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December 23, 2008
By Patrick McDonnell
The University of Nevada football team has a good way to measure how much progress it has made since its 2006 trip to play a postseason bowl game on the cold, blue turf of Boise State University’s Bronco Stadium.
What’s the method? It is to compete against another opponent from the Atlantic Coast Conference in a game in Idaho. Two years ago, the Wolf Pack dropped a 21-20 decision in Boise to the University of Miami Hurricanes in the then-named MPC Computers Bowl. Nevada will look for its first bowl triumph versus a team from one of the six Bowl Championship Series conferences when it kicks off against the Maryland Terrapins at 1:30 p.m. Dec. 30 in the Roady’s Humanitarian Bowl.
The Wolf Pack coaching staff relishes the opportunity to face another ACC opponent. “That’s the beauty of it. It is special,” said Nevada head coach Chris Ault, whose team will be playing in its program-high, fourth consecutive bowl game. “Some of the bowls we’re affiliated with don’t have the glamour an ACC team brings.”
The Bowl Championship Series conferences, whose champions earn automatic bids into the most prestigious bowl games each January, are the ACC, the Southeastern Conference, the Big 12, the Big Ten, the Big East and the Pac 10.
The Terrapins and Wolf Pack come into the ESPN nationally televised contest with 7-5 overall records. Maryland is going after a landmark of its own —the program’s next win will be its 600th in 115 seasons of football. Head Coach Ralph Friedgen has led the Terps to a 63-36 record in his eight seasons on the sidelines.
“I don’t know if winning this game is more important to the seniors or to the football program,” said Friedgen in a recent press conference at College Park. “I think 8-5 is a very commendable season, especially with a bowl trip. Winning a bowl game is a springboard into next year, and carries through the whole winter. Recruiting is extremely important right now.”
Among the 119 Football Bowl Subdivision teams nationally, Maryland defeated four opponents who were ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 poll this season. Only BCS championship contenders Florida and Oklahoma performed better, each knocking off five such ranked opponents.
The Terps topped No. 23 California and No. 20 Clemson in September, defeated No. 21 Wake Forest the next month and dropped No. 17 North Carolina on Nov. 15.
“They played Boston College their last game (a 28-21 loss to the No. 20-ranked Eagles) and they should have beaten BC at BC,” Ault said. “They have some great wins to their credit.”
Maryland will employ an interim defensive coordinator to draw up schemes against Nevada’s second-ranked rushing offense. Coach Chris Cosh left the team to join Bill Snyder’s new staff at Kansas State, and Al Seamonson, who coached the outside linebackers and served as a special teams assistant, is the Terps’ replacement.
“I think Al does a very good job,” Friedgen said. “He is a very solid coach and extremely hard worker.”
Maryland senior defensive lineman Jeremy Navarre said the Terrapins will have to play smart football to contain Wolf Pack quarterback and Western Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Year Colin Kaepernick and running back Vai Taua, who have combined for 32 rushing touchdowns this season.
“They run the ball a lot, and they run the ball well,” Navarre said. “The stats don’t lie, and it’s going to be a challenge. Their quarterback runs the ball really well, so we need to get everything straight with that.”
Kaepernick is the top scoring quarterback in the nation, averaging eight points per game.
Nevada’s ability to run the ball effectively and Maryland’s aptitude for gaining yards on the ground could be focal points of the game, Ault said.
“Controlling the clock is always a major factor in these games,” he added. “Both teams are good running teams.”
Terrapins running back Da’Rel Scott has rushed for 959 yards and six touchdowns this season. Friedgen said the offensive line and Scott are establishing their focus as the season ends.
“He’s one of the premier running backs in the ACC and we have to get him to that 1,000-yard mark,” the coach said. That’s definitely a goal for us.”
This is Nevada’s ninth overall bowl appearance, with the Wolf Pack winning three of the eight prior games. Maryland is 9-11-2 in its past bowl appearances.
“Having been there two years ago (for the bowl game) and having played at Boise in conference (a 69-67 four-overtime loss in 2007), the kids won’t be in awe of the blue turf,” Ault said. “No introductions will be necessary.”
Game tickets in the Nevada section at Bronco Stadium are available by visiting the Legacy Hall Ticket Office (weekdays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.) on the University of Nevada campus or by calling (775) 348-PACK. These tickets are $50.
Additional tickets for the game are available with ticket prices range from $18-$150.