Wolf Pack to take on the Bulldogs | NevadaAppeal.com

Wolf Pack to take on the Bulldogs

Appeal Sports Writer

Nevada, riding a two-game home winning streak, hopes to keep the momentum rolling when it hosts Fresno State in its Western Athletic Conference opener.

Kickoff is set for 1:07 p.m. at Mackay Stadium for the annual Homecoming game. The game is being shown on a pay-per-view basis on ESPN’s Game Plan.

Last week, the Wolf Pack (2-2, 0-0) won the state championship when it knocked off arch-rival UNLV 27-20. Now, the Pack has their collective eyes set on a WAC championship, and the first step is against the always tough Bulldogs (2-2, 1-0).

“They are certainly a quality football team,” Nevada coach Chris Ault said. “They are coming off a nice win over Tech. They are very physical on both sides of the ball. It’s going to be a great game.”

Fresno State coach Pat Hill couldn’t agree more.

“I like the way they (Nevada) play,” Hill said. “They are a good football team that doesn’t beat itself. It’s a great challenge. It’s an afternoon game with a lot at stake. You can’t ask for anything more.

“In college football there is a lot at stake every week, just ask Texas and Oklahoma. It’s must-win every week. There is no tournament at the end of the season.”

Was that bowl talk or coachspeak? Maybe a little of both. Certainly both teams know that a win today is important.

The idea of a hard-hitting, rough game appeals to Nevada linebacker Ezra Butler.

“They are physical,” Butler said. “That’s the type of football we like to play. I like games like that.”

One person the Wolf Pack defense won’t see is Dwayne Wright, who punished them in last year’s season-opening 28-19 loss. Wright has taken his talents to the NFL, but the Bulldogs haven’t changed without him.

“They are running the same stuff,” said Ken Wilson, Nevada’s defensive coordinator. “He was a great back. Now they have five or six different guys back there, and they all have special skills.”

Freshman Ryan Mathews (45-214-2), Lonyae Miller (52-157-2), Clifton Smith (21-106-2) and Anthony Harding (30-93-0) are the four main cogs in the Bulldogs’ committee approach in the backfield.

The Bulldogs are hoping for a better performance from Tom Brandstater than they got last week against Louisiana Tech when he completed 8-for-22 for 92 yards.

“Tommy in the first three games played really well,” Hill said. “There are a lot of moving parts (on offense) and everything has to be moving together. I’m certainly not going to blame him. His stats were not good. It was not one of his best performances. We need to pick it up offensively.

“I don’t think we played well on offense period. We didn’t have a good game on offense.”

One matchup to watch is in the middle.

Fresno State is playing without starting guards Cole Popovich and Adam McDowell. Joe Bernardi is now starting at center, and the normal starting center Ryan Wendell has moved over to guard and will team with Andrew Jackson or Pierce Masse. It will be interesting to see how the threesome performs against Jay Dixon, Matt Hines and Mundrae Clifton.

Hines said Nevada’s defense has to start playing with more consistency. Letdowns in the fourth quarter against Northwestern and UNLV shouldn’t happen.

Nevada will no doubt have its hands full against an athletic Fresno State defense led by linebackers Marcus Riley and Ben Jacobs, defensive end Tyler Clutts and defensive tackle Jon Monga. Fresno State has 12 sacks thus far, and Clutts and Monga have four apiece.

“We’re getting better and better (on the defensive line),” Hill said. “The defensive line has played well, even against Oregon (52-21 loss). They are coming around. The young secondary is coming around.”

Fresno State allows only 118 yards passing per game and 192 on the ground. The pass defense numbers are somewhat skewed, because in the games against Texas A &M and Oregon, the Bulldogs were unable to stop the run consistently, thus teams didn’t need to throw the ball a lot.

Nevada’s offense has played well the last three games, scoring 100 points. The Pack is averaging 30 points and 438 yards total offense per game.

Running back Luke Lippincott has rushed for more than 100 yards in two of the last three games, and tight end Adam Bishop has caught five touchdown passes in the last three games.

Quarterback Nick Graziano has an efficiency rating of more than 140, and he’s thrown for 1,012 yards and 10 scores. He has played well the last three weeks, and the Pack needs another big game from him today.

Notes: Mike Schellin of Carson City is one of five inductees into the Nevada Hall of Fame today. Schellin went 32-0 as a collegiate boxer, barely missing out making the U.S. Olympic squad. The other four inductees are former track star Kamy Keshmiri, former women’s basketball great Chris Starr and former gridiron stars Alex Van Dyke and Marty Zendejas … Wide receiver Arthur King (concussion), cornerback Jon Amaya (knee) and defensive end Erics Clark (pneumonia) will miss today’s game … Because of the Homecoming parade, Virginia Street will be closed from 9th to 17th streets until 10:30 a.m., so fans are asked to use different routes to reach the stadium if you are arriving real early.

• Contact Darrell Moody at dmoody@nevadaappeal.com, or by calling (775) 881-1281

FRESNO STATE (2-2, 1-0) AT NEVADA (2-2, 0-0)

When: Today, 1:07 p.m.

Where: Mackay Stadium

TV: ESPN Game Plan (pay-per-view)

Radio: 630 AM, pre-game at noon

Line: Nevada by 3