The Nevada Wolf Pack will look to rebound after six straight losses, while seeing plenty of new faces, as they take on the San Jose State Spartans on Saturday night in San Jose, Calif.
I’ll talk about them more when I get into the matchup preview for both teams — but the Spartans roster three former Wolf Pack receivers, two of them from last year’s Wolf Pack roster: Elijah Cooks and Justin Lockhart.
Both have been key to San Jose State’s high-powered offense so far. It is 2-1 in Mountain West play thus far and in the mix as one of favorites to make it out of the West Division. Nevada, meanwhile, has arguably been the worst team in the Mountain West this season, having lost all four of their conference bouts, including to lowly Colorado State and Hawai’i.
Without further ado, let’s jump into the matchup!
Week 9: Nevada (2-6, 0-4 MWC) vs. SJSU (4-2, 2-1 MWC)
When: Saturday, Oct. 29 at 7:00 p.m. PT
Where: CEFCU Stadium in San Jose, Calif.
TV: CBS Sports Network
Spread: SJSU -24.5
Series History: Nevada leads 23-10-2
Last Meeting: Nevada won 27-24 (Nov. 6, 2021)
When San Jose State is on offense:
Former Hawai’i quarterback Chevan Cordeiro leads the Spartan offense, which ranks atop the conference in passing offense and in the top-4 in first downs per game, scoring offense as well as total offense.
While he and the offense have been inconsistent at times, Cordeiro has emerged as one of the conference’s most care-free quarterbacks despite only completing 56.5 percent of passes. He’s thrown for 1,610 yards with seven touchdowns to just one interception. He’s also second on the team in rushing with 173 yards (including sacks) for a team-most six rushing touchdowns.
Kairee Robinson tops the team in rushing, totaling 343 yards on 4.6 yards per carry with five scores, adding 12 receptions with 64 additional yards through the air.
The Spartans’ top three targets, however, have were former Wolf Pack receivers: Cooks, Lockhart and Charles Ross. Cooks, who posted an 76-catch, 926-yard, eight-touchdown 2019 season with Nevada, has registered 29 catches for 542 yards and three touchdowns so far this season; Cooks is the only Spartan player with multiple touchdown passes.
Lockhart has totaled 17 catches for 298 yards on the season, while Ross has 14 catches for 204 yards and one touchdown. Domiinick Mazotti and Skyler-Loving Black are the only other Spartan pass catchers with touchdowns.
They will be up against a good Pack secondary, the strongest unit on their roster. They feature leading tacklers Bentlee Sanders, Tyson Williams and Tyriq Mack, who have totaled 52, 50 and 41 tackles, respectively.
Sanders is still tied for the nation’s lead in interceptions with five, having returned one for a touchdown while also forcing three fumbles. WIlliams has registered five tackles for loss — most among the defensive backs, two more than Sanders — with one interception and two forced fumbles. Mack has logged 41 tackles with one interception so far this season.
Nevada’s top two linebackers have been Drue Watts and Naki Mateialona. Watts has recorded seven tackles behind the line of scrimmage — one fewer than Dom Peterson, who possesses the team lead — with two sacks. Mateialona has 31 tackles, 1.5 tackles-for-loss, one sack and one fumble recovery on the season.
Peterson is the engine that fuels the Pack defensive line, having conjured 20 total tackles, eight tackles-for-loss and four sacks. Thomas Witte, James Hanson and Louie Cresto have also made contributions on the front, too.
When Nevada is on offense:
Even eight games into the season, Nevada’s had problems at the most important position: Quarterback.
On Saturday, the Pack flip-flopped quarterbacks yet again as Nate Cox struggled on Nevada’s first few drives, transitioning to Oklahoma State transfer Shane Illingworth. Illingworth threw his first touchdown of the season in its blowout loss, but still struggled to move the ball down the field.
Ultimately, he went 21-of-33 for 181 yards, one touchdown and one interception, which isn’t the worst stat line in the world. But it’s not the best, either.
Either way, he might be in line to start his fourth game of the season Saturday, having completed 61.6 percent of his attempts for 415 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. I called for the sophomore to start the rest of the season to get him additional reps in preparation for next year and beyond, but that’s another discussion for another day. I digress.
Toa Taua has turned into the team’s leading rusher...and pass catcher. Taua has recorded 132 carries for 496 yards — just shy of four yards per carry — with seven rushing touchdowns, but now has a team-most 27 catches for 258 yards and one receiving touchdown out of the backfield.
B.J. Casteel and Jamaal Bell follow Taua with 26 and 25 catches, respectively. Bell leads the core in receiving yards with 254, while Casteel’s totaled 248 yards and one touchdown.
San Jose State’s front is one of — if not its top strength — on the defensive side of the football. They are led by linebacker Kyle Harmon, who’s recorded 52 tackles with two tackles-for-loss and one sack, defensive lineman Cade Hall, who won the conference’s defensive player of the year in 2020 after totaling 10 sacks and 12 tackles-for-loss, and Viliami Fehoko.
Byrun Parham and Jordan Pollard aren’t as experienced along that front, but don’t have as much pressure to produce when they’re surrounded by that amount of veteran leadership. Though both have been productive, to their credit; Parham’s fourth in tackles with 29, while Pollard’s recorded 21 tackles.
Tre Jenkins and Nehemiah Shelton are SJSU’s most prominant members in the secondary. Jenkins is third on the team in tackles for loss with five, in addition to one sack and three pass deflections, a team high.
Nevada’s struggling offense will be going up against the conference’s top scoring defense on the road. No matter how you slice the pie, that’s not an optimal formula. Nevada’s secondary must have the game of its life to keep this a close one, but I genuinely don’t see it being that class, barring something dramatic that’s unforeseen. San Jose State 38, Nevada 7 (Record: 5-3, ATS: 3-5)