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Nevada football offseason opponent preview: Idaho State

Idaho State Athletics

Barring any unforeseen circumstances (can we not have another pandemic, please?), there are 11 Saturdays until the Nevada football season kicks off.

This is our second annual offseason opponent preview. Each Thursday leading up to the season, I will be previewing each Pack opponent on their 2021 schedule — starting at the beginning.

This week, we preview Nevada’s home opener against Idaho State of the Big Sky Conference in the Football Championship Subdivision.

Here’s the Wolf Pack’s full 2021 schedule to date:

Nevada Football 2021 Schedule

Date: Opponent: TV: Time (all time PT)
Date: Opponent: TV: Time (all time PT)
Sept. 4 at California FS1 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 11 vs. Idaho State TBA TBA
Sept. 18 at Kansas State ESPN+ 11:05 a.m.
Sept. 25 BYE ---------
Oct. 2 at Boise State Fox Networks (specifics not yet announced) TBA
Oct. 9 vs. New Mexico State CBS Sports Network 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 16 vs. Hawai'i CBS Sports Network 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 23 at Fresno State Fox Networks TBA
Oct. 29 vs. UNLV CBS Sports Network 7 p.m.
Nov. 6 vs. San Jose State Fox Networks TBA
Nov. 13 at San Diego State CBS Sports Network 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 19 vs. Air Force FS1 6/7/7:30 p.m.
Nov. 27 at Colorado State CBS Sports Network 6 p.m.

Without further ado, let’s jump into it!

Previous weeks:

Week 1: California

Week 2: Idaho State Bengals

2021 spring record: 2-4

When: Saturday, Sept. 11

Where: Mackay Stadium in Reno, Nev.

Matchup History: Nevada leads 18-12

2020 season-in-review:

Technically, Idaho State didn’t have a 2020 season because of COVID-19 implications; it did, however, have a six-game spring football schedule that ran from Feb. 27 to April 10. The Bengals went 2-4, playing five of their six games against ranked opponents. It marked the second time in program history — the other coming in 2008 — that Idaho State played at least five ranked FCS opponents in one season. Its two games won in the spring were in a road 26-24 victory against Southern Utah (its lone unranked foe) and at home against No. 24 Idaho, 24-22. Aside from their 29-point season-opening loss to No. 4 Weber State — the Bengals’ final three losses came by a combined 13 points.

Idaho State on offense:

The Bengal offense is led by former Wyoming quarterback Tyler Vander Waal, who won the conference’s Newcomer of the Year award in the spring.

Vander Waal fueled the Big Sky’s second-best passing offense (317.8 ypg), going 116-for-215 (54.0 percent) for 1,843 yards, 12 touchdowns to 10 interceptions in the spring. He added 98 rushing yards (192 gained) with three rushing scores — tying a team high.

In two seasons with the Cowboys, Vander Waal completed 49.6 percent of his passes for 1,822 yards, six touchdowns and eight interceptions.

He isn’t an unfamiliar foe to the Wolf Pack. After Sean Chambers departed with a knee injury against the Wolf Pack in 2019, Vander Waal entered — completing a measly 30.0 percent of his ten pass attempts for 63 yards and a touchdown.

Malakai Rango leads the charge in the Bengal backfield. Rango rushed for 251 yards on 91 attempts (3.9 ypg) with three rushing touchdowns in the spring. In 2019, the 5-foot-10 tailback recorded 508 yards on 96 carries (5.29 ypc) with three scores — including a career-high 142 rushing yards (on 24 carries) with a rushing touchdown against BYU.

Just one wideout tallied more than 20 receptions in the spring: first-team All-Big Sky honoree Tanner Conner. He finished with 34 receptions, 685 yards and three touchdowns. Connor had three games eclipsing triple digits in yards — including a career-high 208 yards against Idaho.

Connor graduates, with now-sophomores Christian Fredrickson, Xavier Guillory and Jalen Henderson as its top returning targets.

Fredrickson was second on the team in receptions with 20, totaling 243 receiving yards with two touchdowns. Xavier Guillory and Jalen Henderson totaled 18 and 17 receptions respectively. Guillory led the team in touchdowns with four, while Fredrickson saw the endzone once.

Second-team All-Big Sky honorees Terron Carey and Jacob Angel return on the offensive line.

Idaho State on defense:

The Bengals return their top leading tackler, linebacker Connor Willis. He recorded 60 tackles — 26 more than Oshea Trujillo, the team’s second-leading tackler — with one pass breakup and one forced fumble. Trujillo, a second-team all-conference member, graduates — finishing with 2.5 tackles-for-loss, one sack and nine pass breakups.

Darian Green and Raemo Trevino were the team’s top two sack leaders in the spring — tallying two sacks apiece. Though Trevino graduates, Green, the team’s leading tackle-for-loss (4.5) holder, returns with one season of eligibility remaining.

The defensive line outside of Green is inexperienced. The truncated spring was the only collegiate experience that now-sophomores Jake McGinnis (9 tackles) and Nick Larriva (8 tackles) have accrued. With the quick turnaround, it will be interesting to see how they adjust.

First-team All-Big Sky honoree Jayden Dawson leads a secondary that ranked fourth among eight Big Sky teams in pass defensive efficiency in the spring.

Dawson recorded 30 tackles, four pass breakups with one fumble recovery in the spring. He is joined by Jacob Jones (23 tackles, 1 TFL, 2 PBU), Quantraill Morris-Walker (17 tackles, 2 INT, 4 PBU) and Josh Alford (21 tackles, 1 INT).


The last time these two teams met, it didn’t go well for the Wolf Pack. Idaho State knocked off Nevada 30-28 at Mackay Stadium on Sept. 16, 2017 — Jay Norvell’s third game as a collegiate head coach. Nevada finished 3-9 that year, and it’s safe to say that life has changed since. Now, the program’s coming off the best year of the Norvell-era with a bevy of experience, continuity and firepower — three qualities that were unarguably absent in their meeting four years ago. That said, Norvell’s only other home “tune up” game wasn’t necessarily “roses and butterflies” either; the Wolf Pack narrowly beat Weber State at home, 19-13, on Sept. 14, 2019. After they come off a presumably tough season-opener against California, it will be interesting to see how they responds in their home opener.