Rebels eager to pass another test

When Chris Ault became UNR's football coach in 1976, he used "run to win" as the model that led to 11 consecutive winning seasons.

But he saw the future as the passing game, a more exciting brand of football that would fill the stands and keep the winning times rolling.

Though Ault still likes to run, the passing game put him in the College Football Hall of Fame. There's little doubt he repeatedly broke down videotape of Hawaii's passing success against UNLV, which visits Reno on Saturday.

In the Sept. 15 game, the Warriors passed for 396 yards in a 49-14 victory -- the only poor outing by UNLV's defense the first four weeks.

"I don't think we matched up very well against them," Rebels coach Mike Sanford said. "But we've got to learn to play much better against that type of offense."

Ault, in lockdown mode this week by restricting even the Reno media's access to his players, is not giving much away but indicated Hawaii is a different animal. That is hard to dispute. The Warriors' passing attack -- a run-and-shoot offense led by Heisman Trophy candidate Colt Brennan -- is unlike any other the Rebels will see this season

Hawaii coach June Jones considers it a sin to run.

"Not everything that we experienced against Hawaii do we experience in other teams because they're so unique offensively," said UNLV co-defensive coordinator Vic Shealy, who oversees safeties. "So those problems can't be recreated by other teams. So those problems we don't worry about quite as much."

Given Ault's history, it's reasonable to expect him at least to test the Rebels with the passing game. His pistol offense, which Ault created three years ago, is starting to catch on nationwide.

Of the nine UNR quarterbacks to throw for at least 2,800 yards in a season, Ault coached four of them. Only three UNLV quarterbacks have surpassed that mark -- none in the past 11 years.

The Rebels will face UNR's newest quarterback this weekend in sophomore Nick Graziano. After throwing for 109 yards in the opener at Nebraska, he followed with a 337-yard effort at Northwestern and a five-touchdown game against Nicholls State, a Championship Subdivision team.

"After Hawaii, all passing teams take a back seat because (the Warriors) throw the ball 70 times a game," UNLV cornerback Mil'Von James said. "So it definitely helps you for any passing attack."

Sanford and Shealy, though, said the Rebels can't forget about the run. UNR tailback Luke Lippincott has rushed for 262 yards at a 5.7 average, and Sanford said he expected the Wolf Pack to come out running to set up the pass.

"You've got to commit yourself defensively to stopping the running game," Shealy said. "But I do think it's going to be a real balanced attack."

UNLV is coming off a confidence-boosting performance that immediately answered the dreadful showing against Hawaii. The Rebels dominated Utah 27-0 on Saturday for their first shutout in seven years. They allowed only 300 yards while forcing four turnovers.

"We knew we had that in us, and we just needed to bring it out," said UNLV linebacker Beau Bell, whose 41 tackles lead the Mountain West Conference. "We need to bring it out every single time we go out there on the field."

Perhaps the game against Hawaii was an aberration anyway. UNLV's other three opponents failed hit the 200-yard passing mark, and though Wisconsin gained 210 yards rushing, Utah State and Utah were held around 100. Hawaii rushed for 96 yards.

UNLV is happy to be taking its play against Utah into this weekend rather than what transpired against Hawaii.

"That biggest challenge for us was to try to get back the confidence and also the expectation," Shealy said. "We had played fairly well the first two ballgames, so we had to remind our kids what playing well felt like."