UNR licks wounds before home opener

For UNR football fans, the 2007 season begins Saturday against Nicholls State at Mackay Stadium.

The Wolf Pack’s 0-2 start at the hands of Nebraska and Northwestern could be viewed as a tuneup for the real season, the one where UNR still can achieve its goals of winning the Western Athletic Conference and going to a bowl game.

Coach Chris Ault never had any delusions about a top-25 ranking and a run at a BCS bowl game. Yes, it would have been nice to beat the Cornhuskers in Lincoln, Neb., or the Wildcats in Evanston, Ill.

But when a team is breaking in a new quarterback and trying to find its way, reality sets in quickly. If it doesn’t, perhaps the fact the Wolf Pack has allowed an average of 528 yards over its first two games is a truer reality check.

With UNR off next week and archrival UNLV looming Sept. 29, Saturday’s game is critical on several fronts. The most obvious is the need for a win.

Another is for sophomore quarterback Nick Graziano to keep moving in the right direction. Graziano threw for 337 yards and two touchdowns against Northwestern, an improvement from his numbers against Nebraska in Week 1, when he passed for 109 yards.

But most important might be for the UNR defense to make some stops. After playing well for a good portion of the Northwestern game, it couldn’t hold a 31-27 lead in the final minute, squandering a chance for a big-time win.

“We had all the opportunities to win,” Ault said this week on the WAC coaches teleconference. “It’s one of the few times in my career we lost because of mental errors. That haunts you a little bit because it was you.”

Now Ault must prepare for a team that runs the triple option and is off to a 2-0 start. Nicholls State is where UNR was at in the early 1990s, a Football Championship Division school, and the Colonels will try to use their team speed to spring an upset in Reno.

“We’re seeing a different offense for the third week in a row,” Ault said. “You have to be very disciplined on defense with your assignments. That’s what killed us at Northwestern when they ran their option package at us..”

Saturday’s game begins a three-game homestand for UNR. After Nicholls State and UNLV, the Wolf Pack opens WAC play by hosting Fresno State on Oct. 6.

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