RENO - Important football games have been few and far between for the University of Nevada in recent years.
That changes today when the Wolf Pack (3-2, 2-0) meets Western Athletic Conference co-leader Louisiana Tech (2-2, 2-0) at 1:05 p.m. at Mackay Stadium.
"This is one of the most meaningful conference games that we've played here in the past few years," Nevada coach Chris Ault said. "A bowl game doesn't even enter my mind. We haven't beaten them ever since we came to the WAC and that's what I stressed to the team."
Louisiana Tech, coming off a huge win over Hawai'i, has won four straight over Nevada, and save for last year's 17-point win (38-21), the previous three games were decided by eight points or less (42-34 in 2003, 50-47 in 2002 and 45-42 in 2001).
"We've been absolutely lucky," Louisiana Tech coach Jack Bicknell said. "They have been some of the most unbelievable games I've been involved in, and somehow we have come out on top.
"Obviously, this is a huge game in league. We better take care of things early on, or they will take it out of our hands. It's a tough place to play."
Today's game does have serious bowl implications for both teams. With an 11-game schedule, both teams need to reach six wins.
If Nevada wins, it would need to win just two of its last five games of the season, and that seems very possible with Boise State (away), Hawai'i (home), New Mexico State (away), Utah State (away) and Fresno State (home).
If the Bulldogs win, they would be 3-3 overall with four straight winnable games coming up in the next four weeks against North Texas State San Jose State, Utah State and Idaho. The Bulldogs finish with Boise State at home and Fresno State on the road.
Louisiana Tech has outlasted Nevada the last two years because of the running of Ryan Moats, who ran for 257 yards and three scores last year, and ran for 199 yards and three scores the previous year.
Moats has gone to the Philadelphia Eagles, and the Bulldogs have a three-player rotation at tailback with Freddie Franklin (36-174-2), Mark Dillard (48-276-3) and Patrick Jackson (30-139-2).
"They have two real good running backs (Dillard and Franklin)," Ault said. "It's the same offense they've had since Jack has been there. They execute well."
The Bulldogs have settled on Matt Kubik at quarterback, and he had a nice outing against Hawai'i, completing 14 of 20 for 149 yards and two TDs. He pales in comparison to past Bulldog greats Tim Rattay and Luke McCown.
"Kubik is good play-action passer," Ault said. "He's done a nice job starting."
"he won six games for us last year," Bicknell said. "He has a good knowledge of running the offense. As long as we've run the ball, we've been effective."
Nevada's offense, led by quarterback Jeff Rowe and running back B.J. Mitchell, was virtually unstoppable against Idaho last week. And Bicknell's defense, led by linebacker Byron Santiago, defensive back Tramon Williams and lineman Moqut Ruffins, is first against the run and second overall in the WAC.
"He (Rowe) is an excellent quarterback," Bicknell said. "You can tell by his presence in the pocket that he's more confident. He runs the ball when he needs to. Their running backs look extremely talented and they have one of the better receivers in the league in Nichiren Flowers."
Wide receiver Caleb Spencer is third in receiving yards (82.4) and fourth in catches (6.2). Flowers is averaging nearly five catches and 58 yards per game. Rowe averages 285.8 total offense and Mitchell averages 92 yards a game, and is coming off back-to-back 100-yard games.
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