|Nevada at New Mexico Matchups|
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Nevada Offense vs. New Mexico Defense
Nevada's Pistol offense features its quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, working out of the shotgun set with his running back, Luke Lippincott, lining up a couple yards behind him. One of the advantages of this formation is it allows Nevada the possibility of running downhill while still giving its quarterback quicker reads in the passing game from the shotgun. Lippincott has done an outstanding job as the Wolf Pack's primary ball carrier, rushing for 1,380 yards and 15 touchdowns on 257 carries. He is as powerfully built backs with good initial burst and leverage. Kaepernick has also played a key role in the running game and it is his versatility as a dual-threat quarterback that makes this unit so difficult to defend.
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When: Dec. 22, 4:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Where: Albuquerque, N.M.
Preview: Lobos looking for home-field advantage against Nevada
<!---------------------IN LINE TABLE (END)--------------------> Nevada obviously designs runs for Kaepernick, but he also gains lots of yards as a scrambler. Not only does that provide an added dimension to the offense, but it also plays a big part in Kaepernick's efficiency as a passer. The freshman signal-caller is completing a modest 55.6-percent of his throws, but with 19 touchdown passes compared to only three interceptions. That's a remarkable ratio considering he is in his first season as a collegiate starter. Kaepernick is also blessed with some speed on the perimeter, as WRs Marko Mitchell, Kyle Sammons and Mike McCoy have combined for 113 receptions and each average more than 18 yards per catch. The Wolf Pack offense will face one of its toughest tests against a New Mexico defense that ranks 25th nationally in scoring. The Lobos are quick on the defensive side of the ball, but they are also vastly undersized in their 3-3-5 look. Their biggest defensive lineman is 6-foot-1, 279-pound former walk-on NT Wesley Beck. They also line up with a 216-pound middle linebacker in Cody Kase. The player that Kaepernick must find on all pre-snap reads is Ian Clark, who is a roaming safety-linebacker 'tweaner who plays the "Lobo" position and leads the team with 78 total tackles on the season. While Nevada will continue to look to strike with the occasional deep ball, this game likely will be decide by its ability to line up and pound away at New Mexico's small defensive front.
New Mexico Offense vs. Nevada Defense
Rodney Ferguson is not a homerun threat. He will not run away from or around many defenders. Instead, Ferguson prefers to use his size and power to run over his opponent. He is at his best when given 25-plus carries and allowed to wear defenders down throughout the course of four quarters. The challenge for Nevada is to hold up in the trenches versus the Lobos' big, physical offensive line. Nevada runs a 3-4 defensive front with good size across the board at linebacker but marginal bulk to hold the point of attack up front. DE Mundrae Clifton is the only defender weighing more than 285 pounds, which is the listed weight of NT Matt Hines. The other five members of the front-7 weigh between 240 and 252 pounds. With that in mind, the Wolf Pack will rely on quickness, leverage and disruption to counter Ferguson on the ground. OLB Ezra Butler is an outstanding talent with the size and speed to limit Ferguson at times. Otherwise, this is a matchup that clearly favors the offense, which is good news for a New Mexico unit that likely will need a strong rushing attack in order to keep its mistake-prone QB Donovan Porterie in a caretaker's role.
As mentioned, New Mexico wants to run far more frequently than it runs. However, when Porterie is asked to throw, he should have some open receivers versus a Nevada defense that ranks 87th nationally in pass efficiency. WRs Marcus Smith and Travis Brown have combined for 1,950 yards and eight touchdowns on 155 receptions. After those two, there's a big drop off in talent at the position. Look for Ferguson to get involved as a receiver in this game, though. Ferguson is the team's third-leading receiver behind Smith and Brown, and he should be able to find some soft spots in coverage. Nevada's linebackers -- Butler excluded -- have limited range in underneath coverage. SS Uche Anyanwu is basically a linebacker playing strong safety, so he is vulnerable in deep coverage. And CBs Devon Walker and Paul Pratt are a bit stiff when turning and running, which is why they leave a lot of cushion in coverage.
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|Key individual matchup|
<!---------------------IN LINE TABLE (END)-------------------->New Mexico has a slight edge if the game comes down to special teams. John Sullivan has no ACL in his plant leg. No problem, seeing as Sullivan has nailed 26 of 29 field goal attempts this season. PT Jordan Scot is averaging a decent 40.6 yards per punt, but he shows good directional skills by landing 26 of 72 attempts inside the opponents' 20-yard line. The Lobos' Nevada PK Brett Jaekle has been solid but unspectacular this season. He has connected on 16 of 21 field goal attempts, including one block and a long of 50 yards. PT Zachary Whited has been a sore spot this season. He is averaging a measly 38.1 yards per attempt. The Wolf Pack return teams are nothing special. They rank 88th nationally on punt returns and 57th nationally on kickoff returns.
Playing a home bowl game is a huge built in advantage, especially considering the Lobos won five of six in Albuquerque this season. They also have a strong running game to rely on should they feed off the emotion and build an early lead. With that in mind, Nevada has a complete enough football team to withstand the early barrage. The Wolf Pack counters New Mexico's Ferguson with a power runner of their own in Lippincott. The similarities end at the quarterback position, tough. Whereas the Lobos try to protect Porterie by featuring a strong rushing attack, Nevada works to feature Kaepernick as a co-star with Lippincott. Kaepernick is a rising star as an efficient dual-threat quarterback. Yes, he is a freshman. But Kaepernick has yet to back down from a challenge and we don't expect him to flinch in his first bowl game. In the end, Nevada prevails in this road bowl contest thanks to a more balanced offensive attack and the playmaking ability of Butler on the defensive side of the ball.
Prediction: Wolf Pack 31, Lobos 28