Coaches couch their words
Nevada and UCF have nothing but good things to say about each other
Now this is shrewd: A college football coach complimented the upcoming opponent and, in the same utterances, reflected confidence in his own team. It's obvious Chris Ault has learned a trick or three in four decades at the Nevada helm.
When the Wolf Pack coach was asked about UCF, today's Hawaii Bowl opponent, he compared the Golden Knights to Fresno State -- the same team that spent most of the season in the Top 25 and nearly knocked off USC ... and the same team Nevada ambushed 38-35 a week later to cap the Pack's first Western Athletic Conference championship.
"(UCF's) offense reminds us of Fresno State very much," Ault said. "Power offense, play-action pass. A very good quarterback (Steven Moffett) and two outstanding receivers. An offense that will challenge our defense.
"Defensively speaking, a multiple-front defense. A secondary that does a lot of different things. They count on their safeties to make plays, much like Fresno."
The most talented player on the field today might be UCF freshman Joe Burnett. He led the Golden Knights and was second in Conference USA with five interceptions and 12 passes defended. Burnett also returned two punts for touchdowns.
UCF coach George O'Leary also knows football bowl-game news conferences are the opposite of boxing weigh-ins. You don't goad your opponents, you try to make them feel fat and happy.
"I'm very impressed with Nevada on tape," O'Leary said. "Their offensive line is very good. They're unique in some of the stuff they do, in the gun-I. The quarterback (Jeff Rowe) makes good decisions."
WAC offensive player of the year B.J. Mitchell rushed for more than 100 yards six times behind a line led by tackle Tony Moll, and Kamehameha graduate Caleb Spencer was All-WAC at receiver.
O'Leary also noted Nevada redesigned its defense and plays out of the unpredictable 3-4.
"Any time you do that there's always the question of who's coming and who's not coming," he said.
Hawaii Bowl executive director Jim Donovan suffers from the same plight. Although more than 20,000 tickets have been distributed, he doesn't know how many fans will actually show up on Christmas Eve for a game between two mid-major teams ... with one of them not being named Hawaii. Turnstile count is an issue because bowl games must average 25,000 through the gates to stay in good graces with the NCAA.
The funny thing is it will be the first college football game at Aloha Stadium this season matching two teams with winning records. Nevada is 8-3 and UCF is 8-4.
Nevada and UCF have both been here before. One team will emerge with its first victory at Aloha Stadium.
The Wolf Pack are 0-3 at the Halawa facility against UH (although they did beat the Rainbows three times at Honolulu Stadium). UCF was here in 1995, with a freshman starting quarterback named Daunte Culpepper. Hawaii beat the Golden Knights 45-14.
UCF is playing in its first bowl game. Nevada is 1-2 in three bowl appearances, all at the Las Vegas Bowl. Ault is 0-2, since Jeff Tisdel was coach when Nevada beat Ball State 18-15 in 1996. Ault, though, owns a lifetime record of 176-73-1 and took the Wolf Pack to the NCAA Division I-AA championship game in 1990.
UCF was 0-11 last year. O'Leary said the turning point was the Golden Knights' third game of 2005, against Marshall, a 23-13 victory.
"Everything we did seemed to work," he said. "We gained confidence and each and every week after that we grew."
Ault said Nevada turned it around against Hawaii, a 38-28 win at Reno.
"We did not hit full stride until we went to Boise State (a 49-14 loss) and found out we had a ways to go," he said. "We came out on top (the next week against UH) and I think from that point on we have gotten better as a football team. Not so much playing the game, but the mental aspect of being a team, rallying around each other."
Ault sent senior cornerback Kevin Stanley back to Reno on Thursday after Stanley was found to be academically ineligible. He said De'Angelo Wilson was going to start anyway.