Friday, Oct. 1, 2010 | 2:15 a.m.
UNLV or UNR?
In preparation for this Saturday's Battle for the Fremont Cannon at Sam Boyd Stadium between UNLV and Nevada-Reno, Ryan Greene chats with Reno Gazette-Journal columnist Dan Hinxman for a closer look at the No. 25 Wolf Pack. You'll find out just how Chris Ault's team is approaching this one mentally, along with who are some key names, outside of the obvious, to keep in mind.
UNLV vs. UNR
UNLV Rebels (1-3 overall, 1-1 MWC) vs. Nevada-Reno Wolf Pack (4-0 overall, 0-0 WAC)
Where: Sam Boyd Stadium
When: 7:00 p.m.
Coaches: Bobby Hauck 1-3 in his first season at UNLV and 81-20 in eight overall seasons; Chris Ault is 210-96-1 in his 26 seasons at UNR, which is his first only coaching job.
Series: UNR leads, 20-15
Last time: UNR won, 63-28, on Oct. 3, 2009, in Reno.
Line: UNR by 21
TV/Radio: The Mtn./ESPN Radio 1100-AM
Rebel to watch: He's listed as questionable with an arm injury, but senior safety-turned-linebacker Calvin Randleman has been an active animal on the defensive side of the ball for the Rebels, leading the team so far in tackles (26) and tackles for loss (3). He's getting an opportunity to shine under the new coaching regime, and against a team that runs as much as UNR does, if he can sniff a few plays out, he could cause a few disruptions.
Wolf to watch: It doesn't take a genius to figure out that every bit of UNR's offensive success revolves around 6-foot-6 dual-threat senior quarterback Colin Kaepernick. He's absolutely feasted on UNLV in each of his two career starts against the in-state rivals, and unless the Rebels can throw the red-hot signal-caller off, he could continue to pad his fledgling Heisman Trophy resumé.
From The Other Side
- At UNLV, new coach faces familiar challenges Reno Gazette-Journal
- '3' is key to Nevada-UNLV rivalry Reno Gazette-Journal
- Wolf Pack Notebook: Kaepernick strong against UNLV Reno Gazette-Journal
- Pack football cracks into polls at 25 — Reno Gazette-Journal
- Wolf Pack quickly snaps focus onto UNLV game — Reno Gazette-Journal
- 'Beat UNLV' Special Section — The Nevada Sagebrush
Rivarly games in college football are known for being close-fought, emotional, tight battles.
The Rebels and Wolf Pack were tied at the half at Mackay Stadium, 21-21, but Chris Ault's club appeared to hold the upper hand right from go, romping to a 63-28 victory that for UNLV was nothing short of embarrassing.
A true x-factor in this year's meeting, when the Rebels will try to avoid losing to the Wolf Pack for the sixth straight time, is first-year coach Bobby Hauck, who gets his first shot at obtaining the Fremont Cannon.
He'll try to do so against a very similar cast of characters on the other sideline, as Ault still treats this game like a personal Super Bowl and senior quarterback Colin Kaepernick is picking up some serious Heisman Trophy buzz following a hot start to the season.
Here is a closer look at the meeting between UNLV (1-3) and No. 25 UNR (4-0):
1) Some fresh blood
When many people look back on Mike Sanford's tenure as the UNLV head coach, one number that sticks out is an 0-5 record against UNR.
Bobby Hauck starts with a clean slate this weekend.
At his Monday press conference, he said that, from what he's gathered so far, the hatred between UNLV and UNR closely rivals that he experienced at his previous job between Montana and Montana State, who met every year in "The Brawl of the Wild."
Hauck led the Grizzlies to wins over the Bobcats in each of his last five seasons.
So far this week, he's taken on the appearance of a coach who is every bit as serious about this rivalry as UNR's Ault, who is known as the most outspoken authority in the state when it comes to the rivalry.
Practices have been closed to the media and the public, but by all accounts, the fire is there in full effect.
2) Outside of Kaepernick ...
Look, there's no beating around the bush when it comes to unveiling who UNR's heart and soul is. It is, without question, senior quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
A lanky 6-foot-6 dual threat, he has picked UNLV apart in two career starts against the Rebels with both his right arm and his two feet. In those two games combined, he's totaled 797 all-purpose yards and seven total touchdowns. That includes a six-yard TD catch on a trick play late in last season's blowout.
So far this year, he's thrown for 924 yards, seven touchdowns and one pick, and is responsible for another 451 yards and eight scores on the ground.
Yes, he's responsible for a good portion of the Wolf Pack's offensive success within the pistol offense, but not all of it.
Senior running back Vai Taua has rushed for almost 3,500 yards in his UNR career, and is on pace for his third straight season with at least 1,300, with 453 and five TDs through four games this year and a 5.6 yards per carry average.
Two emerging weapons, though, have made Kaepernick that much better as a senior.
Junior receiver Rishard Matthews, a junior college transfer, is the team's leading receiver so far, with 15 catches for 246 yards. It gives them a nice perimeter weapon to spread the field with.
Eating up the middle, meanwhile, is 6-foot-5 tight end Virgil Green, who in 22 career games entering this season had 37 catches. In four games this season, he has 13 for an impressive 225 yards and three scores.
Many might be curious about the absence of Desert Pines High product Mike Ball, who torched his hometown Rebels out of nowhere for 184 yards and five TDs in last year's meeting. He will be serving the second leg of a two-game suspension for violating team rules this weekend. In two active games in 2010, he has accounted for 50 yards on only eight carries.
3) A rising terror
UNLV's offensive line improved big-time between its loss at Idaho and its victory over New Mexico in terms of blitz pick-ups. Rebels QBs were kept relatively clean last Saturday, and the run game showed its best productivity yet.
UNR presents a whole new challenge in terms of keeping junior linebacker James-Michael Johnson tamed.
The 6-foot-2, 240-pounder has already been named the Western Athletic Conference's Defensive Player of the Week twice, and his numbers are ridiculous so far this season.
After earning second team All-WAC honors a year ago with 57 tackles and 11.5 stops for loss, he leads the team so far this season in tackles (31), tackles for loss (3.5) and sacks (2.5).
An odd UNLV-related coincidence including Johnson? He went to the same high school in Suisun, Calif., and graduated a year ahead of Rebels receiver Michael Johnson, who a week ago had a huge performance, with eight catches for 138 yards and three TDs.
The two could cross paths quite a bit, considering that many of Johnson's receptions typically come close to the line of scrimmage on plays designed to get him into space.
4) Payne, anyone?
Through four games, UNLV junior receiver Phillip Payne's numbers look OK: 15 catches, 219 yards, two TDs.
But as far as making game-changing plays, outside of his late first half TD catch in the opener against Wisconsin, he hasn't had many opportunities.
Much of that production came in the closing minutes of the blowout losses to Wisconsin and Idaho, and at this point, Payne has somehow found himself under the radar a bit it seems.
A lot of that has to do with the fact that the Rebels' passing game didn't find its groove, really, until last weekend, thanks in large part to improved offensive line play.
But UNR is certainly not looking at him that way. In last year's loss in Reno, Payne had a career-high 10 catches for a season-high 112 yards. That included five catches for 67 yards in the first half, when the Rebels were still very much in the game.
If UNLV can pick up blitzes as well this week as it did last Saturday, Omar Clayton could take advantage of having Payne on his side against a UNR defense that ranks 89th out of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision programs against the pass.
5) A home run hitter
This week's UNLV injury report included some intriguing, key names, including linebacker Calvin Randleman
One which is exceptionally interesting where this game is concerned is true freshman running back Tim Cornett. He's listed as questionable with a leg injury, but on his weekly radio show on Wednesday night, UNLV coach Bobby Hauck made it sound as if he'll be seen on the field against UNR.
If he's able to go at full-speed, he could be a nice ace up Hauck's sleeve.
The 6-foot-1 Galena Park, Texas, product last week scored his first career touchdown on an impressive 46-yard gallop up the left side, during which he was never touched and simply created more and more space between himself and the New Mexico defense in the process.
A former track standout in high school who flew under the recruiting radar after playing only one stellar year of prep ball, he's been clocked in the 4.3-second range in the 40-yard dash, and his speed is a major bonus for UNLV.
So far this season, he has only nine carries, but has stretched them for 98 yards, including another big-gainer against Wisconsin.
If this game turns into a shoot-out, this might be where you see Hauck give Cornett some more looks.