No. 19 Nevada big favorite over New Mexico State
Nevada seniors Colin Kaepernick and Vai Taua remember the last time the No. 19 Wolf Pack hosted New Mexico State.
Considered the lead challenger to perennial Western Athletic Conference champion Boise State, Nevada was coming off a pair of convincing victories and favored by 12 points over the lowly Aggies at Mackay Stadium two years ago.
End result? New Mexico State 48, Nevada 45.
The Wolf Pack will try to avoid a similar letdown when they host the struggling Aggies (2-8, 1-5 WAC) on Saturday.
''I remember it pretty well,'' said Kaepernick, who needs just 51 yards rushing to become the first player in NCAA history to run for 1,000 yards and pass for 2,000 yards in each of three seasons. ''We had some mistakes that cost us. I am definitely looking to redeem myself.''
Taua said the embarrassing loss in October 2008 should help keep Nevada (9-1, 4-1) from looking ahead to next Friday night's matchup at home against third-ranked Boise State.
''That's something that two years ago the team kind of did and that's something that we're looking to not do this year,'' said Taua, who is sixth in the nation in rushing, averaging 124 yards per game. ''They are a solid team that can get you, they can catch you sleeping.''
Nevada coach Chris Ault won't even entertain the thought, despite the fact the Aggies have lost 16 in a row against ranked opponents since defeating No. 22 Arizona State 35-7 in 1999.
''We're not good enough to look past anybody,'' said Ault, whose squad is seeking its first 10-win season since 1991. ''We won't look past anybody. We understand what this game leads to. But you have to take one game at a time.
''We aren't in the category of Boise where we can look at everything and say here's what were going to do. We aren't there. We need to step up and play hard against these guys and get better.''
Getting better is what second-year NMSU coach DeWayne Walker has in mind as well as his Aggies have been made a 38-point underdog in a game that could include snow and winds gusting up to 40 mph.
''No rest for the weary,'' said Walker.
Walker, a former NFL assistant who was UCLA's defensive coordinator from 2006-08, said Nevada's potent offense will be a stiff test for an NMSU defense that gives up a total of 434 yards per game. Nevada's offense ranks third in the nation, averaging 542 yards a game.
''It's one of the better teams in our conference, with the senior at quarterback arguably one of the better quarterbacks in the country and having some seniors to build around,'' Walker said. ''It is going to be a challenge for us, but we want to be competitive.''
Walker said he was pleased with the way his team battled Louisiana Tech last week, trailing 24-20 before fading down the stretch to lose 41-20.
''The last two games we've given it up in the last four or five minutes,'' Walker said. ''Earlier we'd play one solid half and not very good in the other half, but these last two games, we are getting down to minutes. That is showing improvement. Hopefully we can continue to do that these next two games and just continue to build the program.''
Last week's bright spots included sophomore running back Robert Clay and freshman quarterback Andrew Manley.
Making only his second start, Clay had a career-high 108 yards rushing on 22 carries - the first 100-yard rushing effort by an Aggie this year.
''You're starting to see these young guys start to emerge,'' he said. ''These are the guys I think can help us win in this conference.
Manley, starting in place of the injured Matt Christian, completed 20 of 40 passes for 216 yards.
''He is our future, there is no doubt about it,'' said Walker, who wasn't sure who would start on Saturday.
And while the Aggies are looking to the future, Ault said he took some extra time on Monday to make sure his players don't relive the past with an uninspired performance like the one two years ago - one of only two league games NMSU has won on the road since joining the WAC in 2005.
''It's in the front of my mind,'' Ault said. ''An embarrassing loss, simply because we deserved to get beat that day and that's something that our seniors understand.''