The San Diego State Aztecs travel to the Biggest Little City in the World to take on the Nevada Wolf Pack football team on Saturday, Oct. 22 at 7:30 p.m. PT.
The Aztecs have underperformed midway through the season, being at 3-3. While the Wolf Pack have slugged their way through seven games, currently in the midst of a five-game losing streak after winning their first two against New Mexico State and Texas State.
Nevada, arguably the worst team in the Mountain West, is coming off a difficult 31-16 loss to the Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors, who narrowly lost to SDSU, 16-14, in their most recent affair two weeks ago.
The Aztecs have not won two straight games all season, having alternated win-loss results in each of their first six matchups. They have also not won on the road yet in their two matchups this season, though this will by far be their best chance up to this point.
Let’s jump right into the preview!
Week 8: Nevada (2-5, 0-3 MWC) vs. SDSU (3-3, 1-1 MWC)
When: Saturday, Oct. 22 at 7:30 p.m. PT
Where: Mackay Stadium in Reno, Nev.
TV: CBS Sports Network
Spread: SDSU -6.5
Series History: SDSU leads 8-6
Last Meeting: SDSU won 23-21 (Nov. 13, 2021)
When San Diego State is on offense:
To compensate for any faulty quarterback play behind center, San Diego State has relied on the formula that has fueled its offense for the last several years: Pound the rock.
They’re not churning out 1000-yard tailbacks like Donnel Pumphrey or Rashaad Penny, but the Aztecs are operating with stable of four main running backs — led by Jordan Byrd, who’s rushed for 307 yards on 5.9 yards per attempt topped-off with a team-high three rushing touchdowns.
The backfield is followed by Kenan Christon, Cam Davis and veteran tailback Chance Bell. Neither have rushed for more than 105 yards on the season, with Davis recording the team’s only other rushing score.
San Diego State has gone through quarterback turmoil throughout the season, though will likely have southpaw safety-turned-quarterback Jalen Mayden behind center. He completed 24-of-36 for 322 yards and one passing touchdown against Hawai’i, and has looked like their best option moving forward for the time being. Good first impression, right?
He and the Aztec pass catchers will fare well against the Wolf Pack secondary, who has been staunch all season. Only Jesse Matthews and Tyrell Shavers have logged double digit catches on the season, combining for over 350 receiving yards and two touchdowns (both by Shavers).
Nevada’s secondary is the strongest part of its roster — led by Bentlee Sanders, who’s tied for the nation’s interception lead with five, and Tyson Williams, their leading tackler. They also have Tyriq Mack and Jaden Dedman, who rank No. 3 and 5 on the team in tackles with 33 and 28, respectively.
Though it’s struggled to find much production elsewhere. It’s run defense has taken a considerable step back since the start of the season, surrending 150-plus yards on four-plus yards per carry in each of its five losses, including 223 on 4.8 yards per attempt against Hawai’i last week.
Up front, it’s led by Dom Peterson, who’s been one of its only source of production on the defensive line. He’s totaled seven tackles for loss and four sacks. Only one other player — Drue Watts — has more than five tackles with multiple sacks along its front six.
Against the Aztecs, the Wolf Pack are going to have to key in on the run game and make Mayden beat them, for better or worse. SDSU is the in the bottom-20 nationally in scoring, passing offense and total offense as well as third down conversion rate. Forcing long down-and-distance situations will be a paramount for a Wolf Pack defense that has had difficulty stringing together stops over the last several weeks.
When Nevada is on offense:
Similarly to SDSU, the Wolf Pack have arguably been one of the worst offenses not just in the Mountain West, but in the entire nation this season. They’re also in the bottom-25 in total offense, scoring offense and total first downs per game. But they will be going up against a top-flight Aztec defense, who even though they’re not coached by Rocky Long, have still been serviceable under Brady Hoke.
Nevada is led by quarterback Nate Cox, who’s completed just 55 percent of his passes for 934 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Neither of its two running backs — Devonte Lee and Toa Taua, who have combined to score 12 of their 17 offensive touchdowns — are eclipsing four yards per carry.
Lee and Taua also represent two of Nevada’s top receivers. Its leading receiver, Jamaal Bell, has recorded 25 catches for 254 yards. Its second-leading wideout, BJ Casteel, is one of two payers (the other being Taua) to be the recepient of at least one touchdown reception, hauling in 22 catches for 221 yards.
Nevada’s inexperienced offensive line, which has struggled, will have to contain SDSU’s 3-3-5 front, beginning with Jonah and Justus Tavai.
Jonah Tavai, who recorded 14.0 tackles-for-loss and 8.5 sacks last season, has recorded 22 tackles, including 3.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage and one sack through six games. Justus Tavai has totaled 16 tackles with one sack.
Michael Shawcroft and Cade McDonald are SDSU’s two-most formidable backers in its 3-base linebacker scheme.
Shawcroft has led the team in tackles with 35 — including 21 solo — with four tackles-for-loss, two sacks and three pass deflections. McDonald’s totaled 30 tackles with four tackles-for-loss and one interception. Safeties CJ Baskerville and Patrick McMorris rank second and third on the team in tackles at 31 and 32, respectively. Noah Tumblin and Dez Malone, who started the season as backups, have also stepped at the corner spots, too.
This will be another game determined on how the Wolf Pack can stop the run, as previously mentioned. Air Force, Colorado State and Hawai’i have all ran through the Pack like a hot knife through butter, and San Diego State could expect much of the same if the Pack can’t rally together. That’s its identidy offensively, and with so many questions and inexperience surrounding the quarterback spot, much of the same is to be expected Saturday. Nevada will also have to figure out a way to score points, too. Prediction: San Diego State 30, Nevada 14 (Prediction: 4-3, 2-5 ATS)