While it may be difficult not to think about next week’s home game against one of the nation’s top teams, Nevada coach Chris Ault knows that matchup won’t have the same implications if his squad doesn’t take care of business Saturday.
The streaking No. 19 Wolf Pack continue their pursuit of the Western Athletic Conference title as they face New Mexico State, which is trying to win its first conference road game since its last visit to Mackay Stadium.
With three consecutive wins since a 27-21 loss at Hawaii on Oct. 16, Nevada (9-1, 4-1) sits one game behind No. 4 Boise State and a half-game back of the Warriors.
The Wolf Pack will be looking to snap a 10-game losing streak to the Broncos next Friday night in Reno, but Ault has been working to keep his team focused on New Mexico State (2-8, 1-5) this week after pulling off a big victory in its last contest.
“You have to win everything just to have a chance to go against (Boise State), so obviously this was a huge win,” Ault said after a 35-34 victory at Fresno State on Saturday. “Not only for what it means for the conference title, but we recruit against Fresno State a lot.”
Not recruited by the Fresno State team that plays 80 miles from where he grew up, Nevada senior Colin Kaepernick threw for 171 yards, rushed for 153 and two TDs and led a winning drive capped off by Vai Taua’s 24-yard run with 4:51 left.
Kaepernick was named the WAC offensive player of the week following his third career comeback victory. He set a school record with his 54th rushing TD.
Kaepernick needs one touchdown pass to set the school mark with 79, and is 54 rushing yards away from becoming the first player with three seasons with 1,000 rushing and 2,000 passing yards.
Led by Kaepernick, the Wolf Pack’s offense is among the most productive in the nation, ranking third in the FBS with 542.1 yards per game and fourth in points at 43.3.
Nevada is third in the country in rushing with 310.5 yards a contest, and could have another big effort on the ground against the Aggies. New Mexico State has allowed 428 rushing yards and seven TDs in the last two games, both losses.
Aggies coach DeWayne Walker is also looking for a better effort from his offense, which is among the worst in the WAC with 15.8 points and 303.5 yards per contest.
With junior quarterback Matt Christian not expected to play for a second straight game due to an undisclosed injury, Andrew Manley - one of nine freshman to play for New Mexico State this season - will likely start Saturday. He threw for 216 yards, a TD and two INTs in a 41-20 defeat to Louisiana Tech last week.
“Well that’s the future so I think everybody knows he’s going to be a good player so were going to keep developing him and at some point he’s going to be our guy,” Walker said.
Sophomore Robert Clay now appears to be the guy for the Aggies in the backfield. Leading rusher Kenny Turner is likely done for the season with a knee injury and Seth Smith is questionable for Saturday with an undisclosed injury.
Clay carried 22 times for 108 yards against the Bulldogs to give New Mexico State its first individual 100-yard rushing effort this season.
Taua, the WAC’s leading rusher with 125.6 yards per game, has run for 314 and three TDs in the last two matchups with the Aggies. He also caught three scores in those games.
Nevada racked up 670 yards - 574 on the ground - in a 63-20 victory at New Mexico State on Nov. 21, but the Wolf Pack fell 48-45 in the last matchup at Mackay Stadium on Oct. 11, 2008.
The Aggies have dropped 10 straight on the road in WAC play since that victory.
Nevada, winner of 10 in a row at home, has outscored opponents by an average of 25.4 points in five games at Reno this season.