Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2012 | 2 a.m.
- Rebels can’t keep up with high-powered Louisiana Tech in blowout loss
- Game at Louisiana Tech a family reunion for UNLV back Tim Cornett
- Mountain Best: Most of the league is chasing this year’s newcomers
- Louisiana Tech’s remarkable numbers will be difficult for UNLV to overcome
- Rebels linebacker: ‘It’s on us’ after Rebels trip themselves up in loss at Utah State
- Chuckie Keeton and the Aggies to become familiar foe in Mountain West next year
- All UNLV Football Coverage
The Rebels see it every day, a navy blue reminder of what’s at stake Saturday when they step on the field at high noon. The Fremont Cannon has lived in Reno for the past seven years, but a picture of it motivates, or maybe taunts, UNLV inside its own locker room. The picture isn’t big because it doesn’t have to be. Everyone on the team knows what it looks like, and they would love nothing more than to give it a new paint job.
“To beat Reno my senior year, it would mean everything,” offensive lineman Yusef Rodgers said.
UNLV (1-5, 1-0) hosts UNR (5-1, 2-0) in a game to be televised by Time Warner Cable SportsNet. It’s the teams’ 38th meeting and their fifth as conference opponents. UNLV’s last victory in the series was a 48-13 victory at home in 2004 under coach John Robinson.
Since then, former coach Mike Sanford and current leader Bobby Hauck have combined to go 0-7 in the in-state battle, losing by an average margin of more than three touchdowns. Hauck said Monday at the Lied Athletic Complex that the dislike of each other is as strong as ever between the two squads, but the results are limiting the series' potential.
“If it’s a real rivalry, one of them’s got to win it once in a while, that being us,” Hauck said. “We need to win this game.”
The line isn’t available at most sports books right now because Wolf Pack quarterback Cody Fajardo is questionable because of a back injury. He suffered the injury two weeks ago in practice and then was forced to leave last Saturday’s game early because of it. Backup Devin Combs performed well and the Wolf Pack survived at home in overtime, 35-28, against Wyoming.
Hauck said the Rebels wouldn’t prepare much differently because of Fajardo’s questionable status. No matter who’s running the offense, it’s still the same system, and the Wolf Pack still have the nation’s leading rusher, junior Stefphon Jefferson.
Saturday was by far Jefferson’s worst game of the season. He tallied 78 rushing yards — his previous low this year was 135 — and failed to find the end zone. If there’s something to learn from Wyoming’s defense, the Rebels need to study up, because they have had a hard time this year stopping anybody, let alone a guy averaging more than five yards every time he touches the ball.
“It will take our best effort this week to find a way to win,” Hauck said.
That includes eliminating the multitude of mistakes such as dropped passes, poor special teams and ill-timed penalties that have plagued the Rebels this year. Fixing that all by Saturday doesn’t seem feasible, but if there was ever a week to do it, this is the one.
This game is on the Rebels’ minds all year, from the second last year's ended until this one kicks off. It’s brought up several times during the offseason and, of course, there’s that constant reminder in the locker room.
“It’s a game that’s always on our minds,” Rodgers said. "We never forget.”
The picture of the Fremont Cannon in UNLV’s locker room is smaller than most TV screens. The cannon in Reno weighs 545 pounds and cost about $10,000 to build, making it the heaviest and most expensive trophy in college football.
UNLV would love nothing more than to swap out its photo for the real deal, including a fresh coat of red paint. Completing that task likely will require a better performance than the Rebels have put forth in any complete game this year, plus a little luck. Fajardo missing the game would help, though backup quarterbacks for Northern Arizona and Washington State were good enough to get the job done.
At this point, UNLV’s focus is on corralling all of its anger and frustration from this year and this series and trying to turn it into something positive. Hauck doesn’t need to do anything extra to get his team amped up. The rivalry, though uneven, means a lot to guys on both sidelines. The Rebels have been staring at that cannon every day, and on Saturday it will be in the corner of the stadium waiting for someone to claim it.
They’ve been waiting all year for this chance.