The good news for Nevada fans?
The team found a way to win in Friday’s opener against Cal Poly. It wasn’t pretty. It won’t lead the highlight reel (although Wyatt Demps’ touchdown grab was No. 5 on SportsCenter Top 10). In all, it was an underwhelming unveiling of the new Mackay Stadium.
But the team would have the same 1-0 record if it won 38-17 (like one unaware sports scribe prognosticated).
Last year, Washington State lost at home to Portland State, another FCS team and out of the Big Sky, in its opener and went on to win nine games in the Pac-12.
The fate of the 2016 Pack is far from sealed. The sky is not falling.
The bad news for Nevada fans?
Here come the Irish. And they’re angry.
Notre Dame lost what will go down as one of the best games of the year on Sunday night, losing 50-47 at Texas in overtime, dropping eight spots in the AP Poll. That may be the win that puts Texas back on track to becoming, well, Texas.
The spread on Saturday in South Bend opened at just a hair under four touchdowns.
It will be a homecoming of sorts for Nevada coach Brian Polian, who was an assistant at Notre Dame from 2005-09.
The 12:30 p.m. kick will be televised nationally on NBC. Former Monday Night Football play-by-play man Mike Tirico and Doug Floutie (color) will be on the call.
About the Irish
Coach: Brian Kelley (seventh season, 55-24)
2014 finish: 10-3 (L 44-28 vs Ohio State in Fiesta Bowl)
Quarterback: Well, this is a little tricky. But it shouldn’t be. At the season’s start, Kelly said he will play both junior Malik Zaire and freshman DeShone Kizer. It is unclear how long he will stick with that after Sunday’s loss at Texas. Kizer did say after practice on Wednesday that he was given the starting job. Zaire was 2-of-5 passing for 23 yards and ran the ball three times for 11 yards against the Longhorns. Kizer maybe started some Heisman talk, despite the loss, completing 15-of-24 passes for 215 yards and five touchdowns. He also ran the ball 13 times for 85 yards and a score. Whether Zaire sees the field or not is to be determined. Kizer however, will certainly be a factor.
Weapons: Notre Dame would not be Notre Dame without talent at every position, including the skill positions. Lead back Tarean Folston ran for 88 yards on 18 touches against Texas, including a 54 yarder, the longest of his career. Outside, Notre Dame may be without one of its best receivers. Torii Hunter Jr. (yes, the son of the former all-star centerfielder for the Twins), took a vicious hit in the endzone on Sunday and left the game to go through concussion protocol. The call was not ruled to be targeting, although it certainly flirted with the rule of the law. Hunter Jr.’s status is unclear for Saturday’s game against the Pack.
What to look for?
-Nevada’s offense is supposed to be improved this year. The unit didn’t exactly blow the roof off the place against Cal Poly, scoring 10 points in the final 55 minutes of regulation. If Notre Dame is to put itself back in the playoff conversation this season, it likely won’t be because of the defense. That doesn’t mean Nevada is going to follow up Texas and hang a 50 burger on the Irish. First-year offensive coordinator Tim Cramsey will try to slow the game down and keep the Irish offense off the field. Nevada’s offensive line and junior running back James Butler will need to play collectively their best game of the season to keep this one competitive.
-Can Nevada get off the field? The new front seven got exposed in the opener. It wasn’t exactly surprising. Experienced groups have a tough time slowing the triple option, let alone a green front. Polian said before the game he wasn’t excited about playing Cal Poly and he said after he doesn’t want to play them again. Notre Dame doesn’t run the triple option. It spreads the field and wants to get its playmakers in space. The interior will surely be tested. The secondary, led by sophomore safeties Asauni Rufus and Dameon Baber will be particularly pushed. The Irish will surely go after redshirt freshman corner E.J. Muhammad as well.
-Much has been made of Penn State grad transfer, Akeel Lynch. Lynch figures to share the backfield with junior James Butler, who led the Mountain West in yards per carry last year. Lynch got just four carries against Cal Poly for 21 yards. Butler ran for 123 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries. Perhaps curiously, freshman Jaxson Kincaide was added to the depth chart this week at the No. 3 spot.
Nevada had its troubles stopping Cal Poly last week. It would be so lucky to have the same struggles in front of 80,000 fans at one of the most iconic settings in all of college football against a playoff contender. This has the potential to be one of those game films that finds its way to the dumpster outside the stadium. There’s a reason Notre Dame is writing Nevada a $1 million to take this game. Notre Dame is laying down four touchdowns in this one, and there are a lot of handicappers who won’t be deterred.
Notre Dame 45, Nevada 6