RENO - An electric atmosphere. Plenty of trash talking. A lot of hard hits.
All three will be evident when Nevada (0-1) hosts in-state rival UNLV (1-1) tonight (7:05 p.m., ESPNU) at Mackay Stadium in the annual battle for the Fremont Cannon.
The cannon goes to the winner of the annual game, and has been residing in Southern Nevada since the 2000 season. After the Rebels snapped Nevada's five-game winning streak in 2000, they painted the cannon red on the field, and the cannon was damaged in the process. The annual series is tied at 15.
Now it's Nevada that has lost five straight in the series, and the Pack would like nothing better than to knock off their hated rivals.
'Obviously it's huge," Nevada coach Chris Ault said. "They are our in-state rival. There are only two schools in the state.
"This school hasn't won in five years. The Fremont Cannon is at stake. It's the largest trophy in the United States. It's a huge opportunity for our program. It's the highlight of our season."
Ault is 7-7 in games he's coached against the Rebels.
UNLV's first-year coach Mike Sanford is no stranger to rivalries. He's been involved in Army-Navy, USC-UCLA, Purdue-Indiana and the Raiders-Chargers.
"I've not experienced it first hand, but I've had numerous explanations," Sanford said. "I've been told it's unbelievable. The biggest thing going in is that we need to prepare our team for what it's going to be like. We need to prepare them for mayhem and for the crowd.
"Everyone talks about how it's a huge game for them, but it's huge for us. One of the things in our mission statement is to beat them. We are going into a period of time where we go three straight weeks on the road so this game is huge for a number of reasons. Obviously it's a huge rivalry and we expect them to be a different team this week. You are a different team from your opening game to your second game."
This is a huge test for Nevada's defense, which allowed 534 yards last week in a 55-21 loss to Washington State. Nevada also faces a different Rebel offense. Gone is the power game that coach John Robinson favored. Instead, the Pack will face the spread option offense that Sanford brought over from Utah.
"It's a neat offense," said Ault. "We have to play assignment football. We have to play disciplined football which we didn't do last week. We have to have people assigned to the pitch, to the shovel pass and to the dive."
Guiding the Rebels' attack is junior quarterback Shane Steichen, who threw for a career-high 250 yards and ran for a career-high 104 yards in last week's 34-31 win over Idaho. Thus far, he's completed 40 of 64 passes for 477 yards and four scores.
"His progress through the summer was really good," Sanford said. "Both he and Jarrod (Jackson) did a great job in the summer. Because of the experience in the spring and summer, the work he did, he has improved a lot. There is an understanding of how this offense works and how everything fits. Every week he is getting better and better."
"He's a good athlete," Ault said. "He does a nice job with it (the offense)."
The Rebels don't have Dominique Dorsey who made the Pack's life miserable the last few years. They do have former walk-on Erick Jackson, who carried 19 times for 73 yards last week.
Steichen has spread the ball around thus far. Donnell Wheaton has 12 catches for 185 yards and two scores, and speedy H-back Tremayne Kirkland has caught seven passes thus far, including a 31-yarder against Idaho last week. Tight end Greg Estandia has caught eight balls for 86 yards and a score.
Ault isn't overly concerned with his own offense, save for the fact that the receivers dropped several balls last week. With Nichiren Flowers back in the starting lineup, that number should go down quite a bit.
Junior quarterback Jeff Rowe completed 19 of 32 for 219 yards and a score. His favorite target last week was Caleb Spencer, who caught seven balls for a career-high 126 yards. Running back B.J. Mitchell had a nice start against WSU with 13 carries for 59 yards and a TD.
Rowe will be facing a Rebel defense that is led by Joe Miklos, whose interception of a Rowe pass in the first half jump-started the Rebels last year. Miklos' theft helped the Rebels tie the game at 6, and they went on to score 42 second-half points en route to a 48-13 win.
Notes: The Pack have made one change on defense. Selevasio Fauolo will start in place of Nick Fuhr at outside linebacker ... Flowers is expected to start after a solid week of practice ... UNLV offensive lineman Jesse Knight's status is unknown. He had his shoulder scoped earlier in the week ... Nevada officials are expecting between 20 and 25,000 tonight, which would make it one of the lowest attended games in the history of the series. Reserved and general admission tickets are still available at the Legacy Hall ticket office and will be available at the stadium ... Steichen and Nevada tight end Anthony Pudewell were teammates at Oak Ridge High School in El Dorado Hills... UNLV is 8-0 against WAC teams since leaving the conference after the 1998 season... UNLV has no players from the Reno area on its roster, but there are four Vegas residents - linemen Jimmy and Danny Wadhams, linebacker Mark Seward and kicker Brett Jaekle - on the Nevada roster.