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Wolf Pack football opponent preview: Nevada squares off with Tulane in Famous Idaho Potato Bowl

Looking at Nevada’s bowl game

NCAA Football: Nevada at San Diego State Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

The Nevada Wolf Pack will square off against the Tulane Green Wave in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl on Tuesday, Dec. 22 at 12:30 p.m. PST. It will be played on the blue turf at Albertsons Stadium in Boise, Idaho. The game will air on ESPN and Watch ESPN networks.

The Wolf Pack are winless in 12 consecutive games on the blue turf, which dates back to 1997.

Nevada is appearing in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl for the second consecutive season. It dropped 30-21 to the Ohio Bobcats in last year’s meeting. They were victorious in their previous two bowl meetings against Arkansas State in 2018 and Colorado State in 2015. The Pack are 6-11 all-time in bowl games.

The Green Wave are 6-7 in bowl games, seeking their third straight victory. It defeated Southern Mississippi in the Armed Forces Bowl last year.

Nevada and Tulane have only met once in the matchup history. Tulane won the matchup 34-17 in the 1992 season.

Nevada fell to undefeated San Jose State, the eventual Mountain West champions, 30-20 in its last meeting. The Green Wave defeated the Memphis Tigers 35-21 in their last contest on Dec. 5.

Entering Tuesday, Tulane introduce new coordinators on both sides of the football: Chip Long (offensive coordinator) and Chris Hampton (defensive coordinator).

Matchup: Nevada (6-2) vs. Tulane (6-5, 3-5 AAC)

When: Tuesday, Dec. 22 at 12:30 p.m. PST

Where: Albertsons Stadium in Boise, Idaho

TV: ESPN

Online: ESPN3 | Watch ESPN

Spread: Tulane -3

Last Meeting: Tulane won 34-17 (Sept. 26 1992)

Matchup History: Tulane leads 1-0

When Tulane is on offense:

Long, who previously served an offensive analyst on Tulane’s staff, inherits an offense that has been remarkable all season, finishing No. 21 in the country in scoring (35.4 ppg) and tallying nearly 400 yards of offense per outing.

They scored at least 24 points in all 11 games and 30 or more points in eight of their last nine — including a season-high 66 points against Southern Mississippi on Sept. 26.

The remarkable scoring output marked the first time the program has recorded at least seven 30-point outings in a single season since its perfect 12-0 season in 1998.

The offense is directed by one of the best rushing attacks in the American Athletic Conference. The Green Wave were second in the conference and No. 18 nationally in rushing (218.9 ypg). It also ranks second — No. 26 in the nation — in yards per carry (5.04). They scored the sixth-most rushing touchdowns in the FBS with 30, accounting for over 60 percent of its offensive scores.

Per Team Rankings, Tulane ran the ball on 60.1 percent of its plays — the 18th-highest frequency in the nation.

In Long’s three years (2017-19) as offensive coordinator at Notre Dame, each of his three offenses ran the ball over half of its plays, with two years exceeding 54 percent (2018 - 54.71%; 2017 - 59.47%). So there’s likely some philosophical familiarity with Long and the previous offensive coordinator Will Hall, who took the head coaching position at Southern Mississippi.

In Long’s first year at Notre Dame in 2017, the team ranked seventh in the FBS in rushing (269.3 ypg). His offenses ranked in the top-25 in scoring twice while with the Irish.

Cam Carroll and Stephon Huderson lead the rushing attack. Huderson has rushed for a team-high 721 yards on 117 carries (6.1 ypc) with four scores.

With five fewer carries, Carroll has rushed for 621 yards (5.5 ypc) with a team-best 11 rushing touchdowns — trailing Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder (12) for the most in the American Athletic Conference.

The 6-foot, 225-pound thumper has recorded a rushing score in six of the 11 games with multiple scores in four contests. Against Southern Mississippi, he had three rushing touchdowns (30, 52, 19) and added a 16-yard receiving touchdown.

Its passing attack has not been as boisterous, but it hasn’t needed to be.

Quarterback Michael Pratt, the first Tulane true freshman since 1985 and the seventh ever to win as starting quarterback, put together a good freshman season. In nine games, the 6-foot-2 signal caller completed 55.7 percent of his passes for 1,638 yards, 18 touchdowns against five interceptions in nine games.

In his most recent outing, Pratt threw for a season-high 254 passing yards with two touchdowns and zero interceptions. It was his only game of the season where he threw for 220 or more passing yards. His 137.7 passer rating ranks fifth out of nine AAC quarterbacks while his 60.4 QBR ranked sixth.

Pratt is a capable dual-threat talent — rushing for 367 yards and seven rushing touchdowns without the yardage lost for sacks.

Deuce Watts and Jha’Quan Jackson are Tulane’s top two targets — totaling six receiving touchdowns apiece. Watts has hauled in 31 receptions for 512 yards, while Jackson has 29 catches for 356 yards.

The Green Wave offensive line is led by center Sincere Haynesworth and left guard Corey Dublin — two second-team All-Conference members.

The Pack are No. 46 in the nation in defense (379.3 ypg), No. 30 in rushing defense (130,8 ypg) and No. 85 in passing defense (248.5 ypg).

Nevada has allowed a dismal 500-plus yards on 6.8 yards per play in its two games. Though it is a small sample, that is not a favorable trend to continue that will prompt success against a Tulane offense that racks up points.

It totaled just 15 sacks (1.88 sacks per game) and 44.0 tackles-for-loss (5.50 per game) — both ranked among the bottom-half of the Mountain West. Nevada just forced six turnovers on the year with a minus-three turnover margin.

Dom Peterson and Sam Hammond have anchored the defensive front, both earning All-Mountain West second team honorees.

Peterson led the team in sacks with 4.5 and was second in tackles-for-loss (7.5) behind Hammond, who totaled 7.5 for loss. Hammond finished with 32 tackles — the most among the Pack defensive line — with four sacks and two pass deflections.

Lawson Hall led the team in tackles with 56. The first-team All-Mountain West selection also tallied 6.5 behind the line of scrimmage with one sack. Daiyan Henley was third on the team in tackles (43) while Lamin Touray added 29 tackles with 3.5 tackles-for-loss and one sack.

Tyson Williams and Berdale Robins lead the Pack defensive backs. Williams finished second on the team in tackles with 53, recording two of the team’s three total interceptions. Robins totaled 25 tackles while placing third in the conference in total passes defended (6) and second in pass breakups (5).

When Nevada is on offense:

The Pack possess the ninth-best passing attack in the FBS (325 .1 ypg) with the 32nd-ranked total offense (436.6 ypg). They average 29.9 points per contest, scoring 30 or more points in half their contests.

Carson Strong, the Mountain West Offensive Player of the Year, leads this Pack offense. He threw for 2,587 yards, 22 touchdowns against four interceptions this season.

The 6-foot-4 signal caller ranked Top-25 nationally and led the Mountain West in passing yards, completions, completion percentage and touchdowns, while placing second in passing yards per game (323.4 ypg) and passing efficiency rating (155.6). Strong tallied five 300-yard with two 400-yard performances, including a career-high 420 passing yards in the season opener versus Wyoming.

Their backfield is led by Toa Taua, an All-Mountain West second-team honoree, and Devonte Lee. Taua finished second in the conference in rushing yards (573) while fifth in yards per game (81.9) and yards per carry (6.1). He finished with three rushing touchdowns.

Lee totaled 322 rushing yards on 62 carries (5.0 ypc) with two rushing touchdowns.

Romeo Doubs and Cole Turner established themselves as the best receiver tandem in the Mountain West this season.

At the forefront, Doubs registered conference-bests in receptions (53), receiving yards (960) and receiving touchdowns (9). He posted five 100-yard games with one 200-yard performance. He took the top off defenses, recording seven catches of 50-plus yards (five for TDs) and two of 60-plus.

Turner finished in the top-4 in the conference in receptions (44), receiving yards (545) and receiving touchdowns (7). Melquan Stovall finished with 33 catches for 250 yards while Justin Lockhart totaled 26 catches for 218 yards and a touchdown.

In the final two games of the season, true freshman Tory Horton became a reliable target for Strong. He caught 11 passes for 210 yards and three touchdowns. Horton is fifth on the team with 18 catches for 306 yards and five scores on the year.

Four of Nevada’s offensive lineman were named to the All-Mountain West team (one 2nd team, three Honorable Mention), led by right tackle Aaron Frost. True freshman and captain Jermaine Ledbetter make up the left side of the line, while Tyler Orsini is slotted in at center.

Hampton returns to Tulane after departing in the offseason for Duke. From 2016 to 2019, he served as the defensive backs coach with the Green Wave before departing for a similar role.

Though they are third in the nation in sacks with 36, the Green Wave are No. 115 in passing defense, giving up 279.4 yards per contest. The secondary surrendered 300 or more yards passing in six of their 11 contests. Nevada threw for 300-plus in five of their eight showdowns.

Tulane’s opponents have thrown for 8.4 yards per attempt, albeit only completing 59.1 percent of their passes.

It was announced Monday that Tulane will be without the nation’s leading sack leader, defensive end Patrick Johnson, due to his father’s death (we wish him and his family our deepest condolences). Johnson, a first-team All-AAC member, had 39 tackles and was T-1 in the American (with teammate Dorian Williams) in tackles-for-loss with 14.5.

Johnson was the third player in program history to be named to the AAC’s All-Conference team in three consecutive seasons.

Cameron Sample will be the team’s top defensive lineman. Sample, also a first-team All-AAC member, had 52 tackles, 5.0 sacks and 7.5 tackles-for-loss with one pass breakup.

Williams and Nick Anderson are a dynamic duo at the linebacker position. Williams and Anderson were the team’s top two tacklers — Williams totaling 83 tackles to Anderson’s 79. Anderson was third on the team in tackles-for-loss with 10.5, also totaling one sack. Along with his monstrous tackling figures, Williams registered three total pass deflections.

To contain Nevada’s high-octane passing attack will be defensive backs Larry Brooks, Macon Clark and Willie Langham, who combined for seven interceptions and 11 total passes defended.

Brooks led the trio with 50 tackles and one tackle behind the line of scrimmage. Clark’s recorded 38 tackles, 4.5 tackles-for-loss and three sacks and Langham adds 25 tackles.

Prediction:

  • Nevada: 34
  • Tulane: 31

This was a tough call. It is a coin flip. This is arguably the most productive offense that Nevada will have faced this season. Tulane has had over two weeks off. Will they be rusty? Will they be fresh? It will be hard to gauge. Though it missed Dom Peterson in one half, the Pack had two lackluster defensive performances against two great offenses in its previous two games. This contest will not be any easier. As have many of Nevada’s contests have fared over the second-half of the season, it should be a high-scoring affair between two high-octane offenses. If Nevada can be disciplined, they could snap the 12-game skid on the blue turf Tuesday. Season record: 5-3

Additional links:

Nevada Game Notes: https://bit.ly/2J91AjG

Tulane Game Notes: https://bit.ly/38togE3

Live Stats: https://bit.ly/3atTRrT

Nevada Game Notes