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Nevada football offseason opponent preview: San Jose State

Mountain West Football Championship - Boise State v San Jose State Photo by David J. Becker/Getty Images

Nevada football is a month away!

Barring any unforeseen circumstances, there are four Saturdays until the Wolf Pack 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 ninth game against San Jose State, who handed it their second loss of the season in 2020, 30-20. Here’s a look at Nevada’s full 2021 schedule:

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

Week 6: New Mexico State

Week 7: Hawai’i

Week 8: Fresno State

Week 9: UNLV

Week 10: San Jose State Spartans

2020 record: 7-1 (7-0 MWC)

When: Saturday, Nov. 6

Where: Mackay Stadium in Reno, Nev.

Matchup History: Nevada leads 22-10-2

San Jose State 2020 season-in-review:

San Jose State was unquestionably the biggest surprise in the Mountain West last season, for better or for worse. It went undefeated in the regular season for the first time since 1939, going 6-0. Its six victories came by an average of 12.8 points per game. It followed suit with a 34-20 victory over Boise State in the Mountain West title game. The Spartans’ only loss came in a crushing 21-point loss in the Arizona Bowl to then-No. 24 ranked Ball State, 34-13. San Jose State finished its dominant 2020 campaign ranked No. 24 in the AP Top-25.

San Jose State on offense:

Josh Love graduated as the 2019 Mountain West Offensive Player of the Year, but ranked among the top-5 in program history in passing yards (7,206) and completions (578).

Enter Nick Starkel, a former Texas A&M and Arkansas quarterback, taking over the starting job prior to last season.

With massive shoes to fill, he didn’t miss a beat.

Starkel earned second-team All-Mountain West honors, completing 64.2 percent for his passes for 2,174 yards, 17 touchdowns to seven interceptions in eight games. Starkel was at the forefront of propelling the Spartans to their first Mountain West Championship title and their first undefeated regular season in over eight decades. The 6-foot-4 signal caller returns for a sixth-year.

Its top three rushers — including backup quarterback Nick Nash — also return.

Tyler Nevens and Kairee Robinson were a very formidable one-two combination. Nevens rushed for 515 yards on 7.8 yards per carry (!!) — the fourth-highest mark nationally among players with at least 500 rushing yards — with a team-high five touchdowns.

Robinson had a team-high 82 carries for 345 yards (3.8 ypc) with two rushing touchdowns, adding 19 receptions for 156 yards. Nash, inserted to primarily rush, finished with 40 carries for 204 yards and a score.

The Spartans graduated their top two wideouts, All-Conference honorees Bailey Gaither (first team) and Tre Walker (second team), but still retain speedy threat Isaiah Hamilton along with stout tight end Derrick Deese.

Deese, a second-team All-Mountain West honoree, was third on the team in receptions last year with 20 for 240 yards and a team-high five touchdowns. Hamilton recorded 13 catches for 206 yards and two scores.

San Jose State returns its five starters on the offensive line, led by first-team All-Conference left tackle Jack Snyder.

San Jose State on defense:

The Spartans defense, which ranked in the top-30 nationally in scoring (19.9 ppg; 15th) and total defense (346.1 ypg; 26th), returns all but one starter. The exception being the team’s second-leading tackler in 2020, defensive back Tre Webb, who announced he was transferring in May.

The meeting pits the reigning Mountain West Offensive and Defensive Player of the Year award winners against one another: Carson Strong and Cade Hall.

Hall, a favorite to win the award again in 2021, registered a team-high 10.0 sacks — tying for the second-most nationally. He added 26 tackles, 12.0 tackles-for-loss and one fumble recovery in seven games.

The 2020 All-American is the most experienced lineman on the team with 31 games (27) under his belt. Hall is joined by first-team All-Mountain West honoree Viliami Fehoko, who tallied a team-high 12.5 tackles-for-loss with 36 tackles a season ago.

San Jose State returns its top tackler Kyle Harmon — tallying 78 tackles — 29 more than Webb, SJSU’s second-top tackler (49). Harmon added three tackles-for-loss, 0.5 sacks, two pass breakups and one forced fumble.

Its four linebacker unit also features seniors Tysyn Parker, Alil Matau and Hadari Darden.

Parker finished with 34 tackles, including 3.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage with one sack. Matau recorded five fewer tackles than Parker with 29, adding two tackles-for-loss with 1.5 sacks. Darden had 25 tackles with two tackles-for-loss and one pass breakup.

All-Conference safety Tre Jenkins commands the Spartan secondary, along with Nehemiah Shelton and Kenyon Reed.

Jenkins was third on the team in tackles with 42, tallying two of the team’s three interceptions last season. He added one sack on the year. Shelton was fourth with 38 tackles and four pass breakups.

My thoughts:

The Spartans were the conference’s best unforeseen surprise story last season. There might be some statistical regression with the loss of two of its best skill position players (Walker, Gaither), but San Jose State and Nevada are the two favorites to win the West Division next season, barring any significant injuries to either squad. Its near end-of-the-season meeting could have serious Mountain West title implications, similarly to 2020. Expect another tight-knit, edge-on-your-seat affair this time around as well, with Nevada looking to become victories for the 13th time in their last 15 meetings.