A road game at Purdue seems to be the perfect matchup for Nevada in its final non-conference contest.
The Wolf Pack has the opportunity to improve to 3-1, and receive a shot of confidence heading into Mountain West play, with a true road win over a Big 10 team. And it’s possible. Purdue has been bad.
The Boilermakers are 7-31 going back to the start of the 2013 season with four of those wins coming against FCS competition. Purdue went 2-10 last year. It’s lone FBS win came in a 55-45 home upset of Nebraska.
Still, Purdue opened as a nearly six-point favorite. It is the first time in more than two seasons that Vegas has made the Boilermakers a favorite (spreads are rarely released in FBS vs FCS games).
The Boilermakers boast one of the nation’s best passing attacks and had an extra week to prepare, coming off a bye in week 3. They beat Eastern Kentucky, 45-24, in their opener then fell to Cincinnati, 38-20. Both those contests were at Purdue.
Kick is at noon in West Lafayette, Ind., 9 a.m. (PST).
Coach Brian Polian said he’s not worried about the early start though. His team is used to starting early. He moved daily practices to 8:45 a.m. last year.
A win would move his record at Nevada to 21-21. Polian hasn’t been at .500 since the Wolf Pack was 3-3 in 2013, his first year.
Saturday’s game at Purdue will be televised nationally on ESPNews.
About the Boilermakers
Coach: Darrell Hazell (fourth season, 7-31)
2016 record: 1-1, 0-0 Big 10
2015 record: 2-10, 1-7 (last in Big 10 – West)
Quarterback: Redshirt sophomore David Blough took over the job four games into last season and hasn’t relinquished it. He completed nearly 58 percent of his passes for 1,574 yards and 10 touchdowns to go along with eight picks as a freshman. Two games into 2016, Blough is 57-of-100 for 646 yards and three touchdowns but has thrown six interceptions. So while leading the NCAA’s 16th ranked passing attack (in yards per game), Blough has shown he will force the ball. He prefers not to the run (he has seven carries for 51 yards this year), but will tuck it in the red zone. Two of his seven carries have ended with touchdowns, which is tops on the team.
Weapons: The Boilermakers own a middle-of-the-pack rushing attack, averaging 182 rushing yards per game (although the sample size is just two games). That puts them at No. 61 in the nation, one spot behind … LSU. Markell Jones is the lead back. He has 39 carries this year for 192 yards and a touchdown. The biggest threats are on the outside in a pair of senior pass catchers. Dominique Young leads the team in receptions (16) and receiving yards (210) and has one touchdown. DeAngelo Yancy has eight grabs for 148 yards and a team-high two touchdowns.
What to look for?
-It will come as no surprise when Polian comes out trying to assert the run game with James Butler. The junior is coming off a monster game against Buffalo, where he ran for 174 yards and a career high three touchdowns. Butler and the Nevada rushing attack ranks No. 46 in the nation at 208.3 yards per game and will be running at a defense allowing 219 rushing yards a contest, No. 104 (of 128 Division I programs). Freshman Jaxson Kincaide and senior Penn State transfer Akeel Lynch will also be used. Kincaide is coming off a 99-yard game against Buffalo and Lynch is returning after missing the Buffalo game with a concussion. It will be worth following who of those two sees the most time relieving Butler.
-Can Nevada get off the field? The secondary is the strength of Pack’s defense and it will be pushed against the Boilermakers, who can sling it around the yard. The Wolf Pack is currently eighth in the nation, allowing 132.3 passing yards per game, but that number comes with an asterisk. Cal Poly is essentially a run-only team, Notre Dame didn’t need to throw it, and Buffalo simply isn’t very good. Up front, Nevada has struggled mightily against the run, allowing a startling 284.3 yards per game. Only four teams (Louisiana-Monroe, Cal, New Mexico State and Georgia State) have been worse. The Boilermakers will throw the ball, but look for them to run more than normal. The run defense needs get shored up before play in the run-heavy Mountain West.
-Can Tyler Stewart build on last week? Stewart backed up arguably the worst performance of his career in the loss at Notre Dame with one of his best weeks against Buffalo. Stewart completed 16-of-21 passes for 160 yards (a 155.9 rating) with a touchdown and he did not turn the ball over. Receivers were given a little more room to run with the ground game going for 352 yards. Yards will be more difficult to come by on the ground in a Big 10 stadium. Stewart will have to make a few throws to move the chains. He’ll be throwing at a passing defense allowing 236 yards per game – No. 74 in the nation. Like almost any team playing Nevada this year, Purdue will likely load the box to key on Butler and dare Stewart to beat them.
-Purdue can’t get off the field. The Boilermakers boast the nation’s third-worst third-down defense, allowing a .561 conversion rate (23-of-41). Nevada will have to make plays on third down to keep the chains moving and make the Boilermakers’ explosive offense become a spectator. The Pack’s defense hasn’t been much better on third down, however. The Pack allowed Cal Poly, Notre Dame and Buffalo to convert on 23-of-49 third downs (.469), a clip good for 114th in the country.
Before digging into the matchup, common sense would have a hard time rationalizing Nevada winning a true road game against a Big 10 team. But Purdue has been one of the worst power five teams in the nation the last couple years. The game will hinge on two aspects. One, can Nevada continue to run the ball efficiently? And two, can Nevada slow Purdue’s aerial attack? If it can do both, the Wolf Pack will go into conference play at 3-1. However, if Nevada falls into an early hole with the early kick, it’s going to have a hard time digging out. This team is not built to come from behind, especially in a Big 10 stadium. Polian has preached about bucking the 7-6 trend of the last two seasons. It starts on Saturday.
Nevada 28, Purdue 27