Idaho cornerbacks Arnold Gunn and Ryan McGinnis will be wearing targets instead of numerals on their jerseys Saturday.
Nevada, not Florida or BYU or Tennessee, had the nation’s top passing offense from 1993-96. A Wolf Pack quarterback has passed for 2,000 yards or more in 13 consecutive seasons. John Dutton is on course to make it 14.
Dutton can take another step toward doing so against the Vandals at Reno’s Mackay Stadium.
Or perhaps not.
You see, Idaho stifled Nevada last year like few teams have in recent seasons. The Vandals won 24-15, at the time tying the Wolf Pack’s lowest point total since ‘92.
Idaho did it with aggressive man-to-man coverage and a savage pass rush. Nevada was pointless in the second half.
“It was surprising,” said Dutton, the 1996 Big West offensive player of the year. “They got a good pass rush, but they (the corners) played great. They dominated every facet of our offense. We couldn’t run or pass.”
Care to guess Idaho’s game plan this go-around?
“We’re not going to change what we do. The ability to play man coverage enables us to put an extra man inside to stop the run,” UI coach Chris Tormey said. “You can’t run the defense we run without two solid corners.”
It’s unrealistic to expect Idaho to duplicate ‘96. The Wolf Pack, for example, topped 500 total yards in a 34-30 loss to Wyoming last Saturday. Dutton is a year wiser. The receivers remain prolific.
But Gunn and McGinnis remain somewhere between confident and cocky.
“When you play a finesse team like Nevada, they don’t like for us to touch them,” McGinnis said. “We got up in their face and started hammering on them. They got upset.”
“I could see it on (former Wolf Pack receiver) Damond Wilkins’ face after halftime,” Gunn smiled. “He was pretty frustrated.”
The two seniors know Dutton will throwing their way.
“We look at us (the secondary) winning the game,” Gunn said. “Of course it’s a team effort, but we want the pressure on us.”
In that regard, the Wolf Pack will comply, Dutton said. “Southern Mississippi brought it and they had incredible team speed. We did some things against them. Wyoming did, too, and we had success.”
Gunn and McGinnis took diverse paths to success at UI.
Gunn, when healthy, has started the majority of his career. He has provided sticky coverage most of the time, but had one dreadful 1994 evening as UNLV’s Randy Gatewood caught a record 23 passes for 363 yards.
“I still get teased about that,” Gunn said.
However, Gunn has matured into a dependable corner. He’s faced numerous standouts - San Diego State’s Az Hakim, Wyoming’s Marcus Harris, Nevada’s Wilkins - and held his own.
“I figured our defense would be really good or really bad this year,” Gunn said. “Our guys up front have done a tremendous job.”
McGinnis’ college career began at LSU. After one semester, he balked at the time demands and returned closer to his family in California.
He enrolled at Taft Junior College, but the school dropped football. He went to Hartnell JC for a season before settling on a $26,000 scholarship at Pacific. After one season, the Tigers axed football.
McGinnis was a team player, but all of his teams quit playing.
Phone calls from other schools started pouring in before Pacific announced it was canning football.
“My mom called me and said Hawaii and Cal had called,” McGinnis said. “About 15 minutes later, our defensive coordinator called and said, ‘Boys, they cut the program.”’ Soon after, UI defensive coordinator Nick Holt called.
“He’s on my voice mail saying, ‘McGinnis, we gotta get you up here, son, get you a plane ticket and get you ready for school,”’ McGinnis recalled. “I’m thinking, ‘Idaho?”’
McGinnis was hooked after being shown where he fit in Idaho’s schemes. Another phone call finalized his decision.
“I talked to a secretary at Pacific and she was there when Coach Holt played (at Pacific),” McGinnis said. “She said, ‘I just love that Nick Holt. You should go to Idaho.”’
McGinnis and Gunn share common characteristics. Gunn is 5-foot-10, 172 pounds, with great speed and suspect hands. McGinnis is 5-10, 170, has excellent speed (4.38 seconds in the 40) and awful hands (no interceptions at UI).
“Ryan’s got hands like feet,” Tormey joked.
“McGinnis can’t catch,” agreed Gunn, who knows the feeling. “When I got here they told me I couldn’t catch either. It only took two days and I never got to catch the ball again.”
Their jobs are difficult, but not impossible.
“I feel more confident than ever because I’m surrounded by guys that do what they’re supposed to do,” Gunn said.
Added McGinnis: “It’s the best feeling on earth to come out and dominate somebody like we did last year.”
Gunn and McGinnis wouldn’t mind experiencing that feeling again late Saturday afternoon.
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