Conference openers don’t get much more difficult than Nevada’s.
The Wolf Pack fell to 0-1 in Mountain West Play. In a heartbreaker. Against its biggest rival. At home. In front of the ninth-largest crowd in Mackay Stadium history. And looked like a ‘M*A*S*H unit’ after the game, coach Brian Polian said.
Polian and numerous players said the goal now is not to get beaten by twice by the Rebels. They don’t want to let the loss have an impact on the seven remaining conference games—starting with New Mexico at home on Saturday. Kick off is at 4 p.m.
This is the first real wave of adversity this season for Nevada, which is banged up on the offensive line and in the secondary. A loss in this one, a would-be second-straight loss at home, could send the 2015 season in a dark direction.
At 2-3, this isn’t a clichéd ‘must-win.’ But it’s pretty close.
The two teams haven’t met since 2012. Nevada won 31-24 at New Mexico.
About the Lobos
Coach: Bob Davie (fourth season, 14-28)
2014 Finish: 4-8, 2-6 (Last in Mountain West—Mountain)
2015 Record: 3-2, 1-0
Quarterback: The Lobos had used two different quarterbacks this year, Lamar Jordan and Austin Apodoca, but stuck with Jordan for the entirety of last week’s 38-29 win over New Mexico State. Jordan is a much better runner than he is a passer. Through the air, he is 29-of-57 for 418 yards with a pair of touchdowns to go with a pair of interceptions. He was just 5-of-17 for 45 yards last week. On the ground, however, he is the team’s leading rusher. He is averaging 80 yards a game and 7.9 yards per carry.
Dangerous Weapons: New Mexico does its damage on the ground, rushing for 290 yards per game—the second-highest average in the Mountain West. Jhurell Pressley and Teriyon Gipson are a legit 1-2 combo, averaging a combined 132 yards a game. Jordan’s legs will be a factor. With a limited passing attack, the Lobos don’t have a ton of talent at the receiver position although Dameon Gamblin can’t be taken lightly. He’s caught 16 passes for 242 yards. Both stats are easily team-highs.
What to look for
-After getting run over early in last week’s loss to UNLV, Nevada’s defense was impressive against a static Rebels offense which was led by a backup quarterback. The Lobos haven’t won more than four games under fourth-year coach Bob Davie but boast the Mountain West’s second-best offense. New Mexico’s 34.6 points a game are second-best in the conference. Defensively on Saturday, it will start up front, attempting to slow New Mexico’s prolific run game and put Jordan in an uncomfortable spot, throwing the ball.
-Nevada’s offense had brutal field position throughout the majority of the loss to UNLV, which hurts, but the unit looked bad with the exception of two touchdown drives. The offensive line endured injuries and had a tough time getting a push for running backs Don Jackson and James Butler, who ran for a combined 114 yards. New Mexico owns the conference’s fifth-best run defense.
-Tyler Stewart and the passing game is not the strength of the 2015 Pack. Nevada needs to run the ball to succeed. But Saturday could see a slightly-flipped script. New Mexico’s 232 passing yards allowed per game is second-worst in the conference—better only than Nevada (256.2 yards allowed per game).
-We will learn a lot about this team by judging its response from last week. An 0-2 start in Mountain West play would all but eliminate Nevada from Mountain West-West title contention and would seriously jeopardize its potential for bowl eligibility. How mentally tough is the 2015 Wolf Pack? We will find out on Saturday.
New Mexico will move the ball on the ground in this one. Possessions figure to be limited. But if the Wolf Pack can hold the Lobos to field goals, advantage Wolf Pack. New Mexico is 3-for-7 on field goal attempts. Nevada’s receivers struggled to get open in much of the loss to UNLV but get a reprieve this week against a struggling New Mexico secondary. Nevada could use a W. But it hasn’t been good in similar situations under Polian.
New Mexico 28, Nevada 24