By Neil Patrick Healy
Brian Na-Polian, the first Consul of Nevada, led his forces deep into enemy territory last Saturday and came away victorious against the Buffalo Bulls with a final score of 24-21. The Nevada ground forces, running backs Don Jackson and James Butler, punched holes in the enemy defensive line while freshman defensive back Dameon Baber provided the necessary fortitude in the waking minutes for the secondary defenses to withstand the constant aerial bombardment from enemy field general Joe Licata. Now Na-Polian looks to the south as the rebel forces of southern Nevada march into Mackay Stadium Saturday, Oct. 3. These insurgents look to inflict destruction and turmoil upon the general and his football program. It is now Na-Polian’s duty to quell this rebellion.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
The Nevada UNLV rivalry dates back to 1969 and Nevada holds the series lead 24-16. The Rebels are lead by first-year head coach Tony Sanchez, who was the head coach of Las Vegas high school football powerhouse Bishop Gorman. At Gorman, Sanchez accumulated an overall record of 85-5 while amassing six Nevada 4A state championships. UNLV sits at 1-3, but is coming off an 80-8 win over Idaho State. Yes, I know Idaho State is an FCS team, but 80 points is 80 points and that is impressive regardless of the situation. This scoring rampage orchestrated by the Rebels is now the Mountain West’s record for points in a game.
LEADING THE PACK
The Nevada ground game finally came into form against the Bulls last Saturday. Jackson finished with 17 carries for 113 yards and two touchdowns and Butler tacked on 16 carries for 177 yards and one touchdown. Over half of Butler’s yardage came on one 91-yard run before getting hawked at the five-yard line. On defense, all the talk was on the true freshman defensive back Dameon Baber. Baber made his debut against Buffalo and didn’t disappoint, as he finished the game with 10 total tackles and two interceptions (one on the Bulls’ final drive of the game to cement the victory.)
THE BIGGEST QUESTION
Is Nevada’s passing game as bad as it looked against Buffalo? Quarterback Tyler Stewart finished the game against the Bulls going 12-for-21 with 90 yards and zero touchdowns. If the Nevada run game is slowed down, then Stewart will be forced to make plays through the air. The Pack also hasn’t been able to find a consistent number three receiver after the season-ending injury of junior wide receiver Brayden Sanchez in the UC Davis game.
KEYS TO THE GAME
The game’s outcome will be directly correlated to Nevada’s ability to run the ball. UNLV hung 80 on Idaho State last week, but the Rebels are still one of the worst run defenses in the country. They fall at 107th in the nation and give up 200 yards per game, so if Nevada can run the ball the this will be Nevada’s game to lose.
Best-case scenario is Nevada continues to run the ball effectively and control the clock while keeping Tyler Stewart out of trouble and Nevada keeps the Fremont Cannon in Reno. Worst-case is Nevada gets exposed on the ground and the preseason hype for the front seven will be all but forgotten. The Rebels tallied up 517 rushing yards against Idaho State and scored six touchdowns on the ground, and UNLV will look to continue their newfound success running the ball.
Don’t expect a shootout in this one, as both teams are going to look to establish the run and keep the ball out of their quarterback’s hands. Look for Jackson and Butler to continue to have success running the ball and Nevada to come away with the win. The game will be close for a while, but Nevada should be able to wear down the Rebel defensive line with the run while also stopping UNLV’s ground game. Na-Polian uses his superior firepower and quells this little rebellion.
Neil Patrick Healy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @NeilTheJuiceMan.