Offensive lines vs. defensive lines and turnovers vs. takeaways. Weber State Coach Dave Arslanian, who now has one win to his career, expects those two variables to be the keys to today's noon MDT Big Sky matchup with his 1-5 club at 3-3 Nevada-Reno.
Weber, having played five tough opponents in a row before finally beating SUSC 42-7 last week, is well ahead of Reno in the takeaway/turnover game, "and that could be a big factor," he says. "We're plus-four or plus-five, and they're minus-four or minus-five."It's true. Reno has turned it over 13 times to interceptions, 11 to lost fumbles and seven to blocked punts.
On the other hand, Weber has often been unable to capitalize on its takeaways - 13 interceptions and nine fumbles recovered. The Wildcats often either gave the ball back by turnover or allowed sacks (31) against its quarterbacks.
Perhaps, however, that is on the wane. Weber's offensive line may have gotten its timing down last week against the Thunderbirds.
It opened gaping holes all game long, although eight penalties called back much of the first-half yardage. In the second half, Weber was more careful about infractions and finished with 343 yards on the ground and another 264 in the air.
Arslanian is the first to suggest that Big Sky teams like Montana and Boise State had better lines than SUSC, but he says the practice, and the reward for getting the timing right, "could do a lot.
"For three weeks, we see improvement," he said about the early part of the season, "and then we hit a wall. You've got to get reinforcement, and the win was the most powerful reinforcement you can get."
"It's a lot different," says running back George Jackson, who scored three touchdowns and ran for 174 yards after gaining only 110 yards total in the first five games. When the line opens such holes, it obligates him and backfield mate Geoff Mitchell (one TD, 140 yards) to keep it going and break tackles to reward their linemen. "Just getting it done, basically. Everyone doing what they should for a win," Jackson says.
Weber's defensive line - its defense in general - has done well all season.
Arslanian has also addressed the penalty situation. He called the first-half problems last week a result of frustration - holding calls and the like coming from players trying desperately to help their teammates. At halftime, he told the Wildcats to keep their hands in and, if in doubt, to err on the safe side. "If a guy slips away, let him go," he said. Weber marched downfield penalty-free most of the third quarter, getting 20 points worth of reinforcement as reward.