RENO, Nev. (AP) - It's hard to know who needs to win Saturday's rivalry for the Fremont Cannon most - an 0-3 Nevada team that had
been picked to compete for the Western Athletic Conference title or a 2-2 UNLV squad that has shown signs of the potential to post its first winning season since 2000.
"I think both teams need it badly," UNLV coach Mike Sanford said.
"I don't think it has anything to do with our records. All I speak for is us - we want this game badly. It is very important to us," he said.
Nevada coach Chris Ault thinks the defense that does the best job containing a pair of potentially potent offenses most likely will come away with a victory in the 1:05 p.m. matchup at Mackay Stadium. The Wolf Pack will be looking to keep the cannon blue for a fifth straight year.
"Our defense has to stand up and be accountable, eliminate the big plays, keep them in front of us. The offense has to take advantage of opportunities and not give up the ball. It's not real hard," Ault said.
Nevada is still seeking its first win after losing at Notre Dame and Colorado State before falling at home against Missouri 31-21 last Friday night in a game it led midway through the third quarter.
"I think we made some nice improvement. We've still got a ways to go. We are getting there," said Ault, whose team was the preseason pick to finish second behind Boise State in the WAC but so far has been hurt by a total of 10 costly turnovers.
UNLV (2-2, 0-1 Mountain West Conference) has followed a season-opening blowout win over Sacramento State with three nail-biters determined late in the game - a 23-21 loss to Oregon State, a 34-33 win over Hawaii and last week a 30-27 loss at Wyoming.
"They played very well against Oregon State, should have beaten them," Ault said. "They lost at Wyoming by a field goal. ... and Wyoming is a tough place to play. They are a good football team. They have terrific talent."
UNLV junior quarterback Omar Clayton enters the game ranked third in the Mountain West Conference in passing yards per game (245.8) and efficiency (137.5). He's completed 65.9 percent of his passes and has six touchdowns and five interceptions.
His favorite target has been all-America candidate Ryan Wolfe, who has 31 catches for 384 yards and a touchdown so far this season
and is the nation's leading active career receiver with 240 grabs and 3,119 receiving yards. Phillip Payne has 23 receptions for 247 yards and three TDs.
"Wolfe is as good of receiver as you are going to see this year," Ault said.
Sanford said Wolfe is a "blue-collar football player" who works hard in practice every day.
"He is what we expect our team to be - to work hard and play well and not talk a lot, just play," Sanford said. "I think he is the best receiver in the country. I think he is a complete receiver. I think he is a special player."
Nevada counters with quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who has completed 60.7 percent of his passes for an average of 182 yards
per game and two touchdowns. Last year he became only the fifth player in NCAA history to pass for more than 1,000 yards and run for more than 2,000 yards.
"Their quarterback Colin Kaepernick is an excellent player," Sanford said. "We are going to have to bring everything we've got to get a win in Reno."
Ault said the UNLV matchup is not only a "big game, it's a fun game."
"Many of our players who played here before treat this like a homecoming. They love this game. they love to be a part of it," Ault said.
"There's nothing better, nothing more motivating than to see former players come back and talk to your players and say, `You need to get it done,"' he said.