The Nevada Wolf Pack looked to build off its 2-0 start with one of the best FCS teams in the country, the No. 8-ranked Incarnate Word Cardinals, on Saturday at Mackay Stadium at 2:30 p.m. PST.
Incarnate Word won the Southland Conference last year, reaching the Round of 16 FCS playoffs where the fell to top-ranked Sam Houston State, 49-42.
The Cardinals, who began the season at No. 14 in the Stats Perform FCS Top-25 preseason poll, picked up a convincing 64-29 over then-No. 9 Southern Illinois 64-29, racking up over 500 yards of offense and scoring on nine of their 12 drives.
Nevada is seeking its second 3-0 start in three seasons, picking up two victories over New Mexico State (23-12) and Texas State (38-14). For more on that two-game start, click here.
Let’s dive into my preview and prediction for Saturday’s Week 2 contest!
Nevada (2-0) vs. Incarnate Word (1-0)
When: Saturday, Sept. 10 at 2:30 p.m. PT
Where: Mackay Stadium in Reno, Nev.
TV: Nevada Sports Net
Spread: None posted yet.
Last Meeting: First Meeting
When Incarnate Word is on offense:
At his fifth school in seven years — no, that’s not a typo — quarterback Lindsey Scott Jr. entered the year with big shoes to fill behind center.
Scott was tasked with replacing Cameron Ward, who departed for Washington State after setting school records for passing touchdowns and yards in just two seasons. He won the Jerry Rice award for the best freshman in the 2020 season (2021 spring) and threw for 47 touchdowns — to just 10 interceptions — and 4,648 yards last season.
Scott certainly got off to a promising start with the Cardinals, completing 17 of his 25 attempts for 391 yards and six touchdowns; the six touchdown passes came were 66, 55, 79, 36, 39 and 38 yards, respectively.
Two of them were caught by Taylor Grimes, a former Illinois State transfer who topped UIW in receptions (87), receiving yards (1145) and touchdowns (16) in 2021. He had three receptions for a team-most 126 yards on the night. Darion Chafin, Jaelin Campbell, Brandon Porter and Marquez Perez were the other touchdown recipients. Chafin was third on the team in receptions last season with 59 for 771 yards and 11 scores.
The Wolf Pack have gotten promising start from defense thus far, albeit against rather poor FBS competition, leading the FBS with a plus-nine turnover margin.
Let’s start with its front-seven, spearheaded by Dom Peterson on the interior and Marcel Walker on the edge.
Peterson, an All-Conference honoree in 2020, already strung together three sacks with one forced fumble and two fumble recoveries through two games. Walker, a sophomore, has totaled five tackles with 1.5 tackles-for-loss.
It has also gotten solid efforts from linebackers Drue Watts and Naki Mateialona, who have combined for 13 tackles and 1.5 tackles-for-loss. Oregon transfer Louie Cresto and Utah State transfer James Hansen have also impressed on the defensive front, adding 1.5 combined tackles-for-loss of their own, in addition to six tackles and one forced fumble (Hansen).
Nevada’s strongest unit has been on the back-end. Bentlee Sanders has arguably been the team’s MVP through two contests, totaling 11 tackles, two tackles-for-loss, an FBS-most three interceptions to go along with one forced fumble.
Tyriq Mack tops the team in tackles with 13, while strong safety-converted-into-NICKEL Tyson Williams has added 11 with one TFL and interception of his own.
When Nevada is on offense:
While it’s still a small sample, it’s almost safe to say Nevada is relying far more on the run game the way Wilson intended it to.
The Wolf Pack quarterbacks — Shane Illingworth and Nate Cox, who have split the reps thus far — have attempted just 43 combined passes. Meanwhile, its running backs have logged 63 combined carries for 247 yards and five touchdowns.
Toa Taua leads the group with 37 carries for 145 yards and two scores, while Devonte Lee has 18 attempts for 81 yards and a team-most three touchdowns.
Neither of Nevada’s two signal callers have thrown for a touchdown pass yet, the first time that’s happened in two games since 2019. Illingworth has gone 18-for-25 for 152 yards, while Cox has went 12-for-18 with 70 yards in addition to 66 rushing yards (on 4.7 ypc) with a score.
Jamaal Bell and Tyrese Mack are its only two receivers who have logged at least five receptions thus far. Bell has totaled nine receptions for 71 yards while Mack has totaled six receptions for 54 yards.
The Union, again, currently feature five different faces on the starting unit compared to last year. Meanwhile, the long returning down lineman for UIW is Cameron Preston, who totaled 26 tackles and one tackle-for-loss a year ago after being earning a preseason All-Southland Selection.
Though the Cardinals return their linebacking core and the better part of their secondary.
MIKE linebacker Kelechi Anyalebechi broke a school record in tackles last season with 132, adding 8.5 tackles-for-loss, seven pass deflections. That came in addition to team-most four fumbles, adding one fumble recovery and two interceptions.
Defensive backs Elliott Davison and Kaleb Culp were No. 2 and 3 in tackles, respectively, combining for 157 with seven tackles-for-loss, 3.5 sacks, five picks and nine pass breakups.
Saturday is expected to feature strength vs. strength: Incarnate Word’s aerial attack versus Nevada’s experienced secondary. The turnover margin will inevitably regress, though I still expect the Pack to force a couple key turnovers at home. Or at least this high-flying Ken Wilson defense has made me expect that throughout this portion of the schedule. If it can limit the big plays and the deep play, it should have success. Offensively, Nevada will, once again, will be going up against an experienced front, so if it can fare better with the ground game than it did in its first two games, it has a good chance to keep the Cardinals potent offense off the field and allows them to control the game. Its passing attack hasn’t gotten off to a pretty start. Perhaps they’re still easing in Illingworth, who joined the team during the summer, into the offense? Nevertheless, I still think the Pack come out on top. Nevada 31, Incarnate Word 21 (Season record: 2-0, ATS: 1-1)