Nevada started its seasons in one of the worst and best ways possible. Losing in a blowout to No. 6 ranked USC was tough to swallow, but it provided plenty of learning points. With a 0-1 record, the Wolf Pack are heading home to Mackay Stadium for their home opener against Idaho.
The Vandals start their season 1-0, after a 44-17 victory on the road against Lamar. The history leans in Nevada’s favor, as they’ve won the last seven meetings against Idaho and a 9-3 record all time.
While the Wolf Pack will look to continue that streak, there’s another skid they’re hoping to break. Nevada has lost its last 11 home games, going back to Week 2 of the 2022 season. It’ll be another tough out-of-conference game for Nevada, but facing Idaho is much more fair over USC.
Idaho (1-0) vs. Nevada (0-1)
Location: Mackay Stadium
Date/Time: Saturday, September 9 at 4:00 PST
Broadcast: Nevada Sports Network, SWX (Idaho,) Mountain West Network
History: This will be the 13th time Idaho and Nevada face off. The most recent matchup was in 2011, where Nevada won 56-3. Nevada is 9-3 overall against Idaho and carries a seven-game winning streak.
Keys to the Game:
- Can Nevada’s defense rebound?
Playing against Caleb Williams and USC is going to make any defense look bad. Still, it can’t be used as an excuse. The tackling was poor, the angles the secondary took were poor, and there was no real threat to the QB. We’ve discussed the potential this defense has, but it’s nowhere near the same level as the offense.
I will give some credit to the defense against USC. Even though we saw Patrick Mahomes-type moves from Williams, Nevada’s defense is the reason for that. The secondary kept the windows tight for a bit, allowing the defensive line to force Williams out of the pocket. He had to run around and dodge some tackles, complimenting Nevada’s defense and its ability to make Williams uncomfortable.
Nevada will still have its hands full with Idaho’s offense. Running back Anthony Woods rushed for 138 yards in Week 1, scoring two touchdowns. Quarterback Gevani McCoy threw for 164 yards with two touchdowns as well. Containing the run game against Idaho seems to be key and will present a good challenge to a young defensive line.
2. Nevada needs its run game to get going
Nevada has two Pac-12 transfers in Sean Dollars and Ashton Hayes in the backfield. They were both pretty silent in Week 1, minus the Dollars touchdown in the first quarter. If Nevada is going to win this game, more production will need to come out of both.
Of course, they’re running behind a very young and inexperienced offensive line. Both Dollars and Hayes will have to carry that workload if they want to be explosive, but the passing game can’t be relied on.
Both running backs only got nine carries, so Ken Wilson will need to open the playbook a bit more to give them more attempts. I still believe Dollars will finish the season with over 1,000 rushing yards, and showing out in front of the home crowd is the perfect time to wake up.
3. Let’s see more of what Brendon Lewis can do
While he didn’t play the entirety of the USC game, Lewis gave Wolf Pack fans plenty to be excited about. He threw for 182 yards, including the 73-yard bomb to wide receiver Spencer Curtis. USC kept Lewis’ run game at bay, but he’s still a very good dual-threat QB.
Bouncing back to the offensive line, Lewis is going to have to move out of the pocket a lot. He was sacked five times in Week 1 and finished in the negatives with -15 rushing yards. The talent is there, and Lewis is still breaking off the rust after not being a starter since 2021.
I expect Lewis to be closer to the 300-yard passing range, with about 40-50 rushing yards. Even though we saw backup QB AJ Bianco finish off Week 1 strong, I don’t expect Lewis’ starting job to be in any jeopardy yet. Let him continue to work around these out-of-conference games and give Nevada fans something to be excited about at Mackay.
I’d argue that this is a must-win game for Nevada. Going down 0-2 with more out-of-conference play is going to be a huge gut punch to this program. Between that and the history of these two programs, I expect Nevada to come out of this game with a win. The defense will still go through growing pains, so it’ll turn out to be a close shootout.
I’ll go ahead and say 31-28 Nevada, with a Brandon Talton field goal in the fourth quarter to give Nevada the win. The USC game didn’t give Nevada fans a fair evaluation of what this team is capable of, so it’s going to be a mystery what kind of team we’ll see. This offense could very well score 35-plus, or could revert to Week 1 and score under 20. For Nevada fans, let’s hope for the former and have a good home opener on Saturday night.