Almost overlooked in Nevada's dominating 35-10 win over Rice Saturday night at Mackay Stadium was the play of punter Justin Bergendahl and placekicker Damon Fine.
The left-footed Bergendahl averaged 49.5 yards on four kicks, including a 65-yard punt in the second quarter that went out of bounds at the Rice 1. It was his career-best kick and the longest since Derek Jones boomed a 70-yarder against UTEP back in 2001. He also had another kick land inside the 20.
"He (Bergendahl) sure did," Nevada coach Chris Ault said. "He did a nice job in terms of field position, making them go the long way (if they were going to score)."
Fine's finesse with a short, high kickoff and great kick coverage forced a fumble which set up Nevada's second touchdown. The diminutive Fine did kick one out of bounds, but converted all five extra points.
"They pretty much won all three parts of the game (offense, defense, special teams)," Rice coach Ken Hatfield said during Monday's weekly teleconference. "They made a minimum amount of mistakes. Their punter put us down to the 1-yard line one time and the 5-yard line another time. We didn't handle the kickoff into the wind. We need to do a better job of handling the elements."
(insert bullet) UTEP, under first-year head coach Mike Price, continues to be one of the big stories in the WAC this year, having knocked off Fresno State and Hawai'i.
At 2-1 in WAC play and 4-3 overall, the Miners are a good shot to reach a bowl game. They need two wins in their last five games to get to six wins (six wins are needed in an 11-game schedule) to accomplish that, and the schedule is favorable with Louisiana Tech (road), San Jose State (road), Rice (home), SMU (home) and Tulsa (road). They should be favored in every game except for the Louisiana Tech game this weekend.
Price pointed to two things for the Miners' turnaround.
"Discipline and attitude," Price said. "The kids have been compliant and they work hard. They had some adversity at Fresno State and worked through it. They are self-confident and believe they can win."
Hawai'i coach June Jones gives Price much of the credit.
"They are real sound offensively and defensively, and they don't stray from it," Jones said. "They make you adjust to them. Mike has the kids playing hard and as a group. They always played hard, but this year they are confident."
(insert bullet) Another team sitting in a pretty good situation is Louisiana Tech. Jack Bicknell's team (4-3, 3-0) is tied with Boise State for first place entering the weekend. The Bulldogs are playing a 12-game schedule, meaning they have to win three of their last five games (UTEP, Hawai'i, Tulsa, Boise State and Rice), which will be tough but doable.
"Obviously this is where you want to be; looking great and playing UTEP at home," Bicknell said. "I don't think we can be much more excited."
Bicknell was happy to see his team rebound against SMU (44-10 win) after being blown out by Auburn, 52-7, the week before.
"When you play a big team you get so down (after a loss) that you play someone you can beat and you don't play as well," he said.
(insert bullet) Commissioner Karl Benson confirmed that this week's much-awaited game between Boise State (6-0, 3-0) and Fresno State (3-2, 0-2) will be shown at 7:15 Saturday night.
"I'm elated that the game will be shown on national television," he said. "Two weeks ago, we thought it would be two undefeated teams. The fact remains that it's still a very high profile game, and that it will get tremendous attention nationally."
Many media members and fans alike thought both teams would be unbeaten entering the game, but Fresno State stubbed its toe against Louisiana Tech and UTEP.
Benson also finds himself in a tough situation. The game will put the WAC in the national spotlight, but if Fresno State knocks off Boise State, the WAC's chance of earning a spot in a BCS game is gone.
"I'm looking to the game as an opportunity for WAC teams to shine. We will prove that WAC football is a good product."
Fresno State has six games left, including Boise State, and must win three of those games to become bowl eligible. After the Boise State game, the Bulldogs' only tough game will be Nov. 12 against Hawai'i. It's a good bet that the Bulldogs will get to six wins, and at worse, get a Silicon Valley Classic bowl bid - again.
(insert bullet) Boise State wide receiver T.J. Acree, who caught nine passes for 181 yards in a 45-42 win over Tulsa last weekend and was named the WAC's top offensive player.
Acree scored twice on receptions of 28 and 7 yards, respectively. His 50-yard reception set up a score in the third quarter.
Louisiana Tech cornerback Corey Brazil was named the top defensive player after registering a team-high eight tackles, including two for minus-15 yards. Included in that total was his first career sack. He also had an interception.
Tyler Jones, a senior from Boise, Idaho (Borah HS), hit a 46-yard field goal with
three seconds remaining to give Boise State the victory at Tulsa. It was his
first career game-winning kick and his only attempt of the game. He
also made all six of his extra points.
Contact Darrell Moody at email@example.com or 881-1281.