The showdown: Nevada vs. Boise State
Appeal Sports Writer
RENO – Success in any endeavor, whether it be business, sports or real life, hinges on capitalizing on opportunities.
Nevada’s football team (8-3, 5-2) has the opportunity of a lifetime today when it hosts No. 12 Boise State (11-0, 7-0) today at 1:15 p.m. (ESPN2) at Mackay Stadium. The Broncos are a 2 1/2 to 3-point favorite at most Nevada gaming establishments.
Not only can the Wolf Pack exorcise the demons that six straight losses to the Broncos have brought, but they can knock the hated Broncos out of a potential Bowl Championship Series bid.
In the past six games, Boise has outscored the Wolf Pack by a whopping 308-69, including a 56-3 beating in the 2003 game in Boise which was Chris Tormey’s last game before being fired.
A Nevada upset would undoubtedly keep the Broncos home to play in their own MPC Computers Bowl on Dec. 31, and also send the Pack to the first-ever New Mexico Bowl on Dec. 23. If Boise wins, it’s anybody’s guess where the Pack would end up.
“Obviously it’s an exciting time,” Nevada coach Chris Ault said earlier this week. “They are one of the best teams in the country and they are undefeated. They are the best team we’ve played all year. We’re excited. It’s a wonderful opportunity.
“They seem to get stronger as they go through the year. Any time you win 11 straight games a lot of things are going right.”
A lot of things are going right for the Pack these days, too. Nevada has won five straight, including back-to-back shutouts of Utah State and Louisiana Tech. It’s the first time since the 1977 season that Nevada has posted consecutive shutouts.
In that time, Nevada has outscored its opponents 200-35, and has allowed no more than one score only one game out of the past five (New Mexico State, 48-21).
A big key has been Nevada’s defense which boasts a nation-leading plus-15 in the turnover battle. Nevada has converted those 35 turnovers into 132 points – 18 touchdowns and two Brett Jaekle field goals.
“We’ve simplified some things and made some personnel changes,” Ault said. “We’re starting to play more aggressive. Before we were aggressive with question marks.
“They (the turnovers) are a combination of things. The offense isn’t turning the ball over and we’ve done a good job of controlling the ball and keeping the defense fresh. The defense is hustling to get to the ball and making things happen.”
Nevada’s defense, led by linebackers Ezra Butler and Jason DeMars, nose tackle Matt Hines, defensive end J.J. Milan and cornerback Joe Garcia, will get its stiffest challenge to date, however. Boise State has score 40 or more points in eight of its 11 wins, and the Broncos will have the services of Ian Johnson, who missed the Utah State game after suffering a partially collapsed lung against San Jose State.
BSU coach Chris Petersen said Monday he expects Johnson to play, and that he could have played against Utah State. You have to wonder if Johnson’s injury wasn’t quite as serious as was first indicated to the media.
Johnson has gained 1,466 yards and scored 21 times. The sophomore from San Dimas, Calif., shows great patience in finding the slightest opening, and he has the speed to break the big gainer once he gets in the open field.
“He is a heck of a back,” Ault said. “It’s a combination of things. He is very patient when he runs the ball.”
Nevada also has to be concerned with quarterback Jared Zabransky, who like Nevada’s Jeff Rowe, has quietly had a nice season.
Zabransky has completed 65.5 percent of his throws for 2,026 yards and 19 scores. He’s thrown just six interceptions. Zabransky also is a threat in the red zone as his six rushing touchdowns suggest. Jerard Rabb and Drisan James have 30 catches apiece, and Legedu Naanee, a former quarterback, has 27 catches.
Nevada obviously would love to be able to control the ball with its potent running game led by Robert Hubbard (831 yards, 6 TDs) and Luke Lippincott (444 yards, 9 TDs), but the strength of Boise State’s defense is stopping the run. The Korey Hall-led unit allows a tad less than 80 a game on the ground. Linebacker Colt Brooks, lineman Dennis Ellis and safety Marty Tadman have played well.
Rowe has been effective, completing 146 of 220 attempts for 1,680 yards and 16 scores. He has been intercepted just seven times. His favorite targets are Caleb Spencer (47-513-2), Marko Mitchell (38-466-3) and Mike McCoy (22-337-9).
“They are doing an awesome job,” Petersen said. “Coach Ault has that group going and playing hard and as well as anybody else in the league. It will be quite a challenge to go over and play those guys.
“I know they play good defense, and Chris Ault always does a good job on offense, marching up and down the field. They have been playing the same scheme (offensively and defensively) for a couple of years now, and they believe in what they are doing, and they are executing their assignments.”
• Contact Darrell Moody at email@example.com, or by calling (775) 881-1281
BOISE STATE (11-0) AT NEVADA (8-3)
When: Today, 1:15 p.m.
Where: Mackay Stadium
Radio: ESPN Radio 630 AM, pre-game starts at 12:15 p.m.
Tickets: If any are available, the Mackay Stadium ticket window opens at 11 a.m.