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Wolf Pack football opponent preview and prediction: Colorado State Rams

NCAA Football: Air Force at Colorado State Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Nevada Wolf Pack close out their 12-game 2021 regular season with a road bout against the reeling Colorado State Rams on Saturday at 6 p.m. PST in Fort Collins, Colo.

After splitting its first six games, Colorado State has dropped five straight — though three have come by single digits. The Rams lost 50-45 in their most recent outing to Hawai’i after battling back from 26 in the third quarter.

Colorado State’s in the midst of its first five-game skid (in a single season) since it ended 2018 on a five-game losing streak. It has not lost six straight conference games since 2011.

Nevada, meanwhile, is on a two-game skid after beginning the season 7-2 with hopes at a Mountain West title berth. It suffered a pair of two-point losses to San Diego State (23-21) and Air Force (41-39, 3OT), eliminating its chances after it began as preseason West Division title favorites.

Colorado State leads the all-time series between the two programs 12-4, including 8-0 at home.

Can the Wolf Pack snap its two-game skid and pick up their first ever win against CSU in Fort Collins, Colo.? Let’s dive into the matchup below and find out!

Matchup: Nevada (7-4, 4-3) vs. Colorado State (3-8, 2-5)

When: Saturday, Nov. 27 at 6:00 p.m. PT

Where: Canvas Stadium in Fort Collins, Colo.

TV: CBS Sports Network

Spread: Nevada -4

Money line: Nevada -175, Colorado State +155

Last Meeting: Nevada won 49-10 (Nov. 10, 2018)

Matchup History: CSU leads 12-4

When Colorado State is on offense:

Todd Centeio has performed much better in his second season with the Rams after completing just 38.9 percent of his attempts (for 207 yards) a year ago.

Centeio has completed 60.1 percent of his passes for 2,773 yards, 15 touchdowns and eight interceptions — including a 527-yard, five-touchdown outing against Hawai’i last weekend.

In his career, he’s tallied four other 250-yard performances with one 300-yard outing with just two other games with multiple touchdowns — all coming in 2021.

The Colorado State offense focuses more on the rushing attack, led by senior tailback David Bailey. He’s rushed for a team-high 738 yards and nine touchdowns; A’Jon Vivens has registered 299 rushing yards (on 3.6 ypc) while Jaylen Thomas has totaled 160 yards with two additional scores.

The Rams possess arguably the nation’s best tight end in Trey McBride, a finalist for the Mackay Award — annually rewarded to the best TE.

McBride leads FBS tight ends in receptions (80) and yards (1,008), though he’s found the endzone just one time. Dante Wright is Colorado State’s top receiver — adding 39 receptions for 511 yards and three scores.

Gary Williams has recorded touchdowns on five of his 18 catches with 257 yards. Ty McCullouch has 23 receptions for 408 yards and a touchdown.

Nevada possesses a dominant pass rush led by Tristan Nichols, who’s tied for the conference-lead in sacks (9.5), along with Dom Peterson and Sam Hammond.

Peterson’s rallied together 34 combined tackles with eight tackles-for-loss and five sacks — as well as one pass deflection, one forced fumble and a fumble recovery for a touchdown. Hammond’s tallied 29 tackles, six for loss with four sacks and one pass breakup.

Daiyan Henley, the team’s leading tackler (82), has been the Wolf Pack’s top playmaker at one of its two starting linebacker spots. He’s hauled in four interceptions — leading all FBS linebackers and the second-most in the Mountain West, trailing only Hawai’i’s Khoury Bethley (5) — with three fumble recoveries, in addition to his two touchdowns (one fumble recovery, one pick-six). Lawson Hall is second with 72 tackles, adding five tackles-for-loss, one sack and one fumble recovery.

The Pack have pieced together a good secondary, including from safeties Jordan Lee and Tyson Williams, when he’s been available. Lee’s third in tackles (63) with five tackles-for-loss, three pass deflections, three forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries. Williams has tallied 36 tackles across eight games with a pair of picks (one pick-six), in addition to his three tackles behind the line of scrimmage (one sack).

When Nevada is on offense:

The Wolf Pack possess one of the country’s best passing attacks — ranking No. 4 in passing (371.1 ypg) — led by junior Carson Strong.

He’s completed 69.9 percent of his attempts for 3,898 yards, 32 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Strong’s recorded 300-plus passing yards in all but two games with multiple touchdowns in eight of his 11 starts this season.

The Pack feature two stout targets in receiver Romeo Doubs and tight end Cole Turner, arguably the conference’s best tight end behind McBride.

Doubs has tallied 75 receptions for 1,012 yards and nine touchdowns — the first Pack player since Marko Mitchell (in 2007-08) with two back-to-back 1,000-yard receiving seasons. Turner’s tallied 60 receptions for 672 yards and a team-high 10 scores.

Melquan Stovall, Tory Horton and Justin Lockhart have all made significant contributions in the absence of star receiver Elijah Cooks, who missed most of 2021 due to a season-ending foot injury.

Stovall’s hauled in 52 catches for 608 yards and one touchdown; Horton’s added 48 catches for 546 yards and three touchdowns; Lockhart is fifth in receptions (35) for 470 yards and a pair of scores.

The Wolf Pack’s rushing attack has been virtually non-existent for a majority of the season, though Toa Taua strung together 77 yards on 5.1 yards per carry with a score against Air Force.

On the season, Taua’s tallied 635 yards on 125 carries (5.1 ypc) and five scores; backup Devonte Lee’s registered 189 yards on just 2.7 yards per attempts with three scores.

Nevada’s rushing attack (59.9 ypc) and yards per attempt (2.4 ypc) rank last, in part due to Nevada’s pass protection — or lack thereof — causing 3.2 sacks per game (T-12 worst FBS) and 19 over the last five games.

Ram defensive end Scott Patchan, a former Miami transfer, followed a dominant shortened-2020 campaign — which featured 5.5 sacks (7.5 TFLs) in four games — with placing top-5 in the conference with 15.0 tackles-for-loss and eight sacks.

He’s fifth on the team in tackles with 63, adding two pass deflections plus team-highs in forced fumbles (3) and fumble recoveries (2).

Toby McBride has tallied 3.5 sacks while defensive tackles Manny Jones and Danny Philips have added 2.5 sacks apiece.

McBride has recorded seven tackles-for-loss with 39 tackles; Jones has recorded 42 tackles, five tackles-for-loss, one pass deflection and one fumble recovery; Phillips, with the fewest tackles of the bunch (31), adds four tackles-for-loss with a fumble recovery.

Linebacker Cam’Ron Carter anchors its 3-base linebacker unit, ranking atop the team in tackles (88), third in sacks (6.0) and fourth in tackles behind the line of scrimmage (7.0). Dequan Jackson is second on the team in tackles (85) with 8.5 tackles-for-loss and one sack.

Corners Rasha Ajayi and Marshaun Cameron’s been Colorado State’s top two members of the secondary — combining to deflect 11 passes with one interception. Ajayi’s tallied 26 tackles (2.5 for loss) while Cameron’s totaled 40, including 19 assisted.

Prediction:

Nevada’s dropped all three of its Mountain West games by two points apiece and enter the season finale looking to avoid a fourth conference loss in a hostile environment. The Pack passing attack has been nearly perfect this season until the three-to-four man pass rush gets to Strong, evidently stalling drives. That’s going to be at the top of the “what to watch for” once again on Saturday. Colorado State is a below-average offensive team, so I believe the Pack could scathe by with a low-scoring affair if that situation presented itself — though that’s obviously not the end-goal. Morale might be lower than it was a couple of weeks ago, but Nevada must still find a way to muster enough energy to avoid a third straight loss on CSU’s senior night. I believe they’ll end their regular season on a positive note, however, and I don’t see it being particularly close. Nevada 34, Colorado State 16 (Season record: 6-5)