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Wolf Pack football preview: Nevada seeks bounce victory versus Fresno State

Nevada v Hawaii Photo by Darryl Oumi/Getty Images

The Nevada Wolf Pack face off with the Fresno State Bulldogs in arguably its biggest game of the season (to date) on Saturday at Mackay Stadium.

Fresno State has not played a game in two weeks due to COVID-19 cancellations versus San Jose State (Nov. 21) and San Jose State (Nov. 27). Its last game resulted in a 35-16 road win versus the Utah State Aggies on Nov. 14.

After a season-opening loss, the Bulldogs are on a three-game win streak.

The Wolf Pack suffered their first loss of the season last weekend in a 24-21 road loss to Hawai’i.

The loss makes Nevada’s road harder to appear in the Mountain West Championship game, scheduled for Dec. 19. Though San Jose State and Boise State are the only undefeated foes in conference play, the Pack still control their own destiny. If they win out, they would make it.

Though its odds are not as high, Fresno State must also win out at a chance for a bid to the title game.

Matchup: Nevada (5-1) vs. Fresno State (3-1)

When: Saturday, Dec. 5 at 6 p.m. PST

Where: Mackay Stadium in Reno, Nev.

TV: Fox Sports 2

Spread: Nevada -6.5

Last Meeting: Nevada won 35-28 (Nov. 23, 2019)

Matchup History: Fresno State leads 29-22-1

When Fresno State is on offense:

Saturday’s contest features the top two offenses in the Mountain West. Fresno State is atop the conference in yards per game (467.2 ypg) with the Pack coming in at No. 2 (446.5 ypg). Fresno State is the third-best scoring team in the conference (33.0 ppg) with the fifth-most touchdowns (17).

During its three-game win streak, Fresno State is averaging 37.7 points per game and 486.7 yards per game.

It features the conference’s No. 7 rushing offense (141.5 ypg) and the No. 2 passing offense (325.8 ypg).

After a rough week one performance, completing 54.8 percent of his passes for 289 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions, Jake Haener has performed well. In the three games, the former Washington transfer has gone 66-for-93 (71.0 percent) for 897 yards with eight touchdowns against one interception.

The one pick came against Utah State, where Haener completed 76.3 percent of his passes for 422 yards and four touchdowns — all career-highs.

Ronnie Rivers has been one the best running backs in the conference this year. He is first in rushing touchdowns (7) and third in rushing yards per game (109.8 ypg), while placing second among tailbacks in receptions (18), receiving yards (227), receiving yards per game (56.8) and receiving touchdowns (2).

Rivers has been a magnet to the endzone over the last 14 months. He has scored a touchdown in every game since Sept. 28, 2019 against New Mexico State — a streak of 12 straight contests — the longest active streak in the NCAA. Over that span, Rivers has tallied at least two total touchdowns in six of those games. He just needs one touchdown to set the school record for the most career touchdowns.

Jalen Cropper is tied with Rivers for the most receptions on the team with 18. He has 227 receiving yards and three touchdowns on the year. Last game versus Utah State, he had ten catches for 202 yards and three touchdowns — earning the Mountain West Offensive Player of the Week.

Keric Wheatfall is second on the team with 17 catches for 250 yards, while Josh Kelly has recorded ten catches for 198 yards and a score.

The Bulldog offensive line has surrendered 14 sacks and 34 tackles-for-loss. The unit, which returns four starters, is led by right tackle Syrus Tuitele.

The Wolf Pack defense ranks No. 14 in the nation in total yards and No. 21 in scoring defense (21.2 ppg).

Star defensive tackle Dom Peterson, anchors Nevada’s front seven, is questionable to play after suffering an ankle sprain in the second quarter of last week’s game and didn’t return.

It was reported by Nevada Sports Net’s Chris Murray Tuesday that head coach Jay Norvell stated that Peterson is “not ruled out” for Saturday’s game, though Norvell also mentioned, “[Peterson] didn’t really practice [Monday] and wasn’t able to run around very good.”

Squared up against one of the most high-powered offenses in the Mountain West, the presence of Peterson could be a game-changer.

Peterson is second in the conference in sacks (4.5) and tackles-for-loss (7.0). He is 1.5 tackles-for-loss away from entering Nevada’s top-10 for career tackles-for-loss and is T-10 in Nevada history in career sacks (16.5). Sam Hammond is second on the team with three sacks with 6.5 tackles-for-loss.

Lawson Hall has totaled a team-high 43 tackles and ranks third in the team in tackles-for-loss (6.0) from the linebacker spot. Daiyan Henley has totaled 33 tackles and Jojuan Claiborne has recorded 22.

Tyson Williams has been the Pack’s best top talent in the secondary. He is second on the team in tackles (37) with one interception. EJ Muhammad and BerDale Robins are quality corners. They’ve registered a combined seven pass deflections with 20 total tackles apiece.

When Nevada is on offense:

Despite trailing its counterpart in total offense, Nevada features the most explosive passing attack in the Mountain West.

It is led by Carson Strong, who leads the conference in completion percentage (71.3 percent), passing yards (1,973), passing touchdowns (16) and passing yards per game (328.8). He places third in the conference in passer rating (160.6).

The 6-foot-4 signal caller was one of 35 quarterbacks named to the Davey O’Brien Award Watch List on Tuesday.

The Pack has 10 passing plays of 40-plus yards, eight of 50-plus and two of 60-plus. Nobody in the conference has more. Just three teams in the nation have recorded 50-plus yard passing plays (UCF, Arkansas - 9; Mississippi - 10).

The explosive attack has been courtesy of wideout Romeo Doubs, who has seven of the team’s eight 50-plus yard plays. That is three more than any other receiver in the FBS.

Doubs has posted conference-highs in catches (37), yards (788) and receiving scores (9). Last game, Doubs recorded just one catch for a total of ten yards — snapping a string of five consecutive 100-yard, one touchdown performances.

Tight end Cole Turner has been a huge compliment to Doubs, tallying 35 catches for 427 yards and four touchdowns. Justin Lockhart adds 26 catches for 218 yards and touchdown.

Last week against Hawai’i, Nevada recorded its first 200-yard rushing performance of the season. It had 208 yards on 36 carries; in the previous five games, the team did not attempt more than 28.

The Bulldog run defense has been subpar, giving up 228.3 yards per contest on 5.3 yards per carry. Both figures trail UNLV for the worst in the conference.

They sport the conference’s third-best pass defense (189.0 ypg), but their passer rating allowed (106.8 rtg) and their completion percentage allowed (51.3 pct) both rank among the Top-10 in the country.

Although Fresno State has generated pressure in the backfield — leading the conference in total sacks (20.0). It also leads the FBS in sacks per game (5.0). Fresno State has recorded at least ten tackles-for-loss in the last two games.

Its defense line is led by Kwami Jones and Kevin Atkins. They both have totaled four sacks each — top-10 marks in the Mountain West — while Jones has totaled five tackles-for-loss to Atkins’ four. David Perales adds three sacks with 5.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage.

Malachi Langley leads the linebacking core with 16 tackles. Arron Mosby, who was the team’s top returning tackler from last year’s team (78), has just 12 tackles through the team’s first four games this year.

Evan Williams and Bralyn Lux has been the best two members in the secondary. Williams, the starting free safety, leads the team with 27 tackles and two pass deflections.

Prediction:

  • Nevada: 35
  • Fresno State: 31

Kalen DeBoer’s offensive track record should not go unnoticed. His offense shattered multiple school records (total offense, passing yards, passing touchdowns, completions, etc.) when he was offensive coordinator at Eastern Michigan in 2016. When DeBoer took reigns as the offensive coordinator in 2017, he produced the No. 61 (in 2017) and No. 35 (in 2018) most efficient offenses as the nation after it was nearly last in 2016. He departed to Indiana last year and produced the 17th-most efficient offense before returning back to Fresno State this year. It should be no surprise that the Bulldogs have been one of the most productive offenses in the conference this year. With two electric offenses, it should be a high-scoring affair. In order for the Wolf Pack to win this game, they must limit the penalties, draw third-down stops and put together chunk plays through the air against a stingy Bulldog pass defense. Season record: 4-2

Additional Links:

Nevada Game Notes: https://bit.ly/36HqboJ

Fresno State Game Notes: https://bit.ly/36LXiYy

Live Stats: https://bit.ly/3orIC6Z

Nevada Game Notes || Nevada Athletic Department