From The Sports Network
By Gregg Xenakes, Associate College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: The fight for the Fremont Cannon just got a little more exposure, thanks to Nevada being ranked 25th in the nation as it faces off against the UNLV Rebels at Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas on Saturday night.
The battle for Silver State bragging rights generally takes on a whole new level of value for both of these teams each year despite what's happened to the programs leading up to the meeting. For the Wolf Pack, they've been cruising right along since defeating Eastern Washington in the opener. The toughest test for Nevada took place just last weekend at BYU where the Pack got by with a 27-13 triumph in Provo in order to earn enough voter confidence to break into the AP's Top-25 for the first time since 1948.
Nevada is off to it's best start since 1991 when it began a perfect 12-0.
As for the Rebels, their first year under new head coach Bobby Hauck began rather rough with three consecutive setbacks. However, last weekend the team finally broke through with a 45-10 thrashing of New Mexico which not only snapped a losing streak, it also counted as the squad's first Mountain West Conference victory of 2010 as well.
"It's good to get a win, our assistant coaches did a nice job putting the plan together," coach Hauck remarked after the victory. "Our players did a much improved job on executing the plan and we're certainly glad to get our first win. New Mexico did some good things, in particular in the run game that we weren't ready for, gave some new looks and did some things that gave us trouble. I'm glad our guys were able to adjust, both the coaches and players."
Nevada owns a 20-15 advantage over its in-state rival and has taken five straight meetings, including a 63-28 romp in Reno a year ago.
It wasn't pretty, but Colin Kaepernick and the Nevada offense got the Wolf Pack into the win column once more last week. Kaepernick finished the outing 16-of-25 for 196 yards and a touchdown and also led the team on the ground with his 82 yards and a score on 17 attempts. Vai Taua also gave Nevada a lift as he posted a game-high 133 yards and a TD on 29 carries as well.
Kaepernick, who has improved his passing skills with each year in Reno, moved into a tie for fourth place with his 47th rushing touchdown as a quarterback. Truth be told, Kaepernick's legs are why he has been able to develop as a passer, forcing defenses to stuff the box with additional personnel to try and slow down the options produced by the pistol offense. Kaepernick is now fifth on the program's all-time passing yardage list because those legs of his have made him one of the most versatile weapons in college football the last few years.
From a defensive standpoint, Nevada had the advantage of taking on a BYU program that is moving fast in the wrong direction, desperate for leadership at the quarterback position. The Pack limited the Cougars to just 91 yards on 25 rushing attempts and BYU never really got the passing attack in gear, even though the home team still rolled up 229 yards through the air.
The pass defense for the Pack through four games is allowing opponents 242.5 ypg, but while that sounds like a hefty number the truth is that the end result for those opponents does not always work in their favor. Nevada has a pass efficiency defense with a rating of 109.11 and that has the group ranked first in the WAC and 26th nationally, so clearly something is going right in Reno.
However, make no mistake, the Pack is driven by the offense and Kaepernick who has the rushing attack lighting up opponents for 286.3 ypg to rank first in the conference and sixth in the country this week. In terms of total offense, there's no one better in the WAC as Nevada generates 529 ypg (fourth nationally). Having a fleet-footed signal-caller also makes things easier on the offensive line and that might be why the Pack has surrendered just one sack (best in the NCAA).
"I had no idea it hadn't been done, but it feels good," said UNLV wideout Michael Johnson after he became the first player in 14 years to record three TDs in one game. "Anytime you score it's great, and to do it three times makes it that much better and when it's a big game, like the one we needed today, it feels good to do good for your team given the situation we were in."
Johnson had to feel great about the effort that he and the rest of the UNLV offense produced against the Lobos last weekend, but they also need to accept it within the context in that it was achieved against a weak opponent. Johnson turned his eight catches into 138 yards, as Omar Clayton converted 14-of-20 passes for 194 yards and those three scores. The running attack also contributed significant numbers as well with 185 yards and two TDs, as Channing Trotter posted a team-best 63 yards and a score.
Limiting New Mexico to a mere 10 points may have felt like a major accomplishment for a slumping UNLV group, but the truth of the matter is the Lobos have been absolutely dreadful on offense thus far. After four games the Lobos are ahead of only San Jose State nationally in scoring with a scant 10.25 ppg. Daniel Mareko came up with a few big hits for the Rebels, posting 1.5 sacks along the way, but it was like playing against a JV team at times for the hosts in Sin City.
As a team the Rebels have a grand total of only six sacks thus far, so there is no single hitter who is forcing opponents to game plan for him when UNLV hits the field. Averaging just 3.75 TFLs per game, seventh in the Mountain West and tied for 111th in the country this week, the Rebels also pose little or no threat to Kaepernick as he dances around in the backfield trying to decide on his best options. While he has just 14 tackles, Will Chandler has caused the most disruption for the UNLV defense, accounting for three of their four interceptions and a pair of fumble recoveries which he has returned a combined 82 yards.