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Boise State vs. Nevada: two rivals faceoff in Reno

The Broncos square off with the Wolf Pack in what promises to be explosive Mountain West Conference action

WEEK 6: Boise State Broncos vs. Nevada Wolf Pack

WHEN: Saturday, October 4, 8:30 PM MST

WHERE: Mackay Stadium, Reno, NV (30,000)

CONFERENCES: Mountain West Conference

2014 SEASON: Boise State, 3-2, 1-1 (MW); Nevada, 3-1, 1-0 (MW)

COACHES: Boise State head coach Bryan Harsin (10-7); Nevada head coach Brian Polian, (7-9)

TV: CBS Sports Network


RADIO: Bronco Radio Network: KBOI (670 AM) and KKGL (96.9 FM) in the Boise area; Wolf Pack Radio Network (Flagship: ESPN Radio 630 AM) in the Reno area

SERIES RECORD: Boise State leads, 27-13

WEB SITES: Boise State official | Nevada official

Saturday night’s football matchup in Reno, Nevada will pit the coaching skills of two of the youngest head coaches in FBS football against each other. Second year Wolf Pack head coach Brian Polian, age 39, brings to the field an impressive football pedigree that includes coaching stops at Notre Dame, Stanford and Texas A&M as part of a 17-year coaching career. First year Boise State head coach Bryan Harsin is age 37, and has an impressive pedigree of his own. He was previously the head coach at Arkansas State University for the 2013 season, and the co-offensive coordinator at the University of Texas for two seasons. Before leaving for Texas in 2011, Harsin was an assistant at Boise State for ten seasons, the last five as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.

In the forty times Boise State and Nevada have met on the gridiron there has always been explosive action. And this year’s game promises to be one of the best Mountain West contests of the season. Nevada is riding high after coming off a 21-10 win over San Jose State, while a demoralized Boise State team arrives in Mackay Stadium following a 28-14 loss to Air Force. It was the Broncos worst conference loss since they joined the MW in 2011.

What to expect when Nevada has the ball: For a team that is ranked just #84 in the nation in total offense, the Wolf Pack has cranked out the yards and average 389 yards per game. More impressively those yards have been earned about equally through the air and on the ground. Last week they ground it out on the ground against SJSU for the win, and only had 64 yards through the air. But three weeks ago against Arizona, Wolf Pack QB Cody Fajardo, 6-2, 215 lbs, was 29 of 39 pass attempts for 321 yards and 3 TD’s. When the chips are down this guy can get it done. But Nevada head coach Brian Polian likes to run a balanced attack. And they have just the guy in the backfield who can handle the rushing end: junior RB Don Jackson, 5-10, 210 lbs. Jackson is averaging 4.45 yards per run, but had 8.8 yards a carry last week against the Spartans.

Boise State still has one of the best rushing defenses in the nation in spite giving up 287 rushing yards last week. On the other hand, the Broncos much maligned pass defense held the Falcons to just 48 passing yards. Can they do the same against Nevada? Not likely---the Falcons only threw 12 passes last week. But if the Broncos defensive secondary plays well they could force the Wolf Pack to keep the ball on the ground, slow the offense, and try to keep them from reaching the Red Zone. Nevada leads the conference in Red Zone conversions, scoring 15 times on 16 attempts and 12 of those scores have been touchdowns.

What to expect when Boise State has the ball: Head coach Bryan Harsin has already announced that QB Grant Hedrick, 6-1, 195 lbs, will start again for the Broncos. Hedrick has been pretty consistent at being inconsistent since he was made starter in a spotty history that goes back to the last half of 2013. Last week against Air Force he struggled but completed 18 of 33 pass attempts for 209 yards, but he also tossed 4 interceptions before being benched late in the 3rd quarter. It will be interesting if those stats make him hesitant to put the ball in the air against the #115 ranked pass defense in the nation. One thing that could influence his passing decisions Saturday night will be if his favorite target, WR Matt Miller, 6-3, 220 lbs, is healthy. Last week against the Falcons Miller appeared to sustain a leg injury and finished the game on the sidelines.

In addition to a poor pass defense, Nevada gives up 148.25 rushing yards per game. That is why you can expect Boise State to mount a balanced attack of their own. One aspect of the the ground game will be with Broncos star RB Jay Ajayi, 6-1, 215 lbs, who is still one of the better rushers in the nation. So far this season he has averaged 4.84 yards a carry and has averaged 111.40 yards a game. But last week he looked tired and sluggish, and carried 17 times for just 63 yards. He also fumbled the ball away twice so there is no question that the Broncos need more runners to step into the backfield and earn their scholarship. One of those could be RB Devan Demas, 5-8, 174 lbs, who looked impressive two weeks ago but who got just one snap in last week’s debacle at Air Force.

Special Teams: Special teams continue to have their ups and downs at Boise State. Kicker Dan Goodale, 5-10, 185 lbs, is 6 of 9 attempts on field goals this season. WR Shane Williams-Rhodes, 5-6, 158 lbs, is the punt return specialist and WR Dallas Burroughs, 5-9, 169 lbs, handles kickoff returns. So far this season Burroughs is averaging 22.25 yards per return. Kicker Sean Wale, 6-2, 186 lbs, is the punter and averaging 39.39 yards per punt.

Over on the Nevada special teams P Alex Boy, 6-3, 195 lbs, is third in the conference in punting and averaging 43.27 a punt. Kicker Brent Zuzo, 5-10, 175 lbs, handles the kicking duties.  He is 3 of 4 in field goals and has made all 12 of his extra points.  Richy Turner, 5-11, 180 lbs, is the punt return specialist.

The Bottom Line: The Wolf Pack is at home riding a wave of momentum while Boise State could be in a state of shock and looking for direction. Vegas has the Broncos as a 3-point favorite to pull off the win. Rather than stick my neck out again, I’m sitting on the fence for this one.

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