No. 14 Nevada hopes to fulfill WAC title dream in clash with LaTech
Ruston, LA (Sports Network) - Having taken down the giant in the Western Athletic Conference, the 14th-ranked Nevada Wolf Pack are aiming to claim at least a share of the league title for 2010 as they close out the regular season against the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs at Joe Aillet Stadium in Ruston on Saturday afternoon.
Last week the Wolf Pack took part in the most anticipated WAC matchup of the season as they hosted third-ranked Boise State. Early on it appeared the hosts would be licking their wounds yet again from a Broncos beating, but Nevada pushed the game into overtime and survived a couple of missed field goals by BSU kicker Kyle Brotzman to capture the thrilling 34-31 victory.
"You got wide-angle lenses, cause I'm about ready to smile," Nevada head coach Chris Ault slyly told reporters following the monumental triumph. "It is the greatest victory this university's ever had in football I can tell you that. I wasn't here in 1898, but some of my players think I was."
Nevada, which is gunning for its first league title since 2005, is also shooting for the first 12-win season for the program since 1991 as well.
As for the Bulldogs, still in the hunt for bowl eligibility, they recorded their second straight win and the fifth of the season on Saturday night when they produced a 45-38 victory over San Jose State on the road. Under first- year head coach Sonny Dykes, LaTech has certainly experienced the ups and downs of a trying season, but there's still hope for action beyond this weekend, albeit a very slim chance given how well Nevada is playing right now.
In terms of the all-time series between the teams, Nevada has taken five straight over the Bulldogs to assume the lead at 5-4. The Pack posted a 37-14 win in Reno a year ago to surge ahead of LaTech, while the last victory for the Bulldogs was a 38-21 final in Ruston back in 2004.
It took some time for the Nevada offense to rev up against one of the most imposing defenses in the country last Friday, but by controlling the ball for almost 22 minutes in the second half the Pack set itself up for a thrilling win at home. Colin Kaepernick, despite being sacked twice and intercepted once, was again the catalyst for the group as he converted 19-of-35 passes for 259 yards and a score. The QB also ran for 45 yards and a TD, while Vai Taua carried the ball 32 times for a team-best 131 yards and a touchdown as well.
Rishard Matthews not only turned his 10 receptions into 172 yards and a TD, but he carried the ball once for a 44-yard scoring run too as the Nevada rushing attack posted 269 yards and three touchdowns in the comeback victory.
The defense for Nevada did permit Boise State signal-caller Kellen Moore to throw for 348 yards and two touchdowns, and running back Doug Martin a game- high 152 yards and a pair of scores on the ground, but when it counted the most the Pack put just enough pressure on Brotzman to squeeze out the victory.
Ranked fourth in the nation in rushing at the moment with better than 300 ypg, Nevada is constantly on the move behind the original pistol offense. But what has made the attack so much stronger this year is that Kaepernick has added the element of a steady aerial threat to keep defenses from getting the jump on option plays. Needing 253 passing yards to reach 10,000 for his career, Kaepernick also needs just 65 rushing yards to achieve 4,000 for his career as well. A steady scoring machine, Kaepernick needs just two rushing scores to tie the WAC record of 58 set by Boise State's Ian Johnson.
But the Wolf Pack is much more than just a fantastic offense that can hurt teams in so many different ways, just ask Dontay Moch who is tied for fifth in the country with an average of 1.67 tackles for loss per game. Moch was credited with half a sack against Moore last week which means he now has 8.5 on the season and 20.0 TFLs to lead his squad in both departments. As a unit, Nevada is third in the conference and 17th nationally with 2.67 sacks per game right now.
"I thought it was a good win and we played hard," said Louisiana Tech head coach Sonny Dykes of the decision against San Jose State. "We told our guys all week that we were going to have to play for 60 minutes and that's what we had to do. We knew it was going to be tough coming out west and playing them."
The hard play on offense came mostly from running back Lennon Creer who set a career high with 252 yards and landed in the end zone three times. Creer carried the ball 30 times on the night as the Bulldogs rolled up 374 yards and five TDs on the ground. Quarterback Ross Jenkins converted 13-of-29 passes for 105 yards, but was sacked twice and had two passes picked off in the losing effort.
Another highlight for the Bulldogs came from Phillip Livas who tied an NCAA record with his eighth kick return for a touchdown (four kickoffs, four punts) as he raced 88 yards on a punt late in the third quarter.
If there was a downside to the outing it was the fact that LaTech allowed the Spartans, a team without a single win this season against another FBS program, to generate more than 500 yards of total offense. Granted, the pass defense did pick off three passes and the squad did come up with three sacks, but giving Jordan La Secla time to throw 65 attempts and post 496 yards and five touchdowns was just far too much of a cushion.
After 11 games the Bulldogs now have the weakest pass defense in the conference, ranking 117th in the country, with a massive 302.1 ypg allowed. The run defense is a bit more stout with just 154.8 ypg permitted, but that may be due to the fact that opponents know the LaTech secondary is vulnerable.
Jenkins has completed almost 63 percent of his pass attempts in 2010, but having started just seven games means his overall numbers are not that strong. He has close to 1,600 yards through the air and 11 TDs, against six interceptions. As a whole, the Bulldogs have the same number of picks (15) as they do TDs.
Creer has been great for the Bulldogs in the second half of the season, rushing for at least 100 yards in five of the last six outings and scoring all 10 of his TDs during that span. However, one has to wonder why Livas hasn't been incorporated more into the offense, given how much of a threat he is every time he touches the ball? Livas has turned 17 rushing attempts into 129 yards and two touchdowns and he also has another 240 yards and two scores on 20 receptions, so why hasn't he been more involved?
12/01 11:56:58 ET