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Aztecs head to Reno to start the second half of the season against the Wolfpack.

Aztecs are still in the conference hunt with other teams exchanging body blows.

NCAA Football: Nevada at Air Force Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Renewed optimism as the Aztecs take on the Wolfpack

After a perfectly timed bye week, exactly mid-season, the Aztecs are poised to head into the second half of the year tied with Fresno State for third place in the West Division. While the year started rough, the Aztecs may have finally answered the lingering questions that needed answering. They may have solved their quarterback dilemma, the offense may finally be on track and injured players may be able to participate. Added to that, the Aztecs will take on a Nevada team that has lost four in a row, after starting 2-0. That’s alot of maybe’s, but right now it is anyone's guess who will wind up on top in the division. Heck, it might as well be the Aztecs. Momentum swings seem to be a weekly occurrence as last week's team to beat was the San Jose State Spartans, and they did become the team to beat as Fresno State beat them in a 17-10 struggle. Prior to that, it was the UNLV Rebels and it was the Spartans who handed them the business. Before that, all the futility was on display with Fresno State as they lost their quarterback. With the win against SJSU, Fresno is now 2-4 on the year. Who will capture the momentum this week? Nevada is a team struggling to find a consistent form of offense. They start Nate Cox as the quarterback. He has passed for 934 yards on 88/160 with 1 pick and 2 TD’s. He hit for 188 yards through the air against Hawaii and ran for 52 more yards, accounting for 240 of Nevada’s 277 total yards. Fullback Toa Taua has contributed 473 yards and Devante Lee 237 more yards. Taua and Lee are the key receivers along with BJ Casteel. Against Hawaii, the offense struggled with finishing drives, having to settle for three field goals by Matthew Killiam. On defense, the Wolfpack allowed Hawaii to control much of the game, giving up 396 total yards. Hawaii has been steadily improving and it is showing on the offensive side of the ball. The Wolfpack held the Warriors to 8/17 on 3rd down conversions and allowed Hawaii a perfect 4/4 on 4th down conversions. The Wolfpack feature cornerback Bentlee Sanders who has 5 interceptions so far this year. With a new resurgence in offense and a consistent dominating defense, the Aztecs should be able to put Nevada away by halftime.

San Diego State Aztecs (3-3) vs. Nevada Wolfpack (2-5)
Location: Mackay Stadium, Reno Nevada

Line: San Diego State -7. (Provided by DraftKingsSportsbooks) Over/Under 36 points. The Aztecs come in as favorites against a Wolfpack team that lost to Hawaii 31-16. The opening line was SDSU by 9.5 and has dropped to 7. The oddsmakers concur that there probably won’t be too much offense.

Date/Time: Saturday, October 22nd at 7:30 PM PST

TV: CBS Sports Network

Radio: San Diego Sports 760

History: This is only the 15th meeting between these two teams with the Aztecs holding an 8-6 advantage. The Aztecs won last years matchup in Carson by a score of 23-21. Prior to that, Nevada had won the previous three meetings.

Unlocking the Keys to the Game

  1. Will the new coaching changes have time to formulate a cohesive offensive unit during the bye week? There was a little excitement in the win over Hawaii. Jaylen Mayden stepped in admirably and while it remains to be seen if he gets the call on Saturday, the Aztecs have improved their opportunities to win. One thing that Aztec fans are hoping for is that the offense shows something a bit more than life support. It is tough to consistently endure dueling three and outs. Offensive coordinator Jeff Horton and QB coach Ryan Lindley have their work cut out for them as they attempt to retool an offense that ranks next to bottom in the nation in total and passing offense yardage. The big question will be what coach Hoke decides to do with the starting quarterback situation. As previously mentioned, does one bench a returning player from injury because his replacement played well? These two weeks should be a tryout again for a quarterback. Both offer talents and strengths, but it looks like it will be whoever has the momentum. This might also work out as a possible platoon situation. One would think whatever is needed to be done to win would be the strategy employed, but the Aztecs have been hard-pressed to establish a consistent winning mindset this season. It may be whoever has the hot hand during this weeks practice. One area that will need focus is the quarterback's timing with his receivers. Whoever is under center will be needing to dial in their reads and checkdowns.
  2. Will the Aztecs' be looking past Nevada to Fresno State the following week? In a season of mediocrity, one should not look past each week's competition. While those of us in the media might make predictions, it is the team that must focus on their assignments and not take an opponent for granted. Gone is Carson Strong from the Wolfpack's arsenal. New head coach Ken Wilson was left with an empty cupboard with the departure of Jay Norvell. As seen in the MWC this year, the game is decided on the field and predictions are for water-cooler conversations. The Aztecs need to bring their A-game as they have no cause or reason to rest on their laurels. Granted, if they take care of business against Nevada, then of course it will be full attention on Fresno State. The Bulldogs will be traveling to hapless New Mexico for their game on Saturday. If trends can be believed, it should be a Fresno State victory (they are 13 point favorites). The west is up for grabs this season. Fresno owns the tie-breaker over San Jose State who is currently on top in the west, but have a non-conference game against New Mexico State. They own the tiebreaker against UNLV who travels to Notre Dame, also a non-conference game. Hawaii has a road game at Colorado State and is a five-point underdog. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Hawaii come away with the win, confusing the division even further. The Aztecs own the tie-breaker over Hawaii. Next week's matches with the Aztecs and Fresno State as well as San Jose State and Nevada should help to clear up the definite top three teams.
  3. Catchall. Nevada is a struggling team. Long known for offensive prowess, they struggle for their identity. Not many players have stepped up as standouts, so they will rely upon a team effort to salvage their season. A win against the Aztecs will still give the Wolfpack a chance at a winning season, but it is a tough road with SJSU, Boise, Fresno, and UNLV awaiting. If the Aztecs fall against Nevada, the road becomes more difficult with Fresno, UNLV, and San Jose waiting. If the season does go sideways, at least they can count on the Aztec's basketball season to start (they received a pre-season #19 ranking). With this season's revolving door, who really wants it more? It looks to be a five-team battle at this time. Also of note is the return of several key Aztecs who have struggled with injuries, namely Burmeister, Shawcroft, Bell and McMorris. One must have said kind words to the schedule maker to have the bye midseason. A perfect opportunity to heal and tee-off the second half of the season. Mondays practice featured Burmeister playing at receiver. He seemed to be a natural at it and might be an alternate solution. There a lot of questions to be answered between now and game time. Will Burmeister supplant any receivers? Will he be backup to Mayden? The Aztecs seem to have more questions than the Riddler. Let’s hope they can find a super hero to save the day.

Analysis/Prediction: My initial preseason pick of this game was a 35-23 Aztec win. That was predicated on the Aztecs establishing a balanced offense and Nevada having a quicker recovery to normalcy. It would be hard-pressed to think that Nevada will be able to score that many points against an Aztec defense that has proven they are still one of the best in the conference. The Aztecs, meanwhile, struggled to put points on the board and will still find challenges until they can create an offensive scheme designed to dazzle instead of befuddling. Whoever is at quarterback, whether it be Braxton Burmeister or Jaylen Mayden, will be tasked to avoid mistakes, make smart decisions and execute. This sounds simple enough and should be so against an inferior Nevada team, but mistakes could lead to a quick turnaround. A score of 27-13 looks to be a more realistic bet, which is slightly more than the over. A pair of field goals by both kickers and three Aztec touchdowns. Will the Aztecs dominate the ground game, using the passing to keep the Nevada defense honest? Or will the Aztecs bust their hand and struggle to score points? One will see when the Aztecs visit the ‘The Biggest Little City in the World’ on Saturday.