No. 21 Nevada visits Fresno St in key WAC showdown

Before No. 21 Nevada or Fresno State can start thinking about

knocking off Boise State to win the WAC title, the two schools need

to worry about each other.

The Wolf Pack (8-1, 3-1 WAC) visit the Bulldogs (6-2, 4-1) on

Saturday night in a game that will decide which team could head

into its showdown with the fourth-ranked Broncos with a chance to

win the conference title.

Both teams have rebounded from losses to Hawaii, with Fresno

State winning three straight since falling at home and Nevada

winning its last two since losing on the road to the Warriors.

With the Bulldogs heading to Boise next week and Nevada hosting

the Broncos the following week, the conference title is still up in

the air.

”I think they understand where they need to be,” Bulldogs

coach Pat Hill said. ”The last three weeks we’ve played well

enough to win but we haven’t played at the level of execution in

all phases for four quarters that we need to. I think they

understand the picture that is ahead of them. It’s finally time to

go.”

The Wolf Pack have dominated the Bulldogs the past two seasons

with their vaunted pistol offense, rushing for 933 yards and

outscoring Fresno State 93-42 in those two games.

Those struggles led Hill to dedicate time almost every day to

defending option running teams. While the Bulldogs have improved in

that facet, Nevada offers a unique test.

”We haven’t played an offense anything like Nevada’s yet,”

Hill said. ”A lot of teams say they run the pistol but there’s

only one team that runs that offense. That’s the Wolf Pack. People

may line up in that formation, but there’s nobody who runs that

offense like Nevada does.”

Quarterback Colin Kaepernick and running back Vai Taua have been

the key to the attack. Kaepernick has rushed for 213 yards and four

touchdowns and thrown for another score in the two wins. Taua has

gone for 442 yards and three scores.

”I think mainly it’s just different schematic things we’ve done

against them,” Kaepernick said. ”Our offensive line has played

great against them the last few years, so that takes a lot of

pressure off of some of the skill positions. Overall, we’ve just

played well.”

As well as the Wolf Pack played the past two seasons against

Fresno State, they were even better last week at Idaho.

Kaepernick threw a career-high five touchdown passes and Nevada

piled up a team-record 844 yards of offense as the Wolf Pack beat

Idaho 63-17.

”Right now our balance is very good,” coach Chris Ault said.

”We’re going to run first, there’s no question about it, but our

throwing game continues to get better. I think our passing

proficiency continues to get better, we’re inching up that ladder,

and that just helps our run game.”

The Bulldogs look like they finally have a pretty good running

game of their own. After struggling on the ground early this season

with Ryan Mathews off in the NFL, Fresno State is finally starting

to click.

Robbie Rouse had a breakthrough game last week at Louisiana

Tech, rushing for 286 yards – just 9 yards shy of tying Dwayne

Wright’s school record – in a 40-34 victory.

Ryan Colburn added three touchdown passes in the win as the

Bulldogs are showing the offensive balance that Hill strives for

each season.

The trip to the San Joaquin Valley is a highlight for many of

the Wolf Pack players who grew up near Fresno. Kaepernick went to

high school in nearby Turlock and tight end Virgil Green is from

Tulare.

”This is probably the most hyped I’m going to be until we face

Boise State,” Green said. ”I’m excited to go home and see

everybody, see my family, and just give them a show. I like beating

them. They didn’t think too highly of me coming out of there, so I

like to go down there and show them what they missed out on.”