Wolf Pack football ready for showdown with Broncos
BY DARRELL MOODY
Nevada Appeal Sports Writer
RENO ” The Nevada football team has a chance to wipe out eight years of frustration today when it hosts No. 9 Boise State today at Mackay Stadium.
Kickoff is set for 1:07 p.m. for the critical Western Athletic Conference game, which was sold out as of Thursday afternoon. It’s Nevada’s first football sellout since last year’s game against UNLV.
The game will be televised on ESPN2.
This has been a lopsided rivalry and nothing would be sweeter for the Pack to stop the skid and insure itself of a bowl appearance for the fourth straight year. Boise State has outscored Nevada 415-143 during its eight-game win streak (1999-2007). The closest Nevada has come to victory was last year’s game in Boise when the Wolf Pack took the Broncos to a 69-67 four-overtime loss.
“We haven’t beaten them,” senior defensive tackle Mundrae Clifton. “It would be a great feeling to get a win. Boise State is a team that makes very few mistakes. We have to make no mistakes to keep up with them.”
Nevada coach Chris Ault won’t admit it, but outside of UNLV, Boise State is the one team he’d love to beat. Boise State has progressed tremendously since it entered the WAC, while Nevada’s program, which entered the conference in 2000, went on a slide under former coach Chris Tormey.
“Well they’re a great team,” Nevada coach Chris Ault said. “I don’t see a weakness in any phase of their game. Certainly they are well deserving of their ranking. It’s going to be one heck of a game.
“All the teams we play are the second-most team I’d like to beat (behind UNLV). We haven’t beaten them (Boise State). If you have aspirations to be a championship team, you have to beat a champion.”
Nevada has won three of its last four games this season, including impressive showings in victories over Fresno State and San Jose State.
“This is a huge game,” Boise State coach Chris Petersen said. “I think Nevada is the hottest team in the league right now. They are getting better and better each week (defensively) and nobody has figured out how to slow them down yet. We have a challenge on our hands. They did a great job against us last year, and this year we’re at their place.”
This game presents a couple of interesting matchups.
The first pits Nevada’s run defense, ranked second nationally at 63.9 yards per game against Boise State’s well-balanced attack, which averages 450 yards per game. Another matchup is Nevada’s offense, which averages 325 yards per game on the ground and 540 yards overall, going against a Broncos defense which yields only 285 yards per game and 10.3 points per contest.
“It (rush defense success) is a combination of things,” Ault said. “Part of it is that the defensive front has been consistent throughout the season. Teams have elected to pass the ball against us, and we have been vulnerable there.”
“They are a little bit like us,” Petersen said. “Sometimes it’s hard to put a finger on. They are very aggressive off the ball and get off blocks well. As the season goes, you either pick up steam or lose steam. No question they are getting better.”
Nevada’s defense hasn’t allowed more than 132 yards in any single game this season, and that was against Missouri. Six times Nevada has held opponents to less than 100 yards. No doubt the Pack front seven will have its hands full against the backfield of Ian Johnson, D.J. Harper and Jeremy Avery.
Boise State’s Kellen Moore has done a tremendous job under center, completing 71 percent of his passes for 2,637 yards and 20 touchdowns. The Broncos have had more success through the air than on the ground and boast tremendous receivers in Jeremy Childs (57 receptions for 688 yards and six touchdowns), Austin Pettis (34 catches for 365 yards for seven TDs) and Vinny Perretta (20 receptions for 253 yards and two scores). The Broncos will spread it around, as 17 players have caught at least one pass.
“We play to our strengths,” Petersen said. “We never know going into a game what that is going to be. We like to think we’re balanced going in. We adapt and adjust on the run. The first half against Idaho we didn’t move the ball very well, but in the second half we were able to do more things.
“Kellen has done a good job from the start. He’s a smart guy and understands what we’re trying to do and he’s accurate. Those two things are good for any quarterback.”
The key for Nevada will be to get Moore out of rhythm. He’s not a big scrambler, but he’s shifty enough to move from trouble and complete a pass. Another key for Nevada will be able to get enough pressure with its front four of Kevin Basped, Dontay Moch, Clifton and Nata Agaiava, and then throw in a blitz or two to keep the Broncos honest.
When Petersen said he knows his defense is in for a challenge, he wasn’t kidding. Only one team ” Missouri ” has held Nevada to less than 400 yards offense in a game. Nevada has gained 600 yards or more three times and 500 or more four times.
The Pack has outstanding skill players in quarterback Colin Kaepernick (1,841 yards and 14 TDs passing and 1,017 yards and 16 TDs rushing). Throw in running back Vai Taua (1,284 yards and 12 TDs rushing) and wide receivers Marko Mitchell (46 catches for 785 yards) and Chris Wellington (27 catches for 457 yards), and you have a corps of players who can move the chains.
Kaepernick made his starting debut against Boise State last season, running for 177 yards and two scores, and passing for 243 yards and three TDs. No doubt he is first and foremost in Petersen’s thoughts this week. His ability to run the read-zone play has created havoc for every opponent.
“It’s a numbers game,” Petersen said. “When a quarterback can carry the ball, all of a sudden you are a man short. You can have the numbers you want and he can outrun you. You can try to be doing your job and get beat. All those things factor in.”
Ault is quick to point out that the read play was used last year, but not to the extent it’s been used this season. It’s become a staple of the offense. It’s the biggest difference from last year’s offense.
– Contact Darrell Moody at email@example.com or (775) 881-1281