Matchup: Nevada (7-5, 4-4) vs. Ohio (6-6, 5-3)
When: Friday, Jan. 3rd, 2020, at 12:30 p.m. PST
Where: Albertsons Stadium, Boise, ID
TV: ESPN / Watch ESPN
Matchup History: First ever meeting
1. Stop Ohio’s run game
Ohio has consistently been one of the best offensive squads in the MAC conference, finishing in the top-5 in the conference in total offense in each of the last three seasons and four of the last five years. They come into Boise averaging 443.3 total yards of offense, ranking No. 29 in the nation. However, this Bobcat team is exceptional in the ground game. Fueled by a strong offensive line -- which features three All-MAC selections -- Ohio averages 216.5 rushing yards per contest and 5.5 yards per carry. Nevada has done a quality job versus the run game this season, surrendering 137.9 rushing yards per game which ranks No. 40 across the FBS. It might be the most intriguing matchup to look for as it will be strength vs. strength. The Bobcats have four sub-200 rushing yard games as a team, going 1-3 in those games. The Wolf Pack remain winless in three games when allowing 200-plus rush yards. Nevada’s defensive front -- which will miss Hausia Sekona and Gabriel Sewell (for one half) due to suspension -- needs to develop a strong push to make this Ohio offense one-dimensional in order win this game.
2. Contain Nathan Rourke
If you have not heard by now, Ohio quarterback Nathan Rourke is quite good -- arguably Ohio’s most important player. The impressive dual-threat talent was a first-team All-MAC honoree this season, his third All-MAC selection in his collegiate career. Arguably Rourke’s best skill is not with his arm, but with his legs. He has been very solid throwing the football, completing a career-best 61.4 percent of his passes and threw for 2,676 yards, 20 touchdowns and five interceptions. The 6-foot-1, 210-pound senior also posted a 151.7 pass efficiency rating, 22nd best in the nation. He is among the main components in Ohio’s run game. Rourke was second on the team in rushing, running for 780 yards -- seventh-best among quarterbacks in the FBS -- on 144 carries (5.4 ypc) with a career-low 12 rushing scores. He has shown both the ability to become a threat in their option offense along with extending plays with his legs when receivers downfield aren’t open. It has been difficult for opposing teams to generate pressure on the dual-threat talent, sacking him only 20 times all season, including six times in the last six games. The Wolf Pack will have to do a great job keeping outside containment, while generating pressure to keep Rourke in the pocket if they want to stall drives and force quick defensive stops. That means the Wolf Pack secondary -- who will miss Daniel Brown and Austin Arnold for suspension -- will also have to play a perfect game to force any potential coverage sacks. Interim defensive coordinator Jody Sears, coaching in his first game, will have hands full right away.
3. Get the run game going
Getting the run game going has been difficult for the Pack to accomplish this season. The Pack ranked No. 116 in rushing offense (122.8 ypg), No. 123 in yards per carry (3.45) and T-99 in rushing touchdowns (15). They are led by former MWC freshman of the year Toa Taua. Taua has rushed for a team-high 759 yards on 190 carries (4.0) and six rushing touchdowns, tying a team-high. Ohio has allowed 177.8 rushing yards per game this season, ranking No. 81 in the nation. The Bobcats are coming off its best game of the season against the run where they allowed only 41 yards to Akron (who finished dead last in the country in rushing with 47.58 rushing yards contest, 20.5 yards fewer than the second-worst finisher). They have surrendered 150-plus rushing yards in nine of its 12 games this season, whereas the Pack have rushed for at least 150 yards four times. The Wolf Pack are 4-0 in those games, averaging 33 points per game in those three games. Utilizing the rushing attack alleviates pressure from redshirt freshman quarterback Carson Strong, who will make his 10th start of the season Friday.
- Nevada: 24
- Ohio: 35
The firepower that Ohio’s offense I will believe will be too tough for the Wolf Pack to stop. As talked about above, Nevada will be missing three defensive starters for the entire game and one more for only the first half. It will also interesting to see how the defense changes because of the three new interim defensive coaches, who will be coaching their first games together. It is hard to know what to expect for a defense, that ranked No. 79 in ESPN’s FPI rankings, against this high-powered Ohio offense. I think it has a potential to be a shootout, but I think Rourke and the Bobcats squeak it out.