Nevada’s road woes persisted last week in an ugly 14-10 loss at San Jose State. It was the Spartans first win against an FBS team this year.
The Blue and Silver (3-4, 1-2) is now 0-4 in games away from Mackay Stadium this year and has dropped its last six true road games going back to the 2015 campaign.
Bowl eligibility was all but assumed at the season’s start. Now the team has work to do if it’s going to reach an 11th bowl game in 12 years. Coach Brian Polian’s squad was win must three of its final five games to get to the six-win threshold.
The schedule should help a little, although it was favorable early and here Nevada sits at 3-4. Only two teams on the Pack’s remaining slate have winning records heading into this weekend: San Diego State (5-1, 3-0) and Saturday’s opponent, Wyoming (4-2, 2-0).
It will be the first time this season Nevada will play a team that has a winning record at the time of kick.
Last year when these teams played, the Cowboys were 0-6 and still beat the Pack in Laramie, 28-21.
Wyoming, along with Hawaii, has been the largest surprise in the Mountain West this season. The Cowboys were picked to finish last in the Mountain West – Mountain and are coming off their bye.
It’s the fourth time this season Nevada has played an opponent that had an extra week to prepare.
Kickoff is at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday at Mackay Stadium (where Nevada is 3-0 this year). The game will be televised on ESPN2.
About the Cowboys
Coach: Craig Bohl (third season, 10-20)
2016 Record: 4-2, 2-0 Mountain West – Mountain
2015 Finish: 2-10, 2-6 last Mountain West – Mountain
Quarterback: Redshirt sophomore Josh Allen is one of the more dangerous dual-threat quarterbacks in the Mountain West. His completion percentage isn’t great (58 percent), but he’s making them count when he does connect. He’s averaging a dazzling eight yards per attempt this fall and his 10 touchdown tosses are second in the conference (Boise State’s Brett Rypien has 12). He’s also averaging nine carries a game for nearly 38 yards. His three rushing touchdowns are second on the team.
Weapons: Standing on the Wyoming sideline is arguably the Mountain West’s best running back not named Donnel Pumphrey (San Diego State). Brian Hill needed just two and a half seasons to set the Wyoming rushing record. He currently sits 3,148 career yards. Last year, he was one 11 national semifinalists for the Doak Walker Award (nation’s top running back), averaging 135.9 rushing yards per game. He’s on a similar pace this year, averaging 120.2 ypg on the ground, which is good for 11th in the nation. He’s found the end zone eight times. When the Cowboys go to the air, senior Tanner Gentry in the premier target. He’s averaging 5.7 receptions (third in MW) for 83.8 yards (fourth in MW) per game. His five touchdown grabs are tied for second in the conference. The Cowboys’ second-leading receiver has 16 fewer grabs than Gentry.
What to look for?
-Nevada’s defense held San Jose State to 137 rushing yards on 54 carries last week (2.5 yards per attempt). It was the front seven’s best effort of the year. It will need another impressive effort this weekend. As a team, Wyoming is averaging a middle-of-the-road 197.5 rush yards per game – good for sixth in the MW – but Brian Hill is the real deal. Considering that Nevada is allowing more than 250 rushing yards per game, this matchup certainly favors the Cowboys. Hill ran for 188 of Wyoming’s 272 yards in last year’s contest. The undefeated record at Mackay will be in serious jeopardy if Nevada allows similar numbers on Saturday.
-Running the ball is vital in college football (unless you play in the Big 12). Just as important as it will be for Nevada to slow Wyoming’s ground game, it has to get James Butler going. Easier said than done. Wyoming is one the conference’s best teams against the run. The Cowboys are surrendering just 140.7 ypg on the ground. Only San Diego State (98.0) and Air Force (129.0) have been better. Butler’s 117.4 rushing yards per game are fourth best in the conference.
-Because Wyoming has been so good against the run this year, it’s been able to get aggressive in the secondary and picked off 10 passes. The Cowboys are tied with Ohio State for No. 2 in the nation with four defensive touchdowns. Three have come on interceptions. Nevada senior quarterback Tyler Stewart was doing a good job of taking care of the ball this year before throwing a pair of interceptions in the loss to San Jose State. Nevada’s offense is not explosive enough to overcome major swings like defensive touchdowns. Stewart has to protect the ball on Saturday.
-The Cowboys have the conference’s worst pass defense and it’s not close. Wyoming is allowing nearly 292 passing yards a game – nearly 42 yards more than the next closest team, New Mexico. It’s a welcome sign for a middling Nevada aerial attack. Stewart was just 9-for-20 for 144 yards last week, 46 of which came on a screen to Butler. However, the constant deluge certainly factored in the deflated numbers. Nevada’s downfield passing attack hasn’t delivered many blows this year, but it will have a few chances on Saturday. It will likely have to make a few big plays considering Wyoming’s stout run defense.
I’ve picked Nevada to win the last four weeks and the team has responded by going 1-3 in that stretch. This is a team longing for an identity. The run defense has been a mess and the offense is relying too heavily on the ground game. When teams are able to slow Butler, the passing game hasn’t been able to pick up the slack. A lot is being made of the Pack’s issues on the road. The Cowboys can sympathize. They snapped a nine-game road losing streak three weeks ago at Colorado State. A win on Saturday would give them consecutive road victories for the first time since 2012. Playing at Mackay will provide some comfort for the Pack, but comfort doesn’t win ball games. Hill should find plenty of holes to run through and Nevada’s bowl aspirations will take a serious blow.
Wyoming 32, Nevada 23