Has everyone caught their breath?
Nevada avoided what would’ve been a disastrous home loss to Fresno State (1-5, 0-2) last week thanks to a goal line stand inside the final minute. With the narrow 27-22 win over the Bulldogs, the Wolf Pack improved to 3-3, 1-1 in the Mountain West.
Coach Brian Polian’s team now heads to San Jose on Saturday to take on the Spartans, Nevada’s second straight downtrodden opponent.
San Jose State (1-5, 0-2) has lost four straight and is surrendering a conference-worst 40 points per game. Its lone win this season came in a week two victory over the FCS’ Portland State, 66-35.
The road has not been kind to the Pack in Polian’s four-year tenure. During his stay, Nevada is 6-15 in the opposing stadiums, including a 4-9 mark in Mountain West play.
Playing at Spartan Stadium should provide some comfort, however. Polian started 0-7 on the road before picking up his first win away from Mackay Stadium, at San Jose State, in the 2014 Mountain West opener, 21-10.
Nevada was won seven straight over San Jose, including last year’s 37-34 overtime win at Mackay on homecoming.
Kickoff on Saturday night is at 7:30 p.m. The game will be televised on the CBS Sports Network.
About the Spartans
Coach: Ron Caragher (fourth season, 16-27)
2016 Record: 1-5, 0-2 Mountain West – West
2015 Finish: 6-7, 4-4 third in Mountain West – West
Quarterback: Senior Kenny Potter is coming off a strong junior season that saw him garner Mountain West honorable mention accolades. He threw for 1,984 yards and 15 touchdowns and ran for 415 yards and seven scores. This season has started somewhat sluggishly, due in part to a nasty leg bruise that cost him the fourth game of the season. He has played the last two games, though. Potter has completed 57 percent of his passes for nine touchdowns and is not running as much. That may change as he gets closer to full speed following the leg bruise. He’s averaging 11 rushing yards a game. Potter played arguably his worst game donning San Jose State uniform, last week, in a 34-17 home loss to Hawaii. He completed 16-of-30 passes for 160 yards and a score, but threw three interceptions for the first time in his career.
Weapons: The Spartans boast a mundane offensive attack. They’re eighth in the conference in scoring offense (26.8 points per game), tied for eight in total offense (391.3 yards per game) and 10th in rushing yards per game (164.7). San Jose has trailed much of the season and had to go to the air early. As a result, the Spartans’ 226.7 passing yards per game are third in the Mountain West. Justin Holmes, Tim Crawley and Tre Hartley are the three names to watch in the passing game. All three have found the end zone twice. Hartley has 346 yards on 20 receptions. Crawley also has 20 grabs, for 245 yards. And Holmes has caught 17 passes for 333 yards. On the ground, three different backs have led the team in rushing in a game this season.
What to look for?
-Nevada has once again been stellar in the turnover battle, forcing nine this year and committing just two. The Pack’s seven recovered fumbles are tied for tops in the Mountain West. On the other sideline, San Jose has also forced turnovers (12), but committed 14 – the most in the Mountain West. The majority of those turnovers have been through the air. Nevada will have a chance to improve upon its two interceptions this year against a San Jose passing attack that’s tossed 11 picks. The Spartans first six opponents have turned the 14 turnovers into 71 points.
-Can Nevada slow San Jose’s ground game? The Pack’s struggling run defense is becoming the predominant storyline for the 2016 team. The 269.7 rushing yards per game allowed ranks second-to-last in the Mountain West and is tied with Rutgers for 123rd (out of 128) in all of the FBS. Now, San Jose is not a dominant rushing team. It’s actually one of the worst running teams in the conference at 164.7 yards per game (10th in MW). But Fresno was the worst running team in the conference, averaging 104 yards per game, before running for 255 yards at Mackay last week.
-Led by Tyler Stewart, Nevada’s passing attack has not been explosive. The 161.7 passing yards per game are second to last in the conference. Only two Mountain West starting quarterbacks, Dru Brown (Hawaii), and Josh Allen (Wyoming), don’t have a pass longer than Stewart’s best this year (46 yards). And the 6.5 yards per attempt isn’t going to wow anyone. Stewart isn’t being asked to put up gaudy numbers though. He’s second in the conference in completion percentage (65.1) and nobody can knock his touchdown to interception ratio. He’s thrown eight touchdown passes compared with just one interception (at Notre Dame). Stewart will have a chance to grow those numbers on Saturday against a San Jose defense that ranks last in the conference in passing defense efficiency. Opposing quarterbacks have completed 64.4 percent of their passes (a conference high).
-James Butler has enjoyed things since Nevada jumped into Mountain West play. The junior stud ran for 169 yards on 21 carries in the loss at Hawaii and for 175 yards on 37 carries in the win over Fresno. He should continue that success on Saturday against San Jose State. The Spartans are allowing 247.5 rushing yards per game. Only Nevada and Fresno have been worse. Touchdowns are the only element missing from Butler’s game right now. He hasn’t crossed the plane since scoring three times in a home romp of Buffalo a month ago. That may change on Saturday. The Spartans have allowed 17 rushing touchdowns this season, the most in the Mountain West.
Saturday night’s matchup pins two offenses that aren’t very good against two defense that aren’t very good. Exciting right? Nevada’s road woes are certainly something Pack fans should be weary of – Vegas is. Many sportsbooks opened this game as a pick ‘em and the money has since made San Jose a 2.5-point favorite. Many will say Nevada ‘should’ win this game. And it should. But this team is not good enough to beat itself. Especially on the road. The Wolf Pack has to force a couple turnovers and turn them into points. It can’t turn the ball over, which has been a clear strength this year. And it can’t allow the Spartans to run all over the place. I don’t know if Nevada will convincingly check all those boxes (especially concerning the run defense), but it ‘should’ do enough to earn Polian’s fifth road Mountain West victory.
Nevada 29, San Jose State 27