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Wolf Pack Week 5 opponent preview and prediction: Boise State Broncos

Oklahoma State v Boise State Photo by Loren Orr/Getty Images

For the first time since 2017, the Nevada Wolf Pack will take the field on the blue turf against the Boise State Broncos. Nevada’s played on the field twice since, though both came in back-to-back Famous Idaho Potato Bowl appearances — versus Ohio and Tulane — in 2019 and 2020, splitting the two contests.

Nevada hasn’t won a road game against Boise since Nov. 8, 1997 — when both programs were still apart of the Big West Conference. Nevada won 56-42 behind 557 passing yards from quarterback John Dutton, a single-game program record at the time (it was broke by David Neill, who threw for 611 yards in a single game the following season, a record that still stands).

The classic rivalry has featured many of sensational battles — including in 2007, 1990 and, of course, 2010 (look away Boise State fans) — though it’s been one-sided since the turn of the century.

Boise State has taken 16 of the last 17 meetings, dating back to 1999. Nevada’s 2010 overtime victory — led by Colin Kaepernick against No. 4 Boise State — was the Pack’s only victory against the Broncos since 1998.

This year’s Wolf Pack team, entering 2-1, carries their most talented squad since 2010. They opened the season with two consecutive victories against Cal (22-17) and Idaho State (49-10), followed by dropping its most recent affair to Kansas State (38-17).

The Broncos enter Saturday 2-2 — they’ve had two blowout victories to UTEP (54-13) and Utah State (27-3) with a pair of slim losses at UCF (36-31) and at home versus Oklahoma State (21-20).

Will history repeat itself once again Saturday? Let’s dive into the matchup and find out!

Matchup: Nevada (2-1) vs. Boise State (2-2)

When: Saturday, Oct. 2 at 12:30 p.m. PT

Where: Albertsons Stadium in Boise, Idaho

TV: Fox Sports 1

Spread: Boise State -6.5 (William Hill)

Money line: Nevada +210, Boise State -250

Last Meeting: Boise State won 31-27 (Oct. 13, 2018)

Matchup History: Boise State leads 30-13-1

When Boise State is on offense:

Through four games, Boise State ranks No. 6 in the Mountain West in total offense (370.5 ypg), No. 5 in scoring (33.0 ppg) and T-5 in first downs per game (20.5).

The offense has succeeded, in large part, through the air behind junior signal caller Hank Bachmeier. He’s completed 63.2 percent of his attempts for 1,132 yards, seven touchdowns and three interceptions.

Over the course of his career, Bachmeier has been better at home than on the road. In eight career home games, the 6-foot-1 signal caller has completed 64.6 percent of his passes for 1,893 yards (236.5 ypg), 13 touchdowns and three interceptions, sporting a 158.3 passer rating; in nine combined bouts away from home, he’s posted a 60.7 percent completion percentage for 2,268 yards (214. 2 ypg) for nine touchdowns to eight interceptions. His passer rating is 128.1 in such games.

Saturday marks Nevada’s first bout against Bachmeier, who’s started in each of his first 17 career contests. Against Utah State, he completed 22-of-39 passes for 287 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.

Receivers Khalil Shakir, Boise State’s swiss army knife, and Octavius Evans have been Bachmeier’s biggest beneficiaries.

Shakir is tied with Hawai’i’s Calvin Turner Jr. for the fourth-most receptions in the conference with 27, tallying 448 yards and three touchdowns. He is one of four Mountain West wideouts with at least 400 yards receiving and three touchdown catches.

Octavius Evans has 12 catches for 137 yards, while tailback Cyrus Habibi-Likio has eight catches for 106. Former Portland State transfer Davis Koetter adds seven receptions for 68 yards, including a 28-yard touchdown against Oklahoma State.

Boise State’s ground game — led by George Holani, Habibi-Likio and Andrew Van Buren — has gotten off to a staggeringly rough start to begin the 2021 campaign. The trio has registered a dismal 2.54 yards per carry, eerily similar to the team’s 2.50 mark — the worst in the Mountain West and the fifth-worst nationally. At the time of this writing, only Middle Tennessee (2.48 ypc), Notre Dame (2.29), Louisiana-Monroe (1.92) and Bowling Green (1.65) have posted works marks across the FBS.

Holani, who garnered preseason watch list honors for the Doak Walker Award (given to top running back), has a team-most 96 yards (on 30 carries; 3.2 ypc) with one touchdown. Habibi-Likio has totaled 60 rushing yards on four fewer carries with a touchdown, while Van Buren’s recorded a team-high four rushing touchdowns.

None of the Broncos’ tailbacks have recorded at least 50 yards rushing in a single game this season. Holani’s come the closest, posting 46 yards (on 13 carries) against Utah State.

The Boise backfield has a chance to get back on par against a Wolf Pack squad who’s struggled against the run thus far. Nevada’s surrendered the second-most yards per carry in the conference (4.81) and the third-most rushing yards per contest (187.7). To add insult to injury, the Pack sport a Mountain West-worst 5.6 yards per attempt against FBS opponents, albeit two Power-5 programs.

The Pack boast the conference’s best pass defense (149.3 ypg). They’ve also surrendering the conference’s fewest passing touchdowns (2) while ranking No. 5 in passer rating allowed (118.5).

Two of the Wolf Pack’s top tacklers have been from their two-base linebackers: Daiyan Henley and Lawson Hall.

A year removed from totaling a career-most 49 total tackles, Henley’s recorded 28 through three games, including two pass deflections and 0.5 tackle-for-loss. Hall, last year’s top tackler, is second with 21 tackles, in addition to his one sack and forced fumble.

Nevada’s front-four is buoyed by Sam Hammond and Dom Peterson, two All-Conference members. Its front has, however, undergone key performances from Tristan Nichols — who had three sacks against Idaho State — and Christopher Love, who also has a pair of sacks with nine tackles in three games.

Peterson has eight tackles with two tackles-for-loss and a fumble recovery returned for a touchdown, while Hammond has five tackles with one sack.

Nevada will be without safety Tyson Williams (knee) for the second consecutive game. In two games, he’s registered six tackles with one sack. Since the start of 2019, he’s tallied the team’s most tackles with 147.

He will likely be replaced by Jordan Lee, who has 11 tackles, one tackle-for-loss, one pass deflection and one fumble recovery thus far. Lee will be flanked by safety Jojuan Claiborne, who has 16 tackles — including 13 solo.

When Nevada is on offense:

The Wolf Pack offense is one slot above Boise in the Mountain West for total offense (430.0 ypg), but two slots behind in scoring (29.3 ppg) with a marginal dip in first downs per game (19.7).

Similarly to the Broncos, Nevada’s also struggled on the ground, though it’s not as confounding in a smaller sample. Nevada’s two tailbacks, Toa Taua and Devonte Lee, have combined for 4.8 yards per carry — which looks promising on the surface. The two, however, have generated three yards per attempt against in their two games against FBS competition.

Both tailbacks have seen a near 50-50 split in the season’s first quarter. Lee has tallied a team-high 27 carries for 93 yards and two rushing scores, both off the Wild Cat. Taua’s posted a team-high 155 yards on 25 carries.

Nevada’s success is, without question, predicated on its aerial attack — led by junior gun slinger Carson Strong, the reigning Mountain West Offensive Player of the Year. Strong’s completed 68 percent of his passes for 955 yards, seven touchdowns and two interceptions through three games.

The Pack’s litany of receivers lost one this week: It was announced that 6-foot-4 wideout Elijah Cooks — who led the team with four touchdown catches after accumulating eight in 2019 — would miss the rest of the season due to Lisfranc foot injury. Cooks was third on the team in receptions (13) and yards (157).

Doubs has tallied a team-high 17 catches for 259 yards and one touchdown, while Cole Turner’s recorded 14 catches for 135 yards and a touchdown. Melquan Stovall’s hauled in 12 catches for 126 yards. Tory Horton, whose role will undergo an uptick with Cooks’ injury (as well as Nevada’s other WRs), has nine catches for 172 yards — including two of 40-plus yards.

Similarly to the Wolf Pack, the Broncos’ defense have fared well against the pass while struggling against the run. It ranks last in rushing defense (210 ypg) and No. 9 in opponents yards per carry (4.49); Boise State places No. 5 in the conference in pass defense (208.0) and No. 7 in opponents’ passer rating allowed (123.7).

It’s no secret that the Broncos’ defense have forced a bevy of turnovers with 12 (five fumbles; seven interceptions) — averaging out to three (3!) per contest. Only Oregon (13) has generated more turnovers across the FBS.

Boise’s front four is led by Scott Matlock, who has three of his team’s nine sacks after topping the team in sacks last season with six. Matlock, an All-Conference honorable mention honoree a year ago, also has 15 tackles with one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.

Outside of him are defensive ends Shane Irwin and Demetiri Washington. Irwin’s recorded 12 tackles, three tackles-for-loss, one forced fumble and a pair of sacks, while Washington’s totaled 11 tackles with a-half tackle-for-loss and one forced fumble. Jackson Cravens, who has the most tackles amongst the lineman with 17, mans the nose tackle position. He also has one forced fumble with one sack.

Boise’s two-base linebacker spots are headed by Ezekial Noa and Riley Whimpey, who are No. 2 and 3 on the team in tackles respectively. Noa’s totaled 27 with 2.5 tackles-for-loss, one sack and a pair of fumble recoveries; Whimpey, a two-time All-Mountain West second-team member, has 26 with 0.5 tackles-for-loss, one pass deflection and one forced fumble.

Safety JL Skinner, the team’s leading tackler, commands the secondary. In just four games, Skinner’s tallied just six fewer tackles (45) than his previous two seasons (20 games), when he had 51. He’s recorded 2.5 tackles-for-loss with two pass deflections, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.

Prediction:

Saturday marks arguably Nevada’s best shot at dethroning its longtime rival since 2010. This will be a good matchup for both teams; both have struggled to run the ball and will face middling run defenses in hopes to get back on track. Though Nevada doesn’t rely on the ground game as much as Boise, it’s still crucial for its sheer offensive success. The Pack, which has forfeited two turnovers (both interceptions) all season, must take care of the ball in order to win the game. Though we’re just now scratching the surface of Mountain West play, both programs have undergone slight drops from their upper echelon preseason ranks (for now) — so this game could be crucial for Mountain West title contention down the line. Nevada is 2-18 all-time against Boise State on its blue turf, so history isn’t in their favor. This is another coin flip that might come down to who has the ball last. Boise State: 28, Nevada: 27 (Season record: 1-2)