From The Sports Network
By Gregg Xenakes, Associate College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: In the AP poll for the second time this season, the 25th-ranked Nevada Wolf Pack face off against the Idaho Vandals in Western Athletic Conference action at the Kibbie Dome on Saturday.
Having started the 2010 campaign with six straight wins, the Wolf Pack was part of the rankings just a few weeks back, but a 27-21 loss to Hawaii on the road on October 16th booted them back to mediocrity. However, after waiting around for an extra week, Nevada stormed back into action last Saturday and recorded a 56-42 win over the Utah State Aggies at home. The victory moved Nevada to 2-1 in conference and back into the national spotlight with seven wins in eight opportunities this year.
As for the Vandals, a team that was invited to the postseason last year and won a thriller against Bowling Green, they have been unable to put together solid and consistent performances from one week to the next. In fact, Idaho has alternated wins and losses since the 2010 campaign began, starting with a 45-0 romp over North Dakota in the opener and culminating with a disappointing 45-10 setback versus a rising Hawaii squad out in Honolulu last weekend.
Nevada owns an 18-9 mark in the all-time series versus the Vandals, but on the road the Pack is just 7-7. A 70-45 thrashing in last year's affair in Reno was the fifth straight win and the seventh in the last eight encounters for the Pack over Idaho.
The Wolf Pack generated close to 600 yards of offense against Utah State last weekend, but at the same time the defense gave up almost 500 yards to the visitors in a game that shouldn't have been nearly as close as the final score indicated. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who at one point early in the meeting was sitting on the sideline while backup Tyler Lantrip took the snaps, converted just 10-of-15 passes for 190 yards and two touchdowns, while also pacing the squad on the ground with 102 yards and a TD on eight rushing attempts.
Mike Ball carried the ball just six times himself, yet he turned that limited action into 58 yards and two TDs for a rushing attack that loaded up with 387 yards and six scores on 55 attempts.
The pass defense for the Wolf Pack, which has been notoriously weak in 2010, permitted USU's Diondre Borel close to 400 yards and a pair of TDs. The run defense was much tougher with just 91 yards allowed on 37 attempts, yet the Aggies still managed to hit the end zone three times in that manner. After holding Utah State scoreless in the first half, the defense laid down and permitted 42 after the break and that didn't sit well with head coach Chris Ault.
"That was really dismal, no question about it. The sad thing about it is we played so well in the first half. It's disappointing to think we'd go out there and really not play with any energy and that's where I'm most concerned right now."
For the most part, except for a couple of misfires here and there, Kaepernick has been directing the pistol offense very well, to the point where he is now fourth on the NCAA's all-time rushing list for quarterbacks with 3,677 yards. Kaepernick, who has scored 52 career rushing TDs, has the Nevada offense putting up 520.1 ypg (third in the nation) and thanks to the huge effort versus USU, the Pack is now seventh in the country in scoring with 41.9 ppg.
While Kaepernick and Co. handle the offense, the defense is directed by Dontay Moch who last week had a pair of tackles for loss against the Aggies. In his last four outings Moch has 13 TFLs and is not only Nevada's all-time leader in that category with 57.0, but he is first in WAC history and 13th in NCAA history as well. Currently Moch is tied for third in the nation with an average of 2.0 TFLs per game in 2010.
While Nevada was playing in a wild affair that had plenty of offense on both sides, the Vandals couldn't get their offense in gear against Hawaii on the road. In fact, it wasn't until Brian Reader stepped in for Nathan Enderle at quarterback that the visitors finally made it into the end zone on an 18-yard scoring strike to Taylor Elmo. Reader finished 7-of-11 for 105 yards while Enderle completed 23-of-41 passes for 207 yards, was picked off twice and sacked three times.
While the defense was giving up close to 600 yards of offense to the Warriors, the Idaho offense was turning the ball over at an alarming rate and that took away any momentum the Vandals may have built at any stage of the game.
"Turnovers were costly to us," coach Robb Akey proclaimed. "They did have an impact...(Hawaii) got on a roll of momentum. We didn't make plays to stop it."
Heading into the week the Vandals were third in the WAC and 23rd in the nation in turnover margin with a plus-0.71 per game, but after the debacle against the Warriors the team dropped to 42nd in the country with a plus-0.25 turnovers per contest. Enderle has been a huge part of that problem, having tossed 12 interceptions this season, with five coming in one game against Nebraska. Granted, Enderle has certainly done some great things for the Vandals this season, like tossing 16 touchdowns and he has at least three scoring strikes in four consecutive outings, but the bottom line is that he can't do it all himself.
What Enderle and the Vandals need is for the running game to take some ownership on offense and produce more than just 85.1 ypg (115th). Should that aspect of the attack improve, perhaps Enderle could save himself a few unwanted hits and not feel like a tackling dummy all the time. At this stage, after eight games, the offensive line for the Vandals is giving up 3.75 sacks per game, the most in the WAC and more than all but three other programs in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
The run defense for the Vandals hasn't exactly stood out this year, giving up 165.9 ypg, and against Nevada the group is going to be tested over and over again, to the point where Enderle might not see significant playing time if the Idaho defense can't get off the field.