Wolf Pack’s bye not an off week

While UNLV was getting a major confidence boost with a 27-0 shutout over Utah, UNR spent the weekend simply trying to get better — even though it didn’t have a game.

Wolf Pack coach Chris Ault had his players practicing in pads, trying to achieve a level of intensity that is likely to be high Saturday at Mackay Stadium in Reno when UNR (1-2) hosts UNLV (2-2) in the annual battle for the Fremont Cannon.

"I think we made progress," Ault said of the bye week, which followed a 52-17 victory over Nicholls State on Sept. 15. "We had a lot of scrimmaging going on, a lot of hitting. We were able to get a lot of our young guys a lot of reps.

"For having a week off, I think we used the time off effectively."

Typical of a bye week, the break gave injured UNR players extra time to heal, particularly linebacker Ezra Butler (quadriceps) and tight end Adam Bishop (groin). Both will be ready to play UNLV.

"We’re healthy going into the game," Ault said.

Perhaps equally important is that Ault keep his players on an even keel emotionally in their quest to keep the in-state trophy. UNR has won two straight over the Rebels and has a 17-15 edge in the series.

"You have to keep your emotions in check," said Ault, who has participated in the rivalry game 19 times, three as a member of UNLV’s coaching staff. "It’s critical to maintain your composure because it’s an emotion-filled game to begin with. You don’t want to hurt yourself by being overly emotional and find yourself making mental mistakes."

Over the years, Ault has done plenty to fuel the rivalry, making statements that red is his least favorite color or pointing to the number of Las Vegas high school products on his roster (he has five this year). He’ll keep his players off-limits to the Las Vegas media all week, and remind them how important Saturday’s 1:05 p.m. game is to the Wolf Pack program and its fans.

"There’s a lot of great tradition," Ault said. "There’s only two universities in the state and it’s more than just a normal game."

Last year at Sam Boyd Stadium, UNR manhandled UNLV as freshman running back Brandon Fragger rushed for 146 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries in the Wolf Pack’s 31-3 victory. This year Fragger has been backing up junior Luke Lippincott, who is averaging 5.7 yards per carry and has rushed for 262 yards and two TDs through three games.

But Ault conceded that the Rebels are heading to Reno with plenty of momentum.

"They had a nice win against Utah, the team that beat UCLA," he said.

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