Take Five: A closer look at UNLV vs. UNR

Two 1-3 teams took very different paths to this year’s Battle for the Fremont Cannon

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Sam Morris

UNLV coach Bobby Hauck congratulates UNR coach Chris Ault after their game on Oct. 3, 2010. UNR won the game, 44-26, to run its win streak over UNLV to six.

UNLV football prepares to tackle UNR

KSNV coverage of UNLV football preparing to take on the UNR Wolf Pack, Oct. 5, 2011.

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The Rebel Room

Can UNLV salvage its 2011 season in Reno?

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Ryan Greene and Ray Brewer take a quick look back at the horror film that played out 10 days ago at Sam Boyd Stadium, ending with UNLV losing to an FCS foe - Southern Utah - 41-16. The guys follow it up by previewing this weekend's Battle for the Fremont Cannon up in Reno, and what UNLV needs to accomplish to try and build some of the local buzz back before basketball season officially gets underway.

RENO — A year ago, UNLV was downed by a Nevada-Reno team that went on to finish the season 12-1, including a stunning late-season defeat of then-No. 3 Boise State.

The two teams enter this season's Battle for the Fremont Cannon both at 1-3, but they've taken very different paths to get there.

UNLV's season has been filled with some slight surprises, a major spike in a victory over Hawaii and a crushing low in a shocking loss to Southern Utah at home a week later.

As for UNR, the Wolf Pack has struggled to get off of the ground over a four-road-game stretch to start the season, including trips to face Oregon and Boise State.

Still, Chris Ault's club takes the field for its home opener as roughly a three-touchdown favorite. Here's a closer look at why, and what UNLV will have to do right to get the Cannon back for the first time since 2004.

1) Will the road woes continue?

The Rebels' struggles away from Sam Boyd Stadium in 2010 under Bobby Hauck were far from minor. They went 0-7 on the road and lost each of those games by an average margin of more than 30 points. In two roadies this season, the Rebels are 0-2, having lost to Wisconsin and Washington State by a combined margin of 110-24. The atmosphere at Mackay Stadium should be just as intense as anything they've seen this season, with the UNR fans having had to wait so long for their team's home opener. The key for UNLV in overcoming this? It's simple: Score first. In the nine road games the Rebels have played with Hauck at the helm, they've never led. An early score would provide some much-needed confidence for a team that hasn't shown much of it away from its friendly confines in quite a while.

2) Defense must stay strong

Despite the mixed bag in terms of scoreboard results for UNLV in its last two games, one thing has remained consistent: The Rebels' defense is actually playing pretty well. They've only allowed 546 yards of total offense in the two games combined, including only 84 on the ground. To boot, they've only given up 30 points since the Sept. 10 debacle at Washington State. The next step is creating extra possessions for the offense. In that stretch, UNLV has forced six turnovers.

3) Who's behind center for UNR?

Will it be senior Tyler Lantrip or freshman Cody Fajardo? In Reno, it seems like that's the million-dollar question of the last week. Lantrip has been the Pack's starter and seen the bulk of the snaps over four games, but he's struggled, completing just 53.3 percent of his passes with two TD tosses and five picks. Fajardo, who it appears is the program's quarterback of the future and a much more natural fit within its offense, came up big in a narrow loss at Texas Tech two weeks ago but was called out by Ault after missing the team's loss last week at Boise State. Ault felt Fajardo could have worked harder to come back from a shoulder injury that sidelined him. Lingering behind both is another freshman in Mason Magleby. If it turns into a game of musical quarterbacks, UNLV's recently stout defense might be able to grab the upper hand.

4) Meanwhile, a big spot for Caleb Herring

UNLV sophomore QB Caleb Herring learned some tough — even embarrassing — lessons on Sept. 24 in the loss to SUU, throwing three interceptions that were all returned for touchdowns. Herring's problem in that game wasn't necessarily overconfidence, but instead, it was a case of growing pains for the first-year starter who will likely have another night or two like that as the season progresses. UNLV doesn't need him to beat UNR with his arm alone, though. They need him to use his head and play more like the quarterback who only turned the ball over once in his first three career starts. The UNLV staff might want to ease him back in after that rough outing, and instead of seeing him throw the ball 41 times again, don't be shocked if UNLV tries to rely early and often on its fledgling run game.

5) The x-factors

For UNR, it's going to be Las Vegas native Mike Ball, who as a freshman in 2009 blew up out of nowhere against his hometown school, rushing for 184 yards and five TDs off of just 15 carries in a 63-28 blowout. He played that day with a vendetta against the program that he felt overlooked him coming out of high school, and after missing last year's meeting in Vegas, expect him to be pretty fired up for this one. He leads the Wolf Pack in rushing this season with 374 yards and a 4.4 yards-per-carry average.

On UNLV's side, Phillip Payne is far from a sleeper, but Herring might want to find ways to get the ball in the senior receiver's hands as much as possible. He's coming off of a career night against Southern Utah, having caught 13 passes for 175 yards and a score in the losing effort. For whatever reason, UNR has had a tough time matching up with him in the last two meetings, as he combined for 18 grabs and 282 yards in those two games. The Rebels will likely need him to stretch the field again.

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Previous Discussion: 6 comments so far…

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  1. (Wow. The Sun actually writes stories about UNLV football. I hear that UNLV is playing in their big rivalry this week. Wouldn't know it by the Sun's coverage this week.)

    My Rebels have been pounded by Reno Tech so much lately that it's hard to dredge up much in the way of smack talk. Nonetheless, here goes:

    Every day I thank goodness that I didn't go to Reno Tech, aka: 'The Biggest Little Mining School in the World'.

    Reno Tech no more represents the state of Nevada than does Bishop Gorman High School. Heck, Gorman gets more national exposure than the Techsters.

    A dose of reality: UNLV spends more money on their football program than does Reno Tech. UNLV has a bigger fan base. UNLV exists in a better conference. Despite all that, The Techsters under Chris Ault (The Biggest Little Coach in the World) have owned UNLV. So, enjoy it while you can Reno Tech fans. When Ault finally retires (and I hope it's soon...my ego can't take much more of the humiliation he creates for me as a Rebel football fan) the Nevada football paradigm will shift.

    Don't believe me? Just ask Jeff Tisdel or Chris Tormey.

    Gotta go. My Fremont Cannon-shaped beer mug awaits. Thankfully, so does basketball season!

    Go Rebs!

  2. For anyone interested the game will be streamed online at http://espn.go.com/watchespn/index.

  3. The game is only available on ESPN 3 for Cox internet subscribers in Las Vegas.

  4. what is reno tech? ITS NEVADA OR UNR. GO WOLFPACK

  5. ITS ALSO ON CHANNEL 96 ON COX CABLE

  6. IS HEDON58 EVEN FROM NEVADA? you do know that the university of nevada was founded years ahead of unlv?, and most certainly does represent Nevada