The revenge game is upon us. Well, kind of?
In Jay Norvell’s third game as Nevada’s head coach, with a gutted, re-building Wolf Pack squad, the Idaho State Bengals downed Nevada, 30-28, in Reno, Nev. It marked Idaho State’s second victory against an FBS program since the start of the century.
Matter of fact, the Bengals led 30-7 in the second half — and would’ve squandered the 23-point lead if it wasn’t for an incomplete two-point conversion try from then-freshman quarterback Kaymen Cureton, starting in his first career game, to Wyatt Demps.
Entering his fifth season, Norvell’s constructed a much more explosive, well-rounded, talented bunch — picked to finish atop the West Division in the Mountain West Conference instead of at the bottom of the totem poll.
Nevada picked up a 22-17 road victory over the Cal Golden Bears in its season opener — its third-ever road victory against a Power-5 opponent. The Wolf Pack trailed by 14 after one quarter, but strung together 22 unanswered en-route to the five-point victory.
Meanwhile, Idaho State comes off an eventful spring — playing six Big Sky contests after its FCS season got cancelled in the fall due to COVID-19.
The Bengals went 2-4, picking up two-point victories against Southern Utah (26-24) and then-No. 24-ranked Idaho (24-22). Three of their four affairs in the final minute; it fell to No. 13 Eastern Washington (46-42), No. 15 UC Davis (31-27) and Weber State (20-15), who they also played in the first game of the season.
Idaho State dropped its opening game, 35-14, to North Dakota, who placed No. 9 in the STATS Perform FCS Top-25 rankings this past weekend. North Dakota outgained the Bengals 368-301 and more yards per play (5.8 to 4.1), though it finished with fewer first downs with fewer turnovers.
Saturday marks Nevada’s first home game with fans since 2019.
Matchup: Nevada (1-0) vs. Idaho State (0-1)
When: Saturday, Sept. 11 at 7:30 p.m. PT
Where: Mackay Stadium in Reno, Nev.
TV: Nevada Sports Net / Stadium
Money line: ———
Last Meeting: Idaho State won 30-28 (Sept. 16, 2017)
Matchup History: Nevada leads 18-12
When Idaho State is on offense:
In Saturday’s loss, Idaho State quarterback Tyler Vander Waal struggled with efficiency and limiting turnovers, which plagued him much of the spring as well.
The former Wyoming transfer went 19-for-43 (44.2 percent) for 229 yards, one touchdown but three interceptions.
In seven games since the start of 2021, Vander Waal’s completed 52.3 percent of his attempts for 2,072 yards, 13 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He was the Big Sky’s Newcomer of the Year this spring.
Malakai Rango and Raiden Hunter split the load in the backfield. Rango had a team-high 13 carries for 34 yards and a touchdown, while Hunter added 11 carries for a team-most 37 yards.
Xavier Guillory, sporting 18 receptions for 324 yards in his first collegiate action over the spring, hauled-in a team-high five receptions for 79 yards. Four separate Bengal players tallied three receptions apiece: Tanner Connor, Shane Dailey Jr., Christian Fredrickson and Rango.
Connor was the only one of the aforementioned bunch with a receiving score — a 31-yarder in the fourth quarter off the three-score loss. He led the team in catches in six spring contests — adding 34 for 685 and three touchdowns. No other Bengal wideout had more than 20. Frederickson hauled-in 20 catches for 243 yards and two touchdowns.
Nevada’s defensive line is led by All-Conference honorees Dom Peterson and Sam Hammond.
Hammond was one of two Wolf Pack players to record a sack in Saturday’s win, ending Cal’s four-year nine-game win streak against regular season non-conference opponents.
Hammond, Peterson, Grzesiak and Zak Mahannah had two tackles apiece. Though the Wolf Pack’s back-seven had a busy evening.
Safety JoJuan Claiborne led the team with 10 tackles, while Daiyan Henley finished with nine. Both tallied 0.5 tackle-for-loss in the winning effort.
Two incoming transfers — Bentlee Sanders (South Florida) and Isaiah Essissima (Wake Forest) — had productive evenings as well. Sanders, a nickel corner, finished with six tackles. Essissima added four tackles, but intercepted Cal’s Chase Garbers with under five minutes to go in the fourth quarter Saturday.
When Nevada is on offense:
Strong was recently named the Mountain West Offensive Player of the Week, throwing for 312 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Strong completed 22 of his 39 pass attempts, though seven of them were drops.
Last year, the 6-foot-4 gun slinger completed a conference-best 70.1 percent of his throws, also posting conference-bests in passing yards (2,858) and touchdowns (27) with four interceptions.
The Wolf Pack struggled with their ground game against Cal, rushing for 61 total yards on 26 carries (2.3 ypc). Toa Taua tallied 37 yards on 10 carries, while Devonte Lee had 36 yards on 11 carries.
Cole Turner, who finished second in receptions and receiving yards last year, finished with a team-high seven catches for 75 yards. Romeo Doubs — the Mountain West’s only 1,000 yard receiver a year ago — posted six catches for a team-most 83 yards with a touchdown, coming from 43 yards out.
Sophomore wideout Tory Horton had three catches, though sporting a team-high 94 yards.
The Wolf Pack will be without starting right guard Drew Cannon, who suffered a knee injury against Cal. Left guard Jermaine Ledbetter’s status is also in question with an ankle injury, though Norvell said that he hopes Ledbetter becomes available to play as the week transpires.
After topping the squad with 60 combined tackles in the spring — 26 more than any other Bengal player — sophomore linebacker Connor Willis registered a team-high 14 tackles with one forced fumble in Saturday’s loss.
Linebacker Darian Green added 12 with 2.5 for loss after accumulating 31 with 4.5 tackles-for-loss (two sacks) in the spring. Nick Larriva had seven, while Oshea Trujillo tallied five, though had two tackles behind the line of scrimmage with one fumble recovery.
Defensive linemen Jake McGinnis, who had nine tackles in four combined spring games, had nine on Saturday alone — third-most on the team — in addition to one forced fumble
Jayden Dawson, a first team All-Big Sky honoree, leads the Bengal secondary. It ranked No. 4 in the Big Sky in defensive pass efficiency rating over the spring, in large part due to Dawson’s presence.
He was fourth on the team in tackles with 30 and finished on Saturday with five, adding one pass breakup against North Dakota.
Nevada should win this game handedly. Idaho State isn’t an FCS program that’ll necessarily roll over, but Nevada’s potent offensive attack coupled with its budding defense should be enough to win this game by at least three scores. Carson Strong is going to overwhelm Idaho State’s back-seven and I believe Nevada’s defense will bounce back. Could be this read like trap game, with Kansas State next weekend, in front of an energized, giddy home crowd? Time will tell, but I don’t think so. Prediction: Nevada 38, Idaho State 10 (Season record: 0-1)