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Wolf Pack football preview: Nevada travels to Las Vegas for a neutral-site affair versus New Mexico

Nevada v UNLV Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

The Nevada Wolf Pack will be traveling back down south to Las Vegas, Nev., to face the New Mexico Lobos on Saturday.

Due to health complications with COVID-19 in New Mexico, the game was moved from Albuquerque, N.M., to Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas, the former home of the UNLV Rebels. The state of New Mexico prohibited any gatherings of more than five people.

The Lobos will play their final two home games this season at Sam Boyd Stadium.

No team in history has played all of its games outside of its home state. Clemson was the only other team to play all of its games away from home (nine games) in 1914, but still played three in-state contests against South Carolina, Furman and The Citadel.

Saturday will be considered a neutral-site game, though New Mexico will be considered the host school. No fans will be allowed. This will be Nevada’s second trip to Las Vegas in three weeks after defeating intrastate rival UNLV 37-19 on Oct. 31.

The Lobos enter Saturday off a 39-33 loss against Hawai’i. Tevaka Tuioti completed 17-of-31 passes for 181 yard and two touchdowns, while tailbacks Bobby Cole and Nathaniel Jones totaled 96 yards apiece on the ground.

Nevada is coming off a 34-9 blowout victory over the Utah State Aggies. Carson Strong diced the Aggies for 411 yards passing and three touchdowns, all going to wideout Romeo Doubs.

Nevada is 3-0 for the first time since 2010, when they went 13-1. For the second consecutive week, the Wolf Pack received votes for the USA Today Coaches Poll (five votes). It also received one vote for the AP Top-25 poll.

Dating back to 2011, Nevada has won four out of its last five games versus the Lobos. The Pack look for their second consecutive win over New Mexico Saturday.

Matchup: Nevada (3-0) vs. New Mexico (0-2)

When: Saturday, Nov. 14 at 3:30 p.m. PST

Where: Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas, Nev.

TV: Fox Sports 2

Spread: Nevada -17

Last Meeting: Nevada won 21-10 (Nov. 2, 2019)

Matchup History: Nevada leads 4-3-1

When New Mexico is on offense:

The Lobos are averaging just 27.0 points per game through their first two contests, but they could be having their best two-game start offensively against Mountain West opponents since 2016.

Well, they are arguably off to a better start versus such opponents compared to 2016, when they finished 9-4 (6-2 MWC). They are averaging 471.0 yards per contest with 47 total first downs this year; in 2016, they averaged 452 yards with 45 first downs.

The main difference between the two squads is in the scoring department. The 2016 team has outscored its counterpart 69-54.

Tuioti will miss the game on Saturday after suffering a head injury versus Hawai’i. Trae Hall is scheduled to make his first start of the season behind center Saturday. The redshirt sophomore started in just one previous collegiate game: the season-finale last year versus Utah State. The dual threat quarterback had four total touchdowns (two rushing, two passing). He rushed for 115 yards on 22 carries, while completing 10-of-21 passes for 107 yards and two interceptions.

Hall attempted just six pass attempts against Hawai’i, completing two for 39 yards with an interception.

New Mexico has been largely led by its rushing attack, which ranks third in the Mountain West — No. 25 nationally — in rushing (214.0 ypg).

Tuioti, who will miss Saturday’s game, leads the team in rushing with 140 yards on 7.4 yards per carry with a score. Bobby Cole ranks second with 136 rushing yards on 6.2 yards per carry.

The team’s top returning tailback, Bryson Carroll, has been held to just 18 yards on ten carries. The 5-foot-7 scat back has found more production in the passing attack, totaling 74 yards on 12.3 yards per reception. Tailback Nathaniel Jones has added 96 yards on 13 carries (7.4 ypc) with the team’s only other rushing touchdown.

No Lobo receiver had 30 or more catches last season.

After recording a career-high 19 catches in 2019, Emmanuel Logan-Greene leads the team with 13 catches for 99 yards. Jordan Kress has been the Lobos’ most explosive threat, with 120 yards on just six catches. Kress led the team in receptions last year with 28.

Tight end Marcus Williams, who just has two catches on the year, is a skilled receiving threat that the Pack will have to contain. Williams, listed at 6-foot-3, was second on the team in catches in 2019 with 26, totaling 428 yards and a touchdown.

The Lobos bring back two experienced lineman in right tackle Teton Saltes, who made the 2019 All-Mountain West honorable mention team, and center Kyle Stapley. The two have a combined 48 career starts with the Lobos. They have helped lead a formidable rushing attack with quality pass protection.

Though they rank as the 58th-most efficient defense according to ESPN, the Wolf Pack defense ranks No. 12 nationally in total defense (306.3 ypg), T-19 in opposing first downs per game (17.3) and No. 23 in scoring defense (20.7 ppg).

Nevada has lacked a consistent pass rush, totaling just six sacks with a 4.8 percent sack rate through its first three games. No player has recorded more than one sack.

Sam Hammond and Dom Peterson anchor the defensive line. Hammond leads the team in tackles-for-loss with 3.5 with one sack. His 3.5 tackles-for-loss are T-10 most in the conference. Peterson, a preseason All-Mountain West first team honoree, has 2.5 tackles-for-loss with one sack.

Lawson Hall leads the linebacking corps. He has totaled 14 tackles and one sack. Lamin Touray (12 tackles, one sack) and Daiyan Henley (12 tackles) have also made sizable contributions among the group through the team’s first three games.

Tyson Williams commands the secondary. He leads the Wolf Pack with 16 tackles, while JoJuan Claiborne is second with 15. Berdale Robins has forced the only turnover of the season on a juggling interception versus Wyoming.

When Nevada is on offense:

The Lobo secondary has been incredibly vulnerable to surrendering explosive plays against opposing passing attacks. Through just two games, they have allowed ten pass plays of 30-plus yards, eight of 40-plus, three of 50-plus and two of 60-plus — each atop the conference.

The pass defense was the worst in the nation a year ago (321.4 ypg) and has remained there through two contests. The Lobos are giving up 445.5 passing yards per contest, more than 60 yards than the second-worst squad (Arizona State - 381.0). A total of 86 teams nationally — including eight Mountain West programs — that have allowed fewer than 445.5 total yards per game so far this season.

Those trends can’t afford to continue to stand a chance against Nevada, who has been as explosive through the air as any team in the conference.

Strong leads Nevada’s potent air attack that is atop the Mountain West and second in the nation in passing (397.0 ypg). Strong has thrown for 1,181 yards with nine touchdowns and zero interceptions.

Strong has posted five consecutive 350-plus yard games dating back to last year. He has thrown 282 consecutive passes without an interception — leading the nation and is the second-most in Mountain West history. He only needs 25 more pass attempts to break Derek Carr’s record of 306 pass attempts (set in 2013).

1. Carson Strong (Nevada) - 282
2. Tyrrell Pigrome (WKU) - 182
3. Jayden Daniels (Arizona State) - 180
4. Ian Book (Notre Dame) - 168
5. Dillon Gabriel (UCF) - 166

Nevada hasn’t run the ball often, but they’ve run effectively. The Pack rank last in the conference in rushing attempts with 27.3 per contest, but are 10th in yards (114.7 ypg) and sixth in yards per carry (4.2).

Toa Taua has posted a team-high 193 yards on 24 carries (8.0 ypc) with two touchdowns in two games. Devonte Lee has registered 28 carries for 139 yards and a score.

I feel like I’m writing the same thing over and over when discussing how good Doubs has been. He has unquestionably been the best receiver in the Mountain West and one of the best in the nation since the conference’s delayed start.

Doubs leads the conference in receptions (26), receptions per game (8.7), receiving yards (473) and receiving touchdowns (5). His 157.7 yards per game ranks atop the nation, with the next best qualifier totaling 140 (Marcus Williams - UCF).

With the absence of star wideout Elijah Cooks due to season-ending shoulder injury, Cole Turner and Justin Lockhart look to step up in extended roles.

Outside of Doubs, Turner has been a very productive second option. He is top-10 in the conference in receptions (15) and in the top-5 in both yards per contest (85.7) and receiving yards (257). Lockhart has added 16 catches for 157 yards and a receiving touchdown.

Nevada’s offensive line is experienced, though it hasn’t gelled much as a group. It will need to do a better job keeping Strong upright after already allowing ten sacks — the third-most in the conference.

The Lobos might need to put pressure on Strong to slow him down. They have generated just two sacks, coming from defensive linemen Ben Bertram and Jake Saltonstall.

New Mexico’s linebacking core took a hit in the offseason with the graduation of Alex Hart and Alexander Vainikolo and the abrupt transfer of Jacobi Hearn. Devin Sanders and Kameron Miller provide the most experience. Sanders is second on the team in tackles with 13 and Miller is fifth with five.

Freshman safety Tavian Combs leads the team in tackles with 17. Jerrick Reed II has New Mexico’s only two interceptions — both coming last week versus Hawai’i. Reed’s two interceptions marks the halfway point to its interception total all of last year.

Prediction:

  • Nevada: 35
  • New Mexico: 21

New Mexico has the worst scoring defense in the conference with an alarmingly-bad pass defense. Unfortunately for defensive coordinator Rocky Long and this Lobo defense, the Wolf Pack have Carson Strong and Romeo Doubs — who hold the throne for the best quarterback-receiver duo in the Mountain West. In last year’s meeting, Strong had his first career 300-yard performance while Doubs had 11 receptions for 167 yards and a receiving touchdown. We could see much of the same this time around too. I expect Long to send pressure against an offensive line that’s allowed ten sacks, but Strong has been the best quarterback in the conference and it’s hard to see him slowing down versus this Lobo secondary. New Mexico will put up points, but they can’t afford to play in a shootout because the chances of lasting aren’t in their favor. My season record: 2-1

Additional Links:

New Mexico Game Notes: https://bit.ly/32H6rz3

Nevada Game Notes: https://bit.ly/2IAkyze

Nevada Game Notes