We are officially 24 hours away from the Nevada Wolf Pack football team kicking off their home opener at Mackay Stadium against the Texas State Bobcats of the Sun Belt conference. This will be the first of two back-to-back afternoon contests to begin the 2022 home slate for Nevada.
Texas State has yet to make a bowl since joining the FBS prior to the 2012 season, when they joined the WAC before joining the Sun Belt just a season later. The Bobcats are led by fourth-year head coach Jake Spavital, who’s gone 9-27 in his first three seasons with the program. Though they are coming off a 4-8 season — the most wins in a single season they’ve had since they had seven in 2014.
Nevada, meanwhile, is led by first year head coach Ken Wilson, who picked up his first career win in Week 0 against the New Mexico State Aggies, 23-12. See the five takeaways I had for that game here.
Nevada’s had significant roster turnover, returning just six combined starters from last year — though only four active (two got hurt in fall practice). Texas State isn’t, ranking No. 23 in the country in production returned from a year ago (per ESPN): 89 percent on the offensive side (7th-most) and 64 percent on the defensive side (79th-most).
Can Texas State pick up its first season-opening victory (against an FBS opponent) for the first time since 2016? Let’s dive into the matchup preview below!
Nevada (1-0) vs. Texas State (0-0)
When: Saturday, Sept. 3 at 2:30 p.m. PT
Where: Mackay Stadium in Reno, Nev.
TV: Nevada Sports Net
Spread: Texas State -1.0
Last Meeting: Nevada won 34-21 (Sept. 29, 2012)
Matchup History: Nevada leads 1-0
When Texas State is on offense:
The Bobcats offense, who ranked No. 105 in offense a year ago, return nine of their offense starters. They also brought in big time intraconference transfer Layne Hatcher, who previously at Arkansas State.
Hatcher completed 61.7 percent of his passes in three seasons with the Red Wolves, throwing for 7,427 yards, 65 touchdowns and 25 interceptions — including 689 yards and six touchdowns in three career matchups against the Bobcats. In 2021, the 5-foot-11 signal caller went 201-341 (58.9 percent) for 2,423 yards, 19 touchdowns and 13 picks.
He was fourth in the Sun Belt with 16 career games of 200 plus passing yards since 2019, and is 7th among active Division-I quarterbacks in career touchdowns and 14th in yards.
Hatcher will be throwing to Marcell Barbee and Javen Banks, their top two returning wideouts who hauled in 10 of their 15 touchdown total passing touchdowns last season.
Barbee caught a team-most 40 catches for 520 yards — 28 fewer than Banks, who posted a team-high 548 yards. Both receivers split the deck with five touchdowns apiece and who have combined for 31 scores (Banks - 16; Barbee - 15) over their respective FBS careers.
Similarly to Nevada, Texas State will feature two primary running backs — Calvin Hill and Jahmyl Jeter. The former totaled 713 yards on 5.6 yards per carry with three touchdowns last season; Jeter, a bigger tailback standing at 6-foot (compared to the 5-foot-7 Hill), scored a team-most eight scores on the ground.
The Bobcats will return three offensive lineman — left tackle Dalton Cooper, right guard Kyle Hergel and center Russell Baker — from a team that ranked No. 83 nationally in yards per carry (4.0) and No. 66 in sacks allowed (28.0).
Nevada, however, returns just one starting member along its front-seven: All-Conference defensive tackle Dom Peterson, who forced (and recovered) a fumble in its 11-point win over NMSU in Week 0.
Up front, he’s joined by James Hansen, Louie Cresto and Marcel Walker with Naki Mateialona and Maurice Wilmer rounding out the linebacker spots within front six.
The most experienced group on its defense is its secondary, which intercepted four (!!) Aggie passes last weekend — two by corner Isaiah Essissima, one by NICKEL Tyson Williams and another by safety Bentlee Sanders. Each of the three aforementioned defensive backs led the team with five tackles.
When Nevada is on offense:
Nevada still conjured together 23 points against New Mexico State in Week 0, but offered an uninspiring aerial attack with its two quarterbacks.
The Wolf Pack began with Oklahoma State transfer and finished with Nate Cox; both saw a similar amount of reps. Cox was 7-for-11 with 27 yards while Illingworth was 7-for-12 for 51 yards. Neither threw a touchdown pass or committed a turnover.
Where Nevada got most of its bread and butter was on the ground, despite breaking in five new starters on the offensive line. Toa Taua — its only active returning offensive starter — had 19 carries for 109 yards. Devonte Lee recorded 13 carries for 61 yards and two scores.
Nevada only had two players catch multiple passes — Tyrese Mack and Jamaal Bell. Mack hauled in four receptions for 40 yards, while Bell had three receptions for 11 yards.
Texas State’s defensive line saw a massive overhaul, bringing in five Division-I transfers. The defensive front is led by returnee Nico Ezidore, who had 39 tackles with three tackles-for-loss in 2021. Within its 3-4 scheme, Ezidore will play next to Texas Tech transfer Nelson Mbanasor and Louisiana Tech transfer Levi Bell.
Mbanasor recorded just 38 career tackles in four years with the Red Raiders, while Bell had just 27 (plus 7.5 TFL’s, four sacks) at La Tech.
Texas State’s linebacking core is led by outside backers Sione Tupou — who was third in the team in tackles last year with 71, including 1.5 for loss with one forced fumble and two fumble recoveries — and Jordan Revels, who led the team in tackles-for-loss, was second in sacks (3.0) and fifth in total tackles (59).
Its two most fearsome defensive back is corner Kordell Rodgers, who batted away a team-most seven passes last year, in addition to 33 tackles and one tackle-for-loss. He is joined by safeties Tory Spears and Nico Ezidore — who combined for 75 tackles a season ago.
Nevada will have the advantage of already playing a Week 0 game. But with a majority of their core returning, Texas State has bowl aspirations. Nevada still probably has more talent but the Bobcats have plenty of continuity — personnel- and schematic-wise. Nevertheless, Nevada will be playing in front of a juiced-up home crowd and it has lost only one home opener since 2012. Regardless of what Vegas things, I don’t see that changing Saturday. Nevada 27, Texas State 24 (Season record: 1-0; 0-1 ATS)