New Mexico (5-3, 3-1 MW) and Nevada (3-5, 1-3 MW) are going in opposite directions. Whereas UNM has won four of their last five, Nevada has only won once in that same span. The Wolf Pack are coming off of a bye week in which they hope to regroup and steal a victory in Albuquerque. But the Lobos have other ideas in mind, as they sit one victory away from a bowl bid. The three keys below will help the Lobos make that bowl bid a reality.
1. Slow down James Butler
Nevada RB Butler does a little bit of everything for the Wolf Pack. He has 895 rushing yards this season for seven touchdowns. He has tacked on another 266 receiving yards for two more touchdowns and finally, he also returns kicks and has scored one touchdown doing that. For the Lobos to win this game, they'll need to make Butler work for every yard he gets. Limiting his offensive output will be key to stopping Nevada's offense.
2. Figure out Ty Gangi quickly
The Wolf Pack have a wild card starting at quarterback this week. Sophomore quarterback Ty Gangi will fill in again for Tyler Stewart who is now out for the season with a shoulder injury. Gangi nearly led Nevada to victory over Wyoming two weeks ago when he threw for over 300 yards on 27 completions. Can he repeat his performance against the Lobos whose secondary has struggled throughout the season?
Or will the Lobos continue their string of good defensive performances? In the past two weeks, UNM's defense has scored on both a pick-6 and a fumble return. Against Hawaii, Nik D'Avanzo and company were able to stop a game-tying run on the 7-yard line. If the Lobos defense can figure out Gangi quickly and force a turnover, it could cause him to lose any confidence that he has coming into this weekend's game.
3. Unleash Tyrone Owens
What a revelation Owens has been during the win streak. Over the past three games, Owens has averaged 144 yards. The five games prior to the win streak yielded an average of 78 yards per game. Perhaps Davie's increased trust in Owens has been a consequence of Teriyon Gipson's off-the-field issue, but no matter the case, Owens has seized the opportunity to the tune of 821 yards on the season and an 8.2 average per carry.
Owens is dangerous with the ball in his hands and capable of rattling off big gains. When you add Gipson and Richard McQuarley to the mix, the Lobos' offense remains potent, if not one-dimensional. This core of runners will punish Nevada's defense.
Last year, the Pack beat the Lobos 35-17 in Reno. This season I envision a different outcome because the Lobos are playing for a key victory in front of the home crowd. I suspect they'll rise to the occasion.