Two Saturdays into the Mountain West football season and two losses for the Aggies. The game against Boise State was never really that close as it was 28-0 at the half. The game vs San Diego State was closer until the Aggies got into the second half. This week is looking to be another difficult game as the Aggies prepare to hit the road to battle for their first win of the season.
Utah State at Nevada
Location: Reno, Nevada (Mackay Stadium)
Line: Nevada (-15)
Date/Time: Thursday, November 5th; 7:00 PM EST
Head-to-Head: Utah State and Nevada have a long history together as both were in the WAC before moving to the Mountain West. Both teams have faced good competition this season as Nevada beat Wyoming at home and Utah State has already played Boise State and San Diego State, the two teams at the top of the power rankings in the conference. In the Wolfpack-Aggies series, Nevada leads 18-7. Last season, Utah State picked up a 36-10 victory over Nevada and is 3-1 in the last four meetings. The last time Utah State won in Reno was in 1997, a 37-35 victory. From 2005 to 2010, Nevada dominated the series with five straight victories. Since 2010, the Aggies have only lost once to the Wolfpack, a 38-37 loss at home. So while Nevada leads the overall series and dominated during the WAC days, Utah State has controlled the series in the Mountain West.
Three Things to Watch For
1. Can Utah State get pressure on Carson Strong?
Carson Strong has built off a strong freshman season. In 2019, Carson Strong was 237/374 (63.4%) and threw for 2,335 yards, 11 touchdowns, and seven interceptions. Last season, Strong was injured and did not play against Utah State. This season, Strong is 60/79 and has thrown for 770 yards and six touchdowns and he has not thrown an interception. Wyoming has a quite decent defense this year, holding Hawaii to seven points after Nevada put up 37. The key for Utah State to have success on defense is to force Carson Strong into making mistakes. A mistake doesn’t necessarily have to be a turnover, it could even be forcing an incompletion. It is going to come down to the defensive line having a big day for Utah State. This question also leads into the next question:
2. Can Utah State limit the big plays?
If Utah State is able to get pressure but also has blown coverages or missed tackles, this is going to be another really long day for the Aggies. Against Boise State there was some missed tackles but there was also a huge blown coverage that gave the Broncos an easy 52 yard touchdown. Against San Diego State, missed tackles was again a problem and Utah State allowed explosive plays in the running game. Utah State has to keep players such as Carson Strong, Devonte Lee, and Romeo Doubs in check. Devonte Lee has 110 yards on 22 carries and a touchdown and Romeo, Nevada’s leading receiver, has 336 yards on 19 receptions and two touchdowns. If Utah State is going to have a chance to keep this game close and win it, they must limit the big plays. Getting stops on third down is going to be absolutely crucial. Against the Broncos and the Aztecs this is something Utah State struggled to do but if they can find answers on defense, then they will have a much better chance to stay in this game.
3. Can the Utah State offense find creativity?
Speaking of finding answers, they Utah State offense has to find answers quickly. Through two games Utah State has only put up 20 points and has struggled mightily in the passing game. Jason Shelley has still not passed for over 100 yards in a game and has thrown two interceptions in both games he has played. One of the ways that Utah State has found a little success on offense is through the running game. Against Boise State, Utah State rushed for 111 yards and against San Diego State the Aggies rushed for 103 yards. One of the ways Utah State might find more success on offense is through the running game. Obviously the passing game is not really working but the Aggies have also played two experienced safety and cornerback groups. Utah State may be able to get more success in the running game by getting the receivers involved but the most important thing is that the Aggies can’t play simple offense. If Utah State can get creative and make create big plays, they will better be able to win the time of possession battle and rest the defense, which is something that Utah State has been unable to do in the first two games.
Utah State played some good football in the first half against San Diego State and kept the Aztec lead to a field goal lead. The second half was a different story however because Utah State put up 31 unanswered and much of the Aztec success came through the running game. From the first two games it certainly seems like a story of two halves. In order to improve going forward, Utah State is going to need to find success in the passing game because they will not be able to run the ball on every down.
Maybe that means a quarterback change is coming for the Aggies or maybe it means that the receivers continue to grow as a group and step up to help Jason Shelley. Nevada has been a good team this season and is right in the mix with Boise State and San Diego State for top team in the conference. It would be interesting to see Utah State make a quarterback change or give Andrew Peasley some reps. There are more and more teams that have found success with a two quarterback system so maybe the Aggies can try their hand in that. If this game was in Logan I might give the Aggies a better chance. I think defense will keep the Aggies in this game early but I just don’t think I can trust the offense enough at this point to keep the defense off the field and keep Utah State in this game.
Utah State 17, Nevada 34