Nevada-UNLV Preview

Nevada’s first 4-0 start as a member of the FBS has earned the

Wolf Pack their first appearance in the Top 25 in more than 60

years.

Their biggest rival would love nothing more than to make it last

only one week.

In order to remain ranked, the No. 25 Wolf Pack must hit the

road and defeat UNLV for the sixth consecutive year in what could

be the final non-conference matchup between the foes.

Nevada has certainly aced its non-league slate to this point,

posting a pair of especially impressive results the last two

weeks.

A 52-31 win over California on Sept. 17 earned some attention

for coach Chris Ault’s team, while a 27-13 victory at BYU last

Saturday vaulted the Wolf Pack into the rankings for the first time

since 1948.

The unbeaten start is the best for Nevada since 1991, when the

program was still a part of Division I-AA.

While Ault’s unique pistol offense has helped the Wolf Pack

reach five consecutive bowl games, they may be even better this

year due to an improved defense that held BYU without a touchdown

for the final three quarters.

Linebacker James-Michael Johnson was named the Western Athletic

Conference player of the week after making a career-high 10

tackles.

“We are playing better defense,” Ault said. “These last two

years we were average at best on defense and it put so much

pressure on offense to be productive.

“We’re getting better every game and giving our offense more

opportunities.”

That offense has been as efficient as ever, ranking fourth

nationally in total yards. Nevada uses a unique formation where

quarterback Colin Kaepernick lines up in the shotgun, but with

running back Vai Taua behind him.

Kaepernick has thrown for 924 yards, seven touchdowns and one

interception while adding 451 rushing yards and eight scores on the

ground. The senior became the school’s all-time leader in total

offense last weekend.

“He’s been our starter for 3 1/2 years and that experience – you

can’t say enough about it, especially in our offense, which is

fairly sophisticated,” Ault said.

UNLV (1-3) is all too familiar with Kaepernick, who has helped

Nevada average 56.0 points in its last two wins over the Rebels.

Kaepernick totaled 384 passing yards, 413 rushing yards and six

touchdowns in those games.

Nevada running back Mike Ball had 184 rushing yards and five

touchdowns in a 63-28 win last Oct. 3, but he’s suspended for

violating team rules.

The Rebels haven’t taken the Fremont Cannon from Nevada since

their 48-13 win in Las Vegas on Oct. 2, 2004.

The rivals may be conference opponents in the Mountain West as

soon as next year. Nevada has already accepted an invitation to the

MWC, although it’s unclear when it will move.

For now, UNLV will continue its difficult non-league schedule.

The Rebels lost to then-No. 12 Wisconsin 41-21 on Sept. 4 and

barely avoided a shutout with a late TD in a 30-7 loss at Idaho on

Sept. 18. They visit West Virginia next week.

UNLV, however, picked up first-year coach Bobby Hauck’s first

victory last Saturday over lowly New Mexico. Senior Omar Clayton

led the 45-10 blowout by going 14 of 20 for 194 yards and three

touchdowns – all to wide receiver Michael Johnson.

“It’s kind of nice to see us make some plays,” Hauck said. “As I

said earlier this week, the mental part was pretty good the last

few weeks, our errors were more physical.”

The Wolf Pack may have special inspiration this week. In a

strange twist, Stan Heath – Nevada’s All-American quarterback the

last time the team was ranked in 1948 – died Sunday at 83.

“He loved this university,” Ault said. “He followed us and was

an avid fan of our football program. He was a very, very special

Wolf Pack guy who now gets to look down on us from above.”