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Nevada football offseason opponent preview: Boise State

NCAA Football: Boise State at Wyoming Troy Babbitt-USA TODAY Sports

Barring any unforeseen circumstances (can we not have another pandemic, please?), there are nine 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 fourth game of the season against Boise 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

Week 4: Bye

Week 5: Boise State Broncos

2020 record: 5-2 (5-0 MWC)

When: Saturday, Oct. 2

Where: Albertsons Stadium in Boise, Idaho

Matchup History: Boise State leads 30-13

2020 season-in-review:

The Broncos won four of their first five contests, outscoring their opponents in wins by a combined 88 points. Their following two games against San Jose State and UNLV were postponed due to COVID-19. Boise closed its truncated regular season with a 17-9 road victory over Wyoming before dropping the Mountain West Championship game to San Jose State, 34-20. It elected not to participate in a bowl game. After seven very successful seasons — compiling an 69-19 record with three bowl victories — head coach Bryan Harsin departed to Auburn (for the same position) on a hefty six-year deal. Former Boise State defensive coordinator Andy Avalos will take over as head man, looking to lead Boise State to its fifth straight Mountain West title game.

Boise State on offense:

Despite featuring the conference’s worst rushing attack (107.1 ypg) — their worst in nearly three decades — and the ninth-best offense (349.0 ypg), the Broncos tallied 33.9 points across their seven contests which ranked No. 27 nationally.

Junior gun slinger Hank Bachmeier, who missed two games in 2020 due to undisclosed reasons, threw for 1,150 yards, six touchdowns and two interceptions while completing 61.1 percent of his attempts. That includes a 268-yard, three touchdown performance in the team’s season opener against Utah State. It remains the only three touchdown performance of his collegiate career.

Former USC transfer Jack Sears flanks Bachmeier. Sears went 23-for-27 (85.5 percent) for 332 yards with zero turnovers in his three appearances.

The Broncos will feed their backfield trio of Andrew Van Buren — their top rusher in 2020 — George Holani and Oregon transfer Cyrus Habibi-Likio.

Van Buren led the Mountain West in rushing scores with eight, totaling 382 yards on 111 carries (3.4 ypc; eek). Holani came off an 1,000-yard freshman campaign in 2019 and was expected to be one of the Mountain West’s most productive tailbacks. However, his 2020 season was cut short, missing a majority of the season with a torn MCL — totaling just 19 carries for 108 yards and a touchdown.

From 2018 to 2020, Habibi-Likio recorded 21 (!!!) rushing touchdowns — tied with CJ Verdell for the most amongst any Duck over that span. He posted a career-high 10 touchdowns in 2019, totaling 337 yards on four yards per attempt.

The tailbacks run behind an experienced offensive line led by left tackle John Ojukwu and guards Jake Stetz and Garrett Curran. Ojukwu and Stotz earned second-team All-Conference honors last year, while Curran made the Honorable Mention team. The three combined have made 83 career starts.

NCAA Football: Boise State at Wyoming
Boise State Broncos wide receiver Khalil Shakir (2) runs against Wyoming Cowboys defensive end DeVonne Harris (93).
Troy Babbitt-USA TODAY Sports

Boise returns one of the conference’s most dynamic playmakers in Khalil Shakir. The first-team All-Mountain West honoree chalked-up team-highs in receptions (52), receiving yards (719) and touchdowns (6) by large margins. No other Bronco had more than 20 catches, 350 receiving yards or two touchdowns.

CT Thomas came close, however, tallying 20 catches for 347 yards and two touchdowns. Tight end Riley Smith was third on the team in catches with 15 for 155 yards and a score.

Boise State on defense:

Avalos was the team’s defensive coordinator (2016-18) before departing to Oregon, where he was named the semifinalist for the Broyles Award — given to the nation’s top assistant coach — in 2019.

Avalos inherits a defense that ranked sixth in the Mountain West in total defense (373.3 ypg) and sixth in points allowed (27.1 ppg).

It loses top defensive back Avery Williams, who was a fifth round selection (No. 183 overall) to the Atlanta Falcons in the 2021 NFL Draft. Williams earned All-Mountain West first-team honors as a defensive back, punt and kick returner. He finished 2020 with 19 tackles, two tackles-for-loss and one pass deflection.

Boise State’s other top corner, Jalen Walker — a second-team All-Conference member — graduates. Markel Reed (17 tackles, 1 TFL, 3 PD in ‘20) is expected to fill the team’s top corner position, while JL Skinner and Tyreque Jones return as the two safeties.

Skinner finished third on the team in tackles with 37, adding one tackle behind the line of scrimmage. He snatched one of the team’s two interceptions against Colorado State on Nov. 12.

Shane Irwin, the team’s top sack leader a year ago (6.0), returns for his senior season. Irwin was sixth on the team in tackles (30) and second in tackles-for-loss (7.0) — one behind linebacker Riley Whimpey.

Joining Irwin on the defensive front is Scott Matlock and Scale Igiebon. Matlock recorded 22 tackles, 4.5 tackles-for-loss and two sacks, while Igiebon had just nine tackles with 2.5 tackles-for-loss with a sack.

Whimpey returns as the Broncos’ top tackler. The second-team All-Mountain West member’s 61 tackles in 2020 were 21 more than the next-closest Bronco (Weaver - 40).

My thoughts:

Despite close-er affairs in recent memory (compared to the early 2000s), the meeting’s end-result between the two could be written in chalk — well, except for the program-altering comeback victory in 2010! It remains the only victory Nevada’s had in the last 17 meetings against the Broncos. You read that correctly: It has only beaten Boise State once since the turn of the century. On paper, this has the ingredients to be the most talented Wolf Pack team since 2010. Nevada will play three of its first four games on the road. That’s never a small obstacle to overcome. But the Pack will have a chance to begin a new trend against Boise and start the conference schedule strong.