Wolf Pack must stop run against Bulldogs | NevadaAppeal.com

Wolf Pack must stop run against Bulldogs

JOE SANTORO
For the Nevada Appeal

Ten things to look for when the Nevada Wolf Pack (8-1, 3-1) takes on the Fresno State Bulldogs (6-2, 4-1) in a Western Athletic Conference football game Saturday night (7:30 p.m., ESPN) at Fresno …

1. Can the Wolf Pack catch the Rouse in the house?

Fresno State running back Robbie Rouse, who is as small as a mouse at 5-foot-7, rushed for 286 yards on 43 carries in the Bulldogs’ 40-34 victory at Louisiana Tech last week. The little sophomore has been handed the keys to the Bulldogs’ offense, running for 552 yards and five touchdowns on 86 carries over the past three games. The Pack has given up 100 yards rushing to an individual twice this year. Eastern Washington’s Taiwan Jones had 145 yards on just 12 carries and Cal’s Shane Vereen had 198 yards and three touchdowns. The Pack hasn’t seen a runner as talented as Rouse since Vereen shredded them in Week 3 unless you count the San Jose State tandem of Lamon Muldrow and Brandon Rutley, who combined for 147 yards on 29 carries against the Pack.

2. The Bulldogs will be going after the Pack kickers, punters

Fresno State, ever since coach Pat Hill took over the program in 1997, has always enjoyed making life miserable for opposing kickers and punters. The Bulldogs have blocked 90 kicks in the Hill era and lead the NCAA with 54 blocks since the 2002 season. The last time an opponent blocked a Wolf Pack field goal? Fresno’s Bear Pascoe did it in 2007. The Bulldogs blocked a punt and an extra point just last week at Louisiana Tech.

3. Fresno State crowd won’t intimidate the Pack

Fresno State has enjoyed a distinct home field advantage against the Pack, going 14-7 against Nevada at home in the series (7-3 since 1949). Fresno State can be an intimidating place to play and the Bulldogs like to make it as intimidating as possible. They’ll be giving out 30,000 red pom-pons Saturday night to a crowd that is expected to approach 40,000. But the Pack, which won at Fresno State in 2008, isn’t frightened by the sea of red in the stands. Fresno State has actually been the site of a couple memorable Pack victories. Freshman quarterback David Neill made his first college start and led the Pack to a 27-24 victory in 1998 and Mike Maxwell passed for 443 yards (and three touchdowns to Alex Van Dyke) in a 62-35 Pack win in 1994.

4. Will the Wolf Pack continue to air it out?

The Pack tossed 34 passes last week at Idaho. But recent history suggests the Wolf Pack won’t let quarterback Colin Kaepernick air it out that much against Fresno State. Kaepernick has attempted just 29 passes combined in his last two games against Fresno State. The Pack ran the ball a combined 111 times for 933 yards and 11 touchdowns in those two games for a run-to-pass ratio of nearly 4-1.

5. Expect Vai Taua to have a big night

The Wolf Pack senior running back has destroyed Fresno State in his Pack career. In two games against Fresno, Taua has rushed for 442 yards and three touchdowns. He had 263 yards at Fresno State two years ago in a 41-28 Pack victory. Taua, who is losing carries lately to Lampford Mark, Mike Ball and Courtney Randall, is ready for a huge game. He hasn’t rushed for a touchdown in a month (Oct. 9 against San Jose State).

6. Turnovers will likely decide this game

The Wolf Pack forced Fresno State into four turnovers in winning at Fresno, 41-28, in 2008. And last year they went one better, forcing Fresno State into five turnovers in a 52-14 victory at Mackay Stadium. The Pack is plus-four in the takeaway column this year, good for second in the Western Athletic Conference. Fresno is minus-4, good for seventh in the WAC.

7. Fresno State has never stopped a Kaepernick-led offense

The Bulldogs can’t wait for Kaepernick to graduate. First of all, he represents one of the most glaring recruiting mistakes in the Pat Hill era. Kaepernick went to high school an hour north at Pitman High in Turlock, Calif., and was all but ignored by the Bulldogs. Kaepernick has made the Bulldogs pay for that mistake ever since. It was against Fresno State that Kaepernick had his breakout game in a Pack uniform. Entering the game in the second quarter in relief of injured starter Nick Graziano, the raw freshman Kaepernick passed for 384 yards and four touchdowns against the Bulldogs in 2007. In three games against Fresno, Kaepernick has rushed for 273 yards and four touchdowns and passed for 557 yards and five touchdowns without an interception. The Pack has scored 134 points in those three games.

8. Fresno State ready to unleash its top two dogs

Fresno defensive linemen Chris Carter and Logan Harrell could present a problem for the Pack offense. The two each have nine sacks this season. Fresno’s 26 sacks overall are fourth most in the nation. The 6-foot-2, 240-pound Carter also has 14 tackles for a loss. The 6-2, 275-pound Harrell has 12.5 tackles for a loss. Carter has also forced four fumbles. The two of them will pose one of the toughest challenges the Pack offensive line will see this year.

9. Watch the clock

The Wolf Pack held the ball for 38:42 last week at Idaho. It’s the longest they have had the ball in a game since it controlled it for 39:58 against San Jose State in 2006. Fresno, with Rouse running the ball, also loves to keep the football. The Bulldogs owned the ball for 41:02 at Louisiana Tech last week. The winner of this statistic on Saturday also may win the scoreboard.

10. Chris Ault vs. Pat Hill

Ault is, without a doubt, Nevada football. And Hill is definitely Fresno football. They are arguably the two most commanding and compelling coaching figures in the Western Athletic Conference. It is always a treat when these two go at it on the same field. Hill is 8-4 against Nevada and Ault is 5-4 against Fresno in his career. They are 3-3 against each other. Something has to give. They are both from Southern California, Ault from San Bernardino and Hill from Los Angeles. They are both former UNLV assistants (Hill in 1982-83 and Ault in 1974-75). Hill, who will turn 59-years-old next month, is 106-68 and Ault, who turned 64 on Monday, is 214-97-1. The two will go into the Mountain West Conference together in 2012. Yes, Boise State’s Chris Peterson is the WAC’s boy wonder. But Ault and Hill are Batman I and IA.