Who: Nevada Wolf Pack (5-1, 2-0MW) @ Fresno State Bulldogs (5-2, 2-1MW)
Where: Bulldog Stadium, Fresno, CA (Capacity 40,727)
When: Saturday, October 23, 4:00PM PT
How to Watch: Game is broadcast on FS2 (could be flexed to FS1 dependant on ALCS)
After an admittedly odd game dominated not by the Fresno State passing game, but by the defense, the Bulldogs return home for Homecoming weekend, the long overdue retirement of Lorenzo Neal’s No.22 jersey, and a huge game against divisional rival Nevada. They kept their conference title hopes alive by defeating Wyoming last week, but the next two games will be against the two teams above them in the West Division standings. It also features the two most prolific passers in the Mountain West in a game that could rather quickly turn into a track meet. Let’s take a look at what it will take for Fresno State to get the big win.
Headlined by a potential first-round NFL QB, the Nevada Wolf Pack was picked as pre-season favorites in the West Division with a potentially explosive offense. And so far, they have lived up to that billing. While they did lose a game against Kansas State in the non-conference portion, Carson Strong has looked like every bit like the future first-round pick, even with injuries taking out multiple receivers at various points. Toa Taua remains a bruising running back, Cole Turner is a massive mismatch for any defense, Romeo Doubs remains a star, and Nevada has been putting up on average 36 points and 450yds/game.
The only offense currently racking up more yards per game is the one they will face this weekend, Fresno State. While Jake Haener was not as hyped up in the pre-season, he has exploded onto the college football scene this year with the upset at No.13 UCLA, and is Top 5 in passing yards and touchdowns this season. After a bad performance at Hawaii with 5 turnovers, and a quiet day at Wyoming against their stifling defense, Haener and the offense will be looking for a productive day in what could easily be a high-scoring affair against Carson Strong and the Nevada offense.
While not garnering the attention the offense has, Nevada’s defense has been quietly strong. Defensive tackles Dom Peterson and Tristan Nichols have combined for 12.5 sacks, with Nichols leading the nation with 8 on his own. They will be going against a Fresno State offensive line that did much better against pressure last week, but they have surrendered pressure on Haener throughout the season, and this should be the best defensive line that the Dogs have faced since the Oregon game.
The defensive line for Nevada has been great at generating sacks, but the Nevada O-Line has also been giving up sacks at a pretty high clip. They have surrendered 11 sacks over the last 4 games, and will be facing a Fresno State defense that has generated 8 sacks in the last 3 games. So the challenge for both O-Lines will be keeping their QBs upright to keep their offense humming. Look for both offenses to try to get their run game going, along with quick passes to get the ball out before the defensive pressure arrives.
Fresno State Keys to Victory:
- Another clean game- After forcing 5 turnovers last week while giving up none of their own, Fresno State will need to have another clean game if they want to come out on top. They can’t give Nevada good field position, as Strong and the offense have proven that they can and will punish teams that give them extra possessions.
- Continue with the running game- the priority for the Wyoming game was getting the run game going, and they were successful at it, with Ronnie Rivers and Jordan Mims combining for 163yds. Obviously not great, but Wyoming’s defense is really strong against the run game. Nevada has been giving up on average 136.8 run yards per game, but they were getting shredded by Dae Dae Hunter last week before exiting the game with an injury. Using Rivers and Mims more will alleviate pressure on Haener, and allow the receivers to get open if the defense moves up
- Put pressure on Strong- Nevada’s O-Line has been pretty susceptible to giving up sacks, while David Perales and Kevin Atkins have been doing very well at getting pressure on QBs. Along with Aaron Mosby, these three could make it a long day for Strong and the Pack offense if they can get home.
This game should be a very well-balanced one from both sides. Both teams have similar strengths and weaknesses, and still have games against division leading SDSU on the calendar. Vegas seems to see this one as very closely matched, with Fresno State being a 3.5 point favorite right now, with an O/U of 64. ESPN’s FPI gives the Dogs a 70% chance of coming out on top, and Bill Connelly has the Dogs as a 9.5 point and 71% favorite, winning 33-24. I think this one will fall somewhere between those two, but Fresno State’s defense should be a bit more active after last week, and will continue that back in front of the homecoming crowd. For this game, I think Fresno State hands Nevada their first conference loss, and wins the game by a score of-
Fresno State 37-31 Nevada
Let’s see how this one turns out Saturday afternoon. For all of your Mountain West content, keep it here.