Wolf Pack will go for the three-peat | NevadaAppeal.com

Wolf Pack will go for the three-peat

Appeal Sports Writer

RENO – Three-peat was a term used frequently in the late 80s when the high-powered 49ers were going for three straight Super Bowl titles.

Nevada (1-2, 0-0) is going for a three-peat of its own today when it hosts UNLV (2-2, 1-0) at Mackay Stadium in the 33rd renewal of the in-state rivalry game.

Kick-off is set for 1:05 p.m.

Nevada has won the last two games against its hated rival, including last year’s 31-3 thumping in Las Vegas. At stake is the 425-pound Fremont Cannon, which goes to the winner of the annual game.

“No question, it’s a huge game,” Nevada coach Chris Ault said. “A lot of great tradition surrounds this game.

“I think they are improved, no question about it. Wisconsin was lucky to get out of there with a win. Defensively, they are very sound. They were very aggressive last year, and they gave up some big plays. Offensively, they want to spread you out.”

UNLV, led by linebacker Beau Bell and defensive back Mil’Von James, is coming off only the seventh shutout in school history, a 27-0 dismantling of Utah, which blitzed UCLA the previous week.

Getting his team back up for a rivalry game after a big conference win is a key for UNLV coach Mike Sanford.

“Beau has upped his game,” Sanford said. “He’s played much better than he’s ever played. He’s having fun. Other guys (around him) are playing hard. We’re more sound on defense. Our ability to defend the run has improved, and we haven’t given up the big plays in the passing game. I think we made a big step in our program in trying to turn this thing around.

“It’s a major concern, and it has nothing to do with not having much success. We have to completely forget about Utah and move on. We have to gather ourselves up and play with the same kind of intensity. We’re a blue-collar football team. We have to outhustle, outwork and outfight (the opponent).”

UNLV gives Nevada a little different look this year, especially under center. Redshirt freshman Travis Dixon inherited the job when last year’s starter Rocky Hinds was slow recovering from knee surgery. Dixon has run for 176 yards and a score, and thrown for 738 yards and three TDs.

‘We have to execute,” nose tackle Matt Hines said. “They have an elusive quarterback. He’s athletic and can make plays.”

With Dixon being able to break down defenses with his feet a la Steve Young, Hines said preparing for UNLV is a little bit like preparing for an option team in the sense that the Pack will have to play assignment football.

UNLV running back Frank Summers is coming off a 190-yard, three TD effort against Utah. He is averaging 5.1 a carry on 59 attempts. The Rebels have had success spreading the ball around, as 11 different players have caught passes. Returning starter Ryan Wolfe leads the Rebels with 20 catches, and Casey Flair and Aaron Straiten are next with 15.

“We were very physical up front on both sides of the ball last week,” Sanford said. “Running back Frank Summers was physical. We felt like we could run the football against them.

“They (Nevada) are very good on defense. Their guys play hard. They are physical.”

Nevada will get back linebacker Ezra Butler, and defensive end Erics Clark (knee) should be 100 percent.

Nevada’s offense is coming off two tremendous performances against Northwestern and Nicholls State.

Running back Luke Lippincott has put together back-to-back 100-yard efforts, and 268 rushing yards and sophomore quarterback Nick Graziano has thrown for 573 yards and seven scores, including five in a 52-17 win over Nicholls State two weeks ago.

“I think they are a very balanced football team,” Sanford said. “I think the first thing we need to do against anybody we play, but specifically against this team is to stop the run. Stopping the run and not giving up big plays through the air is how you slow a team down.”

The extra week of rest has paid dividends in Ault’s mind.

“I think we did,” Ault said. “We did a lot of good scrimmaging. For being off a whole week with nothing on Saturday to look for, I thought we practiced well. We aren’t there yet, but we’re getting better.”

Notes: Nevada is 16-3 at Mackay Stadium since Ault returned for his third stint on the sidelines … Sanford said that running back David Peoples (concussion) won’t play, and that offensive lineman Mario Jeberaeel would be a game-time decision … Ault and UNLV’s Mike Bradeson are the only coaches in the game that have been on both sidelines. Ault was an assistant at UNLV from 1973-75, while Bradeson coached at Nevada from 1986-1991 … The game is a sellout … There is no TV for the game, but fans can watch streaming video at http://www.nevadawolfpack.com for $8.95.

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

UNLV (2-2, 1-0) at NEVADA (1-2, 0-0)

When: Today, 1:05 p.m.

Where: Mackay Stadium

Radio: ESPN 630AM, pre-game starts at noon