RENO — For decades, UNR has been known for its prolific aerial attack whether in the Big West, Big Sky or now the pass-happy Western Athletic Conference.
But this year, an offense once known as “Air Wolf” has been running over most of its opponents and is on the verge of doing something no NCAA school has done before — have three players each finish with more than 1,000 yards rushing in the same season.
Luke Lippincott, a sixth-year senior medical redshirt who has battled through two knee surgeries, needs 134 yards to reach the milestone along with junior running back Vai Taua, who has 1,059 yards rushing, and junior quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who has 1,015 with at least two games to go.
“About two weeks ago, that’s when it started to sink in that this might be a reality,” UNR running backs coach Jim Mastro said. “You almost have to pinch yourself because you think about it and it’s like, this has never been done before in the history of this game.”
The Wolf Pack (7-3, 6-0 WAC) lead the nation in rushing, averaging 353 yards per game, nearly 40 more than second-place Georgia Tech’s 314. They bring a seven-game winning streak into New Mexico State (3-7, 1-4) tonight after opening with losses to Notre Dame, Colorado State and Missouri.
UNR closes the regular season at No. 6 Boise State, which is giving up an average of only 112 yards rushing a game. With the possibility of a bowl berth still on the horizon, the Wolf Pack faithful are optimistic Lippincott will seal the deal.
“What we’ve done on offense this year, it is special,” said Chris Ault, in his 25th year as the Wolf Pack’s coach.
Significant changes in the offense began three years ago when he implemented the “Pistol” — a variation of the shotgun but with the quarterback only a few steps back from center in a mostly one-back set designed to bolster the run game.
“It all starts with the guys up front,” Ault said. “And the biggest part of it is Kap, he is the trigger man on the whole deal.”
Kaepernick has surpassed 100 yards rushing 10 times in his career. He’s second on UNR’s career total offense list with 9,400 yards, trailing David Neill, who had 11,145 from 1998 to 2001.