UNLV aide recalls UT visit

Bruce Snyder recalls vividly his first and only visit to Neyland Stadium. To say the least, it was not a fond memory.

The University of Nevada-Las Vegas offensive coordinator doesn't remember the exact date of the encounter with Tennessee, but he hasn't forgotten the outcome.

''I was coaching at Cal (University of California) at the time. It was the mid-80s,'' Snyder said. ''We got spanked. We weren't very good that year. I think we won the second half, but we were already way behind so it didn't matter.''

The date: Oct. 3, 1987. Final score: Tennessee 38, Cal 12.

The return trip on Saturday might not be any more fun for Snyder than the first appearance in Knoxville. The Vols are favored by 20 points and will be playing before a rowdy 100,000-plus fans.

The deafening noise level in a mammoth stadium like Neyland can unnerve the most poised team. For the UNLV players, it could be overwhelming.

''It's a factor for inexperienced teams, even for veteran teams,'' Snyder said. ''It's primarily a communication thing. There is no way I have found to counter it. You have to maintain your poise and toughness because you can't quiet the crowd.''

The Rebels aren't afraid to take on the challenge of a road trip at a big-time opponents' house of horrors. They traveled to Madison, Wisconsin last season and upset the Badgers.

UNLV will head back to Wisconsin for its second game of the season.

''That (playing tough opponents at large venues) is what we should aspire to,'' Snyder said. ''We shouldn't shy away from it. If players aspire to the NFL, they have got to get used to this.''

There is danger in such a daring mission, of course. Humiliating losses at Tennessee and Wisconsin could seriously damage the Rebels' spirits.

But strong performances could be a springboard to a successful season.

''I don't know if anybody has a harder two games coming out of the chute,'' Snyder said. ''It's a legitimate challenge for the team. There is a chance we could be embarrassed. There is also a chance we can do some good things and gain confidence. That would do us a world of good.''

With an experienced group of returnees on offense, Snyder is optimistic that the Rebels can be an improved unit this season. UNLV produced just 23 touchdowns last year with an offense that head coach John Robinson said wasn't aggressive enough. But a number of key players are back, including quarterback Kurt Nantkes, All-America candidate receiver Earvin Johnson and speedy running back Dominique Dorsey.

''I like the players we have,'' Snyder said. ''We aren't as deep as I'd like to be, but we have some individuals who can really play on any level. We just don't have a lot of those players.''

The 23-year-old Nantkes has good size (6-3, 225) and smarts, according to Snyder.

''He started last year,'' Snyder said. ''His No. 1 strength is he is a terrific leader. He takes charge. He also has a good arm.''

Dorsey proved himself worthy last season when he rushed 26 times for better than 100 yards against Wisconsin. JaJa Riley, an Ohio State transfer, is also expected to contribute.

The Rebels will look to be less predictable on offense.

''To keep up with defenses you have to keep moving,'' Snyder said. ''Defenses are as aggressive as I have seen them in terms of the type of blitzes and the percentage of blitzes. To score enough to win, you need a lot of big plays. We didn't do that well last year. We'd like to do that better.

''Dominique can squirt through and make long runs. We also have a terrific receiver in Johnson and a tight end (Greg Estandia) who is big at 6-8 and has good speed.''

The bottom line: To achieve its goal of a Mountain West Conference title, UNLV must put up better offensive numbers.

''Last year, offensively, we didn't meet our expectations in just about every category,'' Robinson said. ''We became too conservative. We need to be more dynamic. We need to attack when we have the ball. We can be better in every area and we have the personnel to do that.''

Finding ways to win the close games is also a must.

''We lost some games that we had the ability to win,'' Snyder said. ''We lost to Colorado State in the last seconds and lost 7-0 to San Diego State. We've got to be better closers.''

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