Thursday, Sept. 25, 2008 | 7:08 p.m.
Each Friday during the 2008 season, the Sun will take an in-depth look at the Rebels' upcoming weekend foe, giving you a crash course on what you need to know, plus what you might not have known already.
Ryan Greene, Alex Adeyanju and Andy Samuelson tie up some loose ends from UNLV's 34-31 overtime topping of Iowa State, plus look ahead to the rivalry game to end all rivalry games ... as some people believe it to be.
A good, long look at ... Nevada-Reno (Saturday, 7 p.m. PST, The Mtn.)
The rep ... Well, this one doesn't really need much explanation, does it? Sure, beating Arizona State on the road and Iowa State at home were both nice for UNLV, but this is UNR. It's a true, in-state rival. Don't let Reno's 1-2 record fool you right off the bat. Following a cupcake of an opener against Grambling State (a 49-13 bloodbath), the Wolf Pack took its lumps against two quality Big 12 opponents. The Pack held close with Texas Tech up in Reno before falling, 35-19, but then got slugged 69-17 on the road against Missouri and Heisman favorite Chase Daniel.
The key to UNR on the offensive side of the ball is balance. It all stems from the quarterback spot with sophomore Colin Kaepernick. He leads the team both in passing (duh) and rushing. His 214 yards on the ground have come mostly in the absence of senior Luke Lippincott, who was lost for the year against Tech to a torn ACL. But even without Lippincott, a 1,420-yard rusher a year ago, the Wolf Pack is averaging 277.3 yards per game on the ground.
Coach Chris Ault, in his 24th season as a coach at UNR, knows this rivalry better than anyone. While UNLV is talking about this year being a different team with a different mentality and different attitude, you can bet your last dollar that whatever intensity and emotion the Rebels cook up, Ault will make sure his team matches it.
Don't forget, this game is huge for UNR if it also hopes to land in its fourth straight bowl game. A 1-3 start might be too much from which to recover.
Last week ... While UNLV won its second straight overtime thriller, UNR was resting up and still licking the wounds from its trip to Columbia, Mo. The two rivals also met last year coming off of UNR's bye week - A 27-20 Wolf Pack win in Reno.
The significance of this week ... Mike Sanford's said multiple times this week that even though UNLV enters this game with a 3-1 record and plenty of momentum, he wants his team to take an underdog role into the battle for the Fremont Cannon (the exact piece of hardware that's on the line). While the three wins so far have been nice, UNLV has made no secret about the fact that this is its biggest game of the season. If you need any more convincing that this game means just as much to Reno, check this out.
Why UNR can beat UNLV ... Kaepernick truly holds the key. In three of UNLV's four games so far, the opposition's leading rusher has been a quarterback. Don't think UNR hasn't picked up on this. But on top of that, the Wolf Pack has shown great consistency in running the football, despite the injuries to Lippincott and Brandon Fragger. Vai Taua is just a yard behind Kaepernick for the team lead in rushing (with 213), and it presents an opportunity for UNR to control the clock.
Defensively, the Wolf Pack has seven takeaways this year. It now faces a UNLV team that's given possession away just once. The lone Rebel turnover came in the third quarter against Iowa State, in the middle of a 14-point slide that allowed the Cyclones to pull within a score. If UNR can force a quick slew of turnovers, it's still an unknown just how UNLV would respond.
Why UNLV can beat UNR ... Three things will prove huge UNLV Saturday ...
1) The Rebels did an outstanding job of not playing the game within the game that ISU tried to draw them into, and that was getting them heated via cheap shots. UNLV responded the right way and did damage on the scoreboard. This game will be far more emotional, but UNLV needs to be on just as even a keel.
2) They can't let Kaepernick get too much space on the perimeter for which to do the damage with his feet. Plain and simple.
3) Omar Clayton's consistency is one of the big reasons behind the 3-1 start. As long as he doesn't turn the ball over much (he has 9 TD passes and 0 INTs this season), UNLV has proven it can control possession with just about anyone.
The infirmary report ... Usually you'd think that with the top two running backs on the preseason depth chart unavailable, you'd think a running game would be be non-existent for the Wolf Pack. Obviously, that's not the case.
A name which could creep up for the Wolf Pack ... Not that he's much of a sleeper, but with all of the talk that Kaepernick has drawn, it's easy to forget that every productive receiver has a top target of some sort. His is senior Marko Mitchell, a 6-foot-3 receiver who comes in with 15 grabs for 254 yards and two touchdowns. No receiver this season has really had a huge game against UNLV, so if Kaepernick could get him going, it might force the Rebel secondary to make major adjustments. He's gone under the radar with how much UNR has incorporated the triple option with Kaepernick.
Be sure to log onto www.lasvegassun.com both leading up to, during and after Saturday's game at Sam Boyd Stadium. You'll find ongoing numbers and analysis in our game day blog, plus postgame analysis, reactions from the Rebels, photos, video highlights and much more.