan said. “We’ll try to pressure him. We want to get in his face and make it hard to see his reads. He does some read option, so we have to contain him (from getting outside).”
Miami also has freshman Javarris James, the cousin of Arizona Cardinals running back Edgerrin James. The Miami freshman gained 767 yards rushing and another 173 receiving. He’s strong and fast.
“(Javarris) James is strong,” Sacks said. “I don’t know if I know of anybody we saw this year like him. He’s a bigger and faster version of Fresno’s (Dwayne) Wright.”
Miami’s leading receiver is junior tight end Greg Olsen, who caught 38 balls for 444 yards and a score. The wideouts – Lance Leggett (37-581-4), Sam Shields (33-400-3), Darnell Jenkins (13-183-0) and Ryan Moore (10-155-1) – all average more than 10 yards a catch.
“They have playmakers all over the place,” DeRuyter said. “All of those receivers can run and make big plays.”
Nevada has some playmakers of its own on the defensive side of the ball as well.
Linebacker Ezra Butler has 62 tackles, 14 behind the line of scrimmage. Inside linebacker Josh Mauga has 55 stops, and cornerback Joe Garcia and inside linebacker Jason DeMars had 49 stops apiece.
Notes: Miami came to Boise without two top assistants. Rich Olson left recently to join Dennis Erickson’s staff at Arizona State, and line coach Mario Cristobal, who recently took over as head coach at Florida International, opted not to coach in the bowl game… Coker acknowledged to reporters in Boise earlier in the week that the lack of coaches affected preparation, especially on the offensive line, but that it will only have a minimal effect… Nevada will be looking for its second straight bowl win, having won the Sheraton Hawai’i Bowl last year … Nevada has outscored opponents in every quarter this year, but for some reason the second quarter seems to be the Pack’s strongest. Nevada outscored opponents 141-90.
•Contact Darrell Moody at email@example.com, or by calling (775) 881-1281
NEVADA (8-4) vs. MIAMI (6-6)
What: MPC Computers Bowl
When: Today, 4:30 p.m.
Where: Bronco Stadium
Radio: ESPN Radio 630 AM
Prediction: Nevada 21, Miami 16