Oh, where have you gone John Robinson?
Once upon a time, when Robinson — a master of winning rivalry games against teams like Notre Dame and UCLA during his USC days — was pacing the sidelines for UNLV, a victory in the annual Fremont Cannon battle against UNR was almost a formality for the Rebels.
UNLV won five in a row over the Wolf Pack, including a 48-13 blowout in 2004 at Sam Boyd Stadium.
That was the last time the Fremont Cannon was painted red.
Neh-VA-duh (5-1, 2-0 Mountain West) brings a seven-game winning streak over the Rebels into Saturday’s noon kickoff at Sam Boyd Stadium. And most of the recent games haven’t really even been competitive with the Wolf Pack winning by an average of 32 points in the last four meetings.
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UNLV (1-5, 1-0) has been much more competitive in Year 3 of the Bobby Hauck rebuilding plan, especially at home where the Rebels have already upset Air Force (38-35), lost to Minnesota in triple-overtime (30-27) and took Washington State down to the wire before falling (35-27).
But the game that matters most to UNLV fans is Saturday’s against Chris Ault and the Wolf Pack.
Win that one and Hauck will get a nice “Get out of jail free” card. Home losses to FCS schools like Northern Arizona and Southern Utah will be forgiven for at least another season. So will a 0-16 road record.
Wolf Pack starting quarterback Cody Fajardo is questionable after leaving last week’s overtime 35-28 win over Wyoming with back spasms, but Hauck said that won’t alter UNLV’s defensive preparation for the game because Nevada’s Pistol offense “doesn’t change” with backup Devin Combs in the game.
It should be noted that Fajardo split time last year with Tyler Lantrip and the Wolf Pack still managed to rack up 699 yards in total offense, including an amazing 459 to 8 edge in passing yards, in a 37-0 victory in Reno.
UNLV’s top priority will be trying to contain Wolf Pack running back Stephon Jefferson who ranks second nationally in rushing with an average of 159.2 yards per game and has scored 11 touchdowns, including seven in one game at Hawaii.
“To beat Reno my senior year, it would mean everything,” senior offensive tackle Yusef Rodgers, who isn’t expected to play because of a knee injury, said.
“If it’s a real rivalry, one of them’s got to win it once in a while, that being us,” Hauck said. “We need to win this game.”