The wash of blue that engulfs Bronco Stadium on game days is supposed to be a sea of intimidation for opponents.
Not for Nevada quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
The first time Kaepernick set foot on the famous blue turf here,
he nearly engineered one of the biggest upsets in Nevada history
before falling in a wild 69-67 four overtime loss to Boise State a
year ago - in his first college start.
Now he's back for Tuesday's Humanitarian Bowl against Maryland,
hoping that another standout performance can be the catalyst for a
big 2009 that might finally get Kaepernick recognized outside the
Western Athletic Conference.
"We definitely have potential to be a great team with all the
young athletes that we have," Kaepernick said. "But at the same
time, we have to fulfill that potential to become a great team."
A victory against Maryland would be a step toward fulfilling
that promise and potentially rising to the same level of WAC rival
Nevada (7-5) has won only two games against BCS conference teams
since making the move from Division I-AA to major college football
Certainly everyone in the WAC is aware of Kaepernick's rare
talents running and throwing, enough that the sophomore was
conference offensive player of the year, only the second Nevada
player to win the award since the Wolf Pack joined the league in
Kaepernick ended the regular season with 2,479 yards passing,
another 1,115 yards on the ground and a combined 35 touchdowns.
When Nevada coach Chris Ault implemented his "pistol" offense
three years ago, he could only dream of it being run with the type
of efficiency Kaepernick has shown.
"He's learned the offense this year," Ault said. "Last year
he played and he played by the seat of his pants. ... The nuances
of the offense he is still picking up, but he has a much, much
better feel of what we want to accomplish with it."
What makes the Wolf Pack offense so unique and difficult to
defend is deception, especially when it comes to running the option
out of their hybrid shotgun formation. Unlike typical formations
where the running back will line up to one side of the quarterback,
Nevada tailback Vai Taua will be aligned behind Kaepernick. That
keeps the defense from being able to key on what direction the play
might be going.
That tactic is a big reason why Kaepernick has already recorded
the 24th best season in yards rushing by a quarterback in Football
Bowl Subdivision history. Taua, who started the season fourth on
the depth chart, has rushed for 1,420 yards and 14 touchdowns. When
the Wolf Pack decides to throw, Marko Mitchell has 1,011 yards
receiving and another nine scores.
"It makes the defense more sit back and read and when you are
an aggressive defense it's a pain," Maryland defensive end Jeremy
It's a formidable offensive scheme Ault has developed and one
that's still evolving. Yet for all the impressive numbers Nevada
posted this season, it continues to be overshadowed by Boise State
- this week by the massive new skybox complex on the west side of
Maryland's task is not only slowing down Nevada's offense, but
also finding the motivation to reverse a late season slide. The
Terrapins (7-5) lost a shot at playing in the Atlantic Coast
Conference title game by losing their final two games. The Terps
were 7-3 and had just knocked off No. 17 North Carolina 17-15 to
keep their ACC title game hopes alive when they came out flat and
were routed by Florida State at home 37-3, then lost at Boston
College 28-21 to close out the regular season.
"It sounds dumb, but we just didn't play well," Maryland
quarterback Chris Turner said. "We just played very poorly."
The task for Turner and running back Da'Rel Scott will be trying
to match Nevada on the offensive end. Ault believes Maryland is the
most balanced team his squad will have faced all year, which might
be welcome for the Wolf Pack considering how they were blitzed by
Missouri, Texas Tech and Boise State for 1,230 yards passing during
Scott's ability to run might be most crucial in keeping the Wolf
Pack offense on the cold sidelines. Scott was second in the ACC in
rushing, but topped 100 yards only once in the final four games,and
was held to 11 yards by Virginia Tech and 19 by Boston College.
"When we're clicking, we can be pretty potent," Turner said.