Wolf Pack faces Bulldogs in crucial game | NevadaAppeal.com

Wolf Pack faces Bulldogs in crucial game


Nevada Appeal Sports Writer

Bulldog Stadium has been a chamber of horrors for the Nevada football team since the late 1990s.

Since Pat Hill took the reins of the Fresno State program in 1997, the Bulldogs have compiled an 8-2 record against the Wolf Pack. Fresno State has won the last four meetings at Bulldog Stadium by a combined score of 178-85. Only twice in that span has Nevada lost by less than 10 points.

If there is ever a time to break that four-game skid in Fresno, it’s now. Nevada, 4-4 overall and 2-2 in the Western Athletic Conference, has its back to the wall. With four regular-season games remaining, the Pack is on the outside looking in at a possible fourth straight bowl appearance.

Today’s kickoff is set for 6 p.m. for this critical WAC game, which will be televised on ESPN2.

Nevada had the advantage of a bye last week, while Fresno State (5-3, 2-2) has a short week after losing 38-35 at Louisiana Tech last weekend.

“We had a good bye week,” Nevada coach Chris Ault said. “I thought we practiced well. We needed that. We have to try to get ourselves back in the groove. Fresno State is a solid, solid football team. Anytime you play them you have to be ready.

“They are a very good offensive team. They move the ball well. They do a nice job of managing the game. Defensively they are sound in what they do. It’s a matter of us being sound on both sides of the ball and in the kicking game.”

One of the things that Nevada is working hard on is its pass defense. Nevada is stout against the run (69.7 yards per game), but awful against the pass (327.5). Nevada returned its safeties, Jon Amaya and Uche Anyanwu, but the cornerbacks had never played a down for the Pack prior to the beginning of the season.

“It’s been a combination of things,” Ault said. “We have not defended the pass with any consistency. What we worked on last week in practice was being more consistent with our total defensive package. A lot of it depends on your game plan. You definitely have to play the run first in any defensive scheme.

“Obviously that’s part of it when you don’t have the experience you’d like to have out there. We look at it if mistakes are being repeated. That’s a situation where they are not paying attention. We’re doing fairly well up front. Dontay (Moch) and (Kevin) Basped are getting better. I’m pleased with that aspect of (the defense).”

Nevada will be facing a beat-up Fresno offense. Hill said the team probably won’t have its top two running backs, Lonyae Miller and Ryan Mathews, both of whom have been battling injuries. Mathews had a field day against Nevada last season, rushing for 171 yards and three touchdowns, while Miller gained 95 yards on 12 carries. Quarterback Tom Brandstater has enjoyed a solid season, hitting 62 percent of his passes for 1,790 yards and 15 TDs against six interceptions.

Anthony Harding, a high school teammate of Nevada quarterback Colin Kaepernick, is expected to carry the load if Miller and Mathews don’t play.

Fresno freshman Rashad Evans has stepped in nicely for Malcom Moore, catching 14 balls for 153 yards. He has averaged 33.5 yards on two kickoff returns and 19.9 on seven punt returns, including a 56-yarder for a score.

“He’s only played in one spot,” Hill said. “We have to expand on that.”

The Bulldogs are having some problems defensively, allowing 208 yards per game rushing.

Part of that is personnel. Hill said he has only three starters on defense that have played all eight games. He doesn’t use that as an excuse, but he knows that the defense will be tested tonight with Nevada’s offensive line opening holes for Vai Taua and Kaepernick. Nevada averages 514 yards per game.

“Vai Taua is a good back,” Hill said of the Pack’s replacement for the injured Luke Lippincott. “He’s done an outstanding job and is a very powerful runner. With Kaepernick, you go into the game trying to stop two backs. You better be disciplined if you’re going to stop their offense.”

Kaepernick had his coming-out party last year against the Bulldogs after then-starter Nick Graziano broke his foot in the first half.

Kaepernick threw for 384 yards and three scores while running for 60 yards and a touchdown. He produced 28 points in two quarters of work.

“Nevada is an excellent football team,” Hill said. “They give you a heckuva of a look offensively. It will be another very difficult game for us.”

NOTES: Each of Fresno State’s three losses have been by three points apiece ” 13-10 to Wisconsin, 32-29 to Hawaii and 38-35 to Louisiana Tech … Fresno State has a 31-11 record in November games under Hill, including 23 of their last 29 … Moch’s eight sacks puts him No. 7 in the country … Taua has three straight 100-yard efforts and five overall … Lippincott showed up at Tuesday’s practice and says he is ahead of schedule in his rehab … Nevada is second in the nation in rushing offense at 305.6 yards per game and fifth in the country in total offense at 514.6.

– Contact Darrell Moody at dmoody@nevadaappeal.com or (775) 881-1281