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Wolf Pack Week 10 preview and prediction: San Jose State Spartans

NCAA Football: San Diego State at San Jose State Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

The Nevada Wolf Pack square off against the San Jose State Spartans on Saturday, Nov. 6 at 7:00 p.m. PT on Fox Sports 2.

The Pack’s Mountain West title hopes ended last season at the hands of the Spartans, falling 30-20 after surrendering 23 unanswered second half points at Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas, Nev.

Nevada’s yet to participate in a Mountain West title game, but its hopes still remain high. It is neck-and-neck with both Fresno State and San Diego State, though the Spartans are breathing down their neck.

The Pack have won four of their last five and are 4-0 at home in 2021. They are coming off a 51-20 destruction over intrastate rival UNLV, maintaining the Fremont Cannon in their possession.

San Jose State is coming off a 27-21 victory over Wyoming. Four of their last five have been one-possession ballgames, going 3-1 in such contests.

Will the Pack invoke vengeance on Saturday? Let’s dive into the matchup!

Matchup: Nevada (6-2, 3-1) vs. San Jose State (5-4, 3-2)

When: Saturday, Nov. 6 at 7:00 p.m. PT

Where: Mackay Stadium in Reno, Nev.

TV: Fox Sports 2

Spread: Nevada -10 (William Hill)

Money line: Nevada -380, San Jose State +310

Last Meeting: San Jose State won 30-20 (Dec. 11, 2020)

Matchup History: Nevada leads 22-10-2

When San Jose State is on offense:

The Spartans have taken a significant step back offensively from a year ago, when it ranked fourth in the conference in scoring (28.6 ppg) and third in total offense (430.9 ypg) and passing offense (298.4 ypg).

Part of its offensive set-back has been due to quarterback Nick Starkel’s injury, which has caused him to miss each of the last four games.

Head coach Brett Brennan has yet to disclose any timetable for Starkel’s return — recently citing that “we don’t talk about injuries here”.

In his two full games against FBS competition (USC, Hawai’i), SJSU’s offense still wasn’t up to par, albeit being at the beginning of the season. It totaled just 333.5 yards and 12.0 points a game, two below average marks.

Since Starkel’s injury, the Spartan offense, behind dual-threat quarterback Nick Nash, has been pedestrian; it’s posted averages of 367.6 yards, 22.2 points and 17.4 first downs per game over its life contests.

Nash has completed 56.0 percent of his passes for 938 yards, six touchdowns and two interceptions. He has yet to record more than 230 passing yards with just two games with multiple touchdown passes, which came in his first two starts against New Mexico State and Colorado State.

Nash has thrown just one combined touchdown over the last three weeks. He has, however, rushed for 260 yards (on 7.5 ypc) and two rushing scores over that span — 233 coming over the last two weeks.

Tyler Nevens is the only Spartan with more rushing yards than Nash, sporting team highs in rushing (583) and touchdowns (6) on 4.5 yards per carry. Kairee Robinson’s totaled 210 yards with one score on 4.3 yards per attempt.

SJSU tight end Derrick Deese and former Nevada receiver Charles Ross are its only two players with at least 25 receptions.

Deese has totaled 36 receptions for 634 yards and three scores — all team highs. Ross is second with 25 receptions for 305 yards, tying teammates Isaiah Hamilton and Jermaine Braddock with two touchdowns. Hamilton has recorded one fewer catch for 357 yards.

Nash’s legs will be SJSU’s most optimal route for success if it wants to mitigate Nevada’s pass rush, which has tallied an FBS-most 33.0 sacks (4.13 sacks per game).

It’s uber-successful, ultra-aggressive front is led by Tristan Nichols, who’s vaunted his name into national rankings with his substantial impact after starting the year not even listed on the depth chart. He’s recorded 9.5 sacks — the most in the nation — with an additional 0.5 tackle-for-loss.

Dom Peterson and Sam Hammond both place top-15 in the conference with five sacks apiece. Peterson’s recorded 22 tackles with nine tackles-for-loss, two pass breakups, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery for a touchdown. Hammond’s added 16 tackles with 5.5 tackles-for-loss and one pass breakup.

Daiyan Henley has been another impactful defensive standouts, manning one of Nevada’s two-base linebacker positions. Henley’s tallied a team-high 65 tackles with two tackles-for-loss, but has recorded a team-high four interceptions — leading all FBS linebackers — along with one fumble recovery.

Lawson Hall is second with 56 tackles, including three tackles-for-loss, one sack, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery and one interception.

Nevada’s secondary of Jordan Lee, JoJuan Claiborne and AJ King have played considerable roles in 2021. That’s not including Tyson Williams — an All-Conference safety who’s been limited to six games due to a knee injury — and All-Conference corner BerDale Robins.

Lee (48), Claiborne (39) and King (25) are second, third and fourth in tackles, respectively. Lee has added five tackles-for-loss — the most amongst the secondary — with four pass breakups, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. King’s added two-tackles-for-loss with one sack and five pass breakups; Claiborne’s tallied two pass breakups, one interception and a-half tackle behind the line of scrimmage.

When Nevada is on offense:

The Wolf Pack offense, which ranks third in the Mountain West — No. 23 nationally — in total offense (456.6 ypg), has been on a recent terror.

They have tallied 30-plus points in six of their last seven games, including each of their last five. Nevada’s tallied 400-plus yards of offense with at least 18 first downs in its last four, averaging 43.0 points over that span.

It’s led by 6-foot-4 signal caller Carson Strong, who’s atop the Mountain West in passing (360.4 ypg), touchdowns (24) and passer rating (158.3) and completion percentage (71.1).

Strong’s tossed 370-plus passing yards in each of his last four outings; over that span, he’s completed 74 percent of his attempts for 1,665 yards, 16 touchdowns and three interceptions — good enough for a 169.2 pass efficiency rating.

After a quality 2020 season on the ground, the Pack has struggled to get its ground game going all season.

The Pack rank dead last in the conference and second-worst nationally in rushing offense (72.5 ypg). Against FBS competition (seven games), Nevada’s garnered just 14.21 percent of its yards on the ground, the second-lowest rate in the FBS (Miss State - 12.79 percent).

Toa Taua’s been its productive back of 2020, tallying team-highs in rushing yards (470), yards per carry (5.5) and rushing touchdowns (4). Devonte Lee, Nevada’s top goal-line back, has registered 60 carries for 169 yards and three touchdowns.

Romeo Doubs and Cole Turner have been arguably the conference’s top one-two receiving duo.

Both lead the team in receptions with 49 apiece, though Doubs holds the edge in yards (648 to 571) while Turner — the Pack’s 6-foot-6 tight end (that was somehow left off the John Mackay award semifinalist list for the second straight year?) — has doubled Doubs’ touchdown total (8 to 4).

Melquan Stovall has had a breakout junior season, tallying career bests in catches (39), yards (458) and touchdowns (1). Justin Lockhart and Tory Horton have also broken out, adding 27 catches and two scores apiece.

Junior Fehoko and reigning Mountain West defensive player of the year Cade Hall have had productive seasons in San Jose State’s 3-4 base scheme.

Fehoko tops the Spartans in sacks (6.0) and tackles-for-loss (10.5), in addition to his 28 tackles and four pass breakups. Hall’s totaled 33 tackles with four sacks and six tackles-for-loss.

Hall and Fehoko have forced four (two apiece) of the team’s six fumbles — though only half (3) have been recovered.

Behind its top two pass rushers, San Jose State has recorded 11 sacks across its last three contests, including a season-high five sacks against UNLV on Oct. 21.

Linebacker Kyle Harmon leads the team in tackles with 90 — 32 more than the next-most — with six tackles behind the line of scrimmage, one sack and one pass breakup. Alii Matau is second among its four starting ‘backers — fifth on team — in combined tackles with 41. He’s also had 4.5 tackles-for-loss, two sacks and two pass breakups.

Cobbs has 29 tackles, three tackles-for-loss, one sack, two pass breakups and one forced fumble. Tolefree’s tallied 20 tackles — 4.5 for loss — with one sack and one pass breakup.

Nehemiah Shelton, Jay Lenard and Tre Jenkins lead an experienced secondary that’s very productive, ranking second, third and fourth in the tackles respectively.

Shelton, its top corner, has recorded 58 combined tackles with eight pass breakups and one interception; Lenard’s had 53 tackles with 4.5 tackles-for-loss, two sacks, one interception, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.

Prediction:

After last year’s second-half debacle — where the Pack led 20-7, but surrendered 23 unanswered (20 in third quarter) to lose the game, eliminating it from Mountain West title contention — you could all but guarantee they had this one circled on the calendar. To keep their title hopes all but alive, it’s must a win game for both Nevada — who hasn’t made a Mountain West title game since joining the conference in 2012 — and San Jose State, who’s trying to repeat despite being limited offensively. X’s and O’s aside, the Pack could have a lot of bulletin board material to use to get ready for this game. It’s waited nearly a year for this rematch, and I don’t think they’re going to spoil it a second consecutive year, this time at home (where it’s been dominant). Nevada 37, San Jose State 20 (Season: 5-3)