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Nevada football offseason opponent preview: Kansas State

Iowa State v Kansas State Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images

Barring any unforeseen circumstances (can we not have another pandemic, please?), there are 10 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 third game of the season against Kansas State. 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

Week 3: Kansas State Wildcats

2020 record: 4-6 (4-5 Big 12)

When: Saturday, Sept. 18

Where: Bill Snyder Family Stadium in Manhattan, Kan.

Matchup History: First meeting


2020 season-in-review:

Kansas State fell in its only non-conference contest in the season-opener against Arkansas State. Two weeks later, it kicked off a four-game winning streak by narrowly defeating Oklahoma on the road, 38-35. It then closed the season on a five-game losing streak.

Kansas State on offense:

Skylar Thompson returns behind center for his sixth season. Last year, his season was hampered due to suffering a season-ending shoulder injury in the third game of the season versus Texas Tech.

Up until then, he was providing a lift to the Wildcat offense. He completed 62.5 percent of his passes for 624 yards, four touchdowns with zero turnovers. Thompson has started in 30 career contests and is one of two quarterbacks in program history — the other being Collin Klein (2009-12) — with at least 5,000 career passing yards with 1,000 career rushing yards.

In his absence, Will Howard took over and started in the final seven games. He completed 53.6 percent of his attempts for 1,178 yards, eight touchdowns and ten interceptions.

Deuce Vaughn is Kansas State’s swiss army knife and was one of the country’s top running backs in 2020.

Texas Tech v Kansas State
Running back Deuce Vaughn #22 of the Kansas State Wildcats rushes down field against Texas Tech.
Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images

Vaughn led the Wildcats in rushing yards (642), receiving yards (434), rushing touchdowns (7) and finished second in receiving touchdowns (2). His 1,221 all-purpose yards led the Big 12 and ranked No. 21 nationally.

He earned second-team All-Big 12 honors, the Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year and was dubbed a Freshman All-American from The Athletic and the Football Writers Association of America. Vaughn will run behind an offensive line that’s led by All-Big 12 second-team honoree, center Noah Johnson.

Its top returning wideout is Chabastin Taylor, who hauled in 19 receptions for 293 yards and one touchdown last year. Juniors Philip Brooks and Malik Knowles are expected to round out the Wildcats’ receiving trio.

Brooks recorded 15 catches for 155 yards and two scores, while Knowles had 13 catches for 204 yards with a team-most three touchdowns.

Kansas State on defense:

Defensive end Wyatt Hubert, a first-team All-Big 12 selection last season, forgoed his final season of eligibility and was selected in the seventh round selection (No. 235 overall) of the 2021 NFL Draft by the Cincinnati Bengals. In 2020, he tallied team highs in sacks (8.5) and tackles-for-loss (13.0) — both career highs.

The top returnees among the defensive front are Khalid Duke and Eli Huggins.

Huggins, a senior, started eight games and finished third on the team in tackles-for-loss with six. He added 22 tackles and 1.5 sacks after entering 2020 with six career tackles (1 TFL). Duke finished with 26 tackles, 2.0 tackles-for-loss with one sack in nine games (eight starts).

The Wildcat front is expected to see contributions from Charlotte transfer Tommy Horne, as well as Robert Hentz II, Jaylen Pickle, and Branson Massie, among others.

Kansas State must also replace linebacker Elijah Sullivan, who started 24 games in five seasons with the program. He tied for fifth in tackles (40) with 1.5 tackles-for-loss and one interception.

Though it’s a long way until the season begins, Daniel Green and Cody Fletcher will likely begin 2021 as the team’s two starting linebackers. Both started games last season (Green - 2; Fletcher - 3) and possess plenty of experience under their belts.

In 2020, Fletcher tallied the third-most tackles with 43, while Green was seventh with 39. Green recorded 5.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage to 2.5 sacks, while Fletcher added 3.5 tackles-for-loss with 1.5 sacks.

Two starters return in the secondary: Cornerback Ekoy Boye-Dee and the team’s top tackler, free safety Jahron McPherson.

McPherson is arguably the team’s best returning defensive player. He had 54 combined tackles — 10 more than any other player — with 3.5 tackles-for-loss, one sack and a team-high two interceptions. He was selected to the All-Big 12 Honorable Mention team by the coaches.

Boye-Dee started in eight games last year, totaling 25 tackles, one sack and a team-high seven passes defended. Expect Julius Brents — a transfer who spent the previous three years at Iowa — to reside on the other side of Boye-Dee.


Overall:

This will be the Wolf Pack’s second road opponent in the Power-5 this season. The last time it scheduled two Power-5 foes was Jay Norvell’s first year in 2017 against Northwestern and then-No. 18 Washington State, losing both. Though Nevada left the Silver State just twice last season, it is far more equipped to (at least) split these two contests than in 2017. Kansas State isn’t an easy opponent. They have a good quarterback, a very good running back and an All-conference center with adequate wideouts. The only question mark is the insertion of new pieces on the defense, which has the daunting task of mitigating Nevada’s potent offense. It should be a high-scoring affair, but there’s zero justification to believe that the Wolf Pack couldn’t come out on top.