Nevada and Air Force are two teams that employ offenses that many call a gimmick. Nevada uses the pistol offense, while Air Force runs the triple option. The quarterback position for both teams could be an issue with Nevada star Cody Fajardo day-to-day and Air Force's starting quarterback Jaleel Awini suspended with an honor code violation. What follows are five key matchups for Saturday's game.
Nevada D-Line vs. Air Force O-Lineman
The key to stopping the triple option is getting penetration through the offensive lineman's chop blocks. The Air Force offensive line is not big, but they don't have to be as they attempt to take down the defensive line at the knees rather than out-muscle them. Because of that, Wolf Pack starting defensive linemen Jordan Hanson and Jack Reynoso will be extremely important for Nevada to have success. Defensive end Brock "The Mullet" Hekking had a great game last week, but that was in the pass rush which will not be important this week.
Nevada Linebackers vs. John Lee
This year and in years past, Nevada linebackers have had an issue making open field tackles. To stop the triple option, fundamentally sound football and making tackles is key. John Lee, the Air Force starting running back, is averaging 8.4 yards per carry, which shows off his best quality: Speed. Lee is known to fumble, though, so if Nevada can force a few turnovers it would be a huge for a linebacking core that has struggled. For Air Force to win, Lee will need to break a few long runs and expose the Nevada defense.
Scottie Hazelton vs. Blane Morgan
This matchup comes down to a game of wits between the Wolf Pack defensive coordinator Scottie Hazelton and the Falcons offensive coordinator Blane Morgan. Hazelton has had success in the past game planning against the triple option offense, like last year against Georgia Tech when he was USC's linebackers coach. Morgan will need to make the right call on when to take a shot downfield through the air, which could leave the Nevada defensive backs helpless. The key for the Falcons is to keep the ball for long periods of time, so Hazelton will need to make sure his defense can get off the field.
If Nevada quarterback Cody Fajardo plays, his favorite and most trusted target is sixth year senior Brandon Wimberly. Air Force will likely attempt to combat this by putting their best cornerback, Steffon Batts, on him. Fajardo has other good options to throw to in Richy Turner and Aaron Bradley, but Wimberly is who he turns to in clutch situations.
Nevada football coach Brian Polian has commented all week on the mental toughness needed while playing an academy. Last year in a loss to Air Force, Nevada shut down after getting manhandled early. That trend has also been occurring this year after half time, when Nevada failed to show up with effort and energy in their games against UCLA and Florida State. Air Force needs to have the mental toughness to stick to their game plan even if they get down early.
Nevada 27, Air Force 16