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Wolf Pack Week 6 opponent preview and prediction: New Mexico State Aggies

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 02 New Mexico State at San Jose State Photo by Larry Placido/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In its second home of the game of the season (wear pink!), the Nevada Wolf Pack will take on the New Mexico State Aggies at Mackay Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 9. Kickoff will be at 7:30 p.m. PT on CBS Sports Network.

New Mexico State, an independent program, enters 1-5. The Aggies’ last four losses have come at the hands of Mountain West opponents by an average of 13.3 points per game. Its most recent loss? New Mexico State was on the worse end of the 37-31 defeat against San Jose State. Though it never possessed the lead, New Mexico State totaled 386 yards with 23 first downs — five more than SJSU.

On average, the Aggies have scored 21.8 points in their four contests against MWC foes — 22.2 points on the year, in total.

Nevada, however, is on the other end of the spectrum. It enters 3-1, including a 41-31 road victory against Boise State — its second victory in 18 meetings against the Broncos since 1998 and the first in Boise since 1997.

This will be the program’s first rematch since 2011, when both were apart of the Western Athletic Conference — formally known as the WAC. Nevada won 48-34 behind 185 rushing yards (on just eight carries) from Lampford Mark. Quarterback Cody Fajardo accounted for four of the team’s seven touchdowns — all coming on the ground.

Nevada has taken the last three meetings and are 13-2 all-time — including 6-2 at home — against its counterpart. Let’s dive into the rematch below!

Matchup: Nevada (3-1, 1-0) vs. New Mexico State (1-5)

When: Saturday, Oct. 9 at 7:30 p.m. PT

Where: Mackay Stadium in Reno, Nev.

TV: CBS Sports Network

Spread: Nevada -30.5 (William Hill)

Money line: None listed (at time of publishing)

Last Meeting: Nevada won 48-34 (Oct. 29, 2011)

Matchup History: Nevada leads 13-2

When New Mexico State is on offense:

The Aggies are No. 100 in offense (352.5 ypg) and No. 104 in scoring offense (22.2 ppg), but No. 45 in passing offense (259.2 ypg) behind junior quarterback and former junior college transfer, Jonah Johnson.

Johnson has completed 57.5 percent of his passes for 1,021 yards, five touchdowns and five interceptions. Against San Jose State, Johnson went 30-for-44 (68.2 percent) for 300 yards, three touchdowns and one interception, sporting a career-best 143.4 passer rating.

His three passing touchdowns marked the first time he’s thrown multiple passing touchdowns at the FBS level (seven games). His 300 yards placed second — trailing the 326 he accumulated against San Diego State on Sept. 4.

In five games against FBS competition in 2021, New Mexico State’s thrown the ball 61.7 percent of the time, the seventh-most nationally. Believe it or not, that’s one slot higher than Nevada — who’s No. 8 at 61.5 percent. Yards through the air account for 72.6 percent of NMSU’s total yards in such games.

Nevertheless, the Aggies possess two promising tailbacks in O’Maury Samuels and Juwaun Price.

Similarly to the Wolf Pack, Samuels and Price split the load at a near 50-50 clip. Samuels has tallied 206 yards on 59 carries and one touchdown; Price has totaled 55 carries for 233 yards with a team-high three rushing touchdowns. Samuels has one game with 50-plus rushing yards, while Price has two.

Jared Wyatt tops the team in receptions with 26, adding 308 yards and one touchdown. Isaiah Garcia-Castaneda has racked up a team-high four touchdowns, totaling 304 yards on 18 receptions.

Terrell Warner adds 14 receptions for 119 yards, while Robert Downs III has hauled in 13 receptions for 139 yards and a score.

Nevada ranks T-65 nationally in scoring defense (24.0 ppg), No. 58 in total defense (357.2 ypg) and No. 52 in passing defense (211.5 ypg), though it tops the FBS in sacks per game (4.25) bloated by two games of six-plus sacks.

Defensive lineman Tristan Nichols has been the Wolf Pack’s unsung hero when he’s been on the field. He’s totaled nine tackles in three contests, though over half (5.0) account for his sack total — leading the team. He’s forced two fumbles, one of which returned for a touchdown by All-Conference defensive lineman Dom Peterson against Idaho State.

Peterson’s second in tackles-for-loss with four, in addition to his two sacks and 13 total tackles. Christopher Love — who’s tallied nine total tackles — along with All-Conference defensive lineman Sam Hammond and Daniel Grzesiak have recorded two sacks apiece as well.

The Wolf Pack’s two linebackers — Daiyan Henley and Lawson Hall, a team captain — rank No. 1 and 2 on the squad in tackles respectively.

Henley’s recorded 35 with 0.5 tackle-for-loss, in addition to his three pass deflections, one fumble recovery and one interception, Nevada’s third-and-final turnover forced in last week’s win against Boise State. Hall has 30 tackles with one tackle-for-loss — a sack — plus a forced fumble.

Jojuan Claiborne, who has stepped in Tyson Williams’ (knee) absence, is third in tackles with 21; cornerback Jordan Lee has 19 with one pass deflection, one forced fumble and two fumble recoveries; former South Florida transfer Bentlee Sanders is No. 6 in tackles (15) with one pass deflection.

When Nevada is on offense:

Nevada boasts one of the Mountain West’s most prolific offenses, led by junior gun slinger Carson Strong.

Strong, the conference’s reigning offensive player of the year, has completed 67.9 percent of his passes for 1,218 yards, eight touchdowns to two interceptions through four contests. Against Boise State, Strong completed 25-of-37 for 263 yards and one touchdown.

As I previously mentioned, Nevada will generate most of its offense through the air. Its ground game hasn’t undergone much success against FBS competition, but it began to find its footing against Boise State. Nevada’s two tailbacks — Toa Taua and Devonte Lee — averaged 6.7 yards per carry in that game after generating three yards per attempt in their previous two FBS contests.

Taua, the conference’s most recent offensive player of the week, had 12 carries for 124 yards and two scores, adding a team-high seven receptions for 44 yards against the Broncos. It marked his 10th 100-yard performance of his career. Lee had 10 carries for 24 yards and a touchdown.

On the season, both have exactly 37 carries through four games; Taua’s tallied 279 yards, two rushing touchdowns, while Lee’s totaled 117 yards with a team-high three rushing touchdowns.

The Wolf Pack’s top three wideouts are Romeo Doubs, Cole Turner and Melquan Stovall.

(NOTE: Shaq campaigned for his nephew, Justin Lockhart, who’sT-6 in receptions with nine, to get more targets over Instagram. He had five catches for a team-high 94 yards against Boise.)

Doubs tops the team in receptions (22) for 304 yards — the 10th-most in the conference — with one touchdown. Cole Turner’s hauled in 20 catches for 202 yards and two scores; Stovall adds 14 catches for 139 yards.

Nevada lost star wideout Elijah Cooks to a Lisfranc foot injury prior to last weekend, so Tory Horton (9 rec., 172 yds) and Lockhart (9 rec., 132 yards) are expected to have increased roles as the season takes forth.

The Aggies defense — which places No. 115 nationally in scoring defense (34.2 ppg) and No. 112 in total defense (446.8 ypg) — is led by junior linebacker Chris Ojoh, who’s third on the team in tackles with 31, but has posted team highs in tackles-for-loss (7.0) and sacks (4.0).

Linebackers Michael Bowe Jr. and Trevor Brohard have also been frequent members around ballcarriers; Bowe Jr. tops the team in tackles with 33 — two for loss with a 0.5 sack. He also has one pass breakup with one of the team’s three fumble recovery.

Brohard, who led the team in tackles throughout spring (16), has tallied 32 tackles with 3.5 tackles-for-loss and one pass breakup.

Donovan King and Justin Segura head the defensive line. King has 10 tackles, 3.5 for loss with 1.5 sacks and a pass breakup. Segura has 15 tackles with 3.5 tackles-for-loss as well, adding one sack.

D.J. McCullough and Syrus Dumas hold the hefty responsibility of defending the Wolf Pack’s top wideouts on the outside. Both have tallied two interceptions apiece; Dumas has three additional pass breakups while McCullough has one with a forced fumble.

Prediction:

Though its the second home game of the season and the crowd will, rightfully, be lively, Nevada’s coming off one of the biggest wins — if not the biggest — since 2010, so there might be a slight initial hangover. I do believe Nevada will find its footing and, eventually, blow the doors open. The 30-plus point spread is too high, especially since New Mexico State’s hung around against Mountain West competition multiple times this season. The Wolf Pack’s offense will be the difference — if it’s going to turn into a track meet, Nevada’s got the easy advantage. Nevada 42, New Mexico State 24 (Season record - 1-3; yikes).