The Pack is back.
After its much-needed bye week, Nevada goes to Albuquerque, N.M. on Saturday looking to prevent a do-or-die scenario to become bowl eligible.
Nevada sits at 3-5, 1-3 in the Mountain West and must win three of its final four games to reach the six-win threshold and become bowl eligible for the 11th time in 12 seasons. A loss would require the Pack to win out, including a home victory over first-place San Diego State next week.
Coach Brian Polian’s squad will have to do something it hasn’t done yet this year: Win on the road. Nevada has dropped all four games it’s played away from Mackay Stadium by an aggregate score of 115-51.
Going back to last year, the Wolf Pack has lost six straight true road games. It’s last road win came exactly one year from Saturday, at Fresno State, 30-16.
It will be the first time in nearly two seasons Nevada will take the field without Tyler Stewart running the offense behind center. Stewart, a senior, suffered what turned out to be a career-ending shoulder injury in the first quarter of the home loss to Wyoming two weeks ago. So now it’s redshirt sophomore Ty Gangi’s turn.
Gangi was sharp in relief against the Cowboys, completing 27-of-43 passes for 300 yards and a score. He also ran 10 times for 35 yards and another touchdown. His lone blemish was an interception that thwarted Nevada’s late comeback attempt.
Kickoff on Saturday night is at 7:21 p.m. and will be aired on ESPNU.
About the Lobos
Coach: Bob Davie (fifth season, 23-35)
2016 Record: 5-3, 3-1 (t-2nd Mountain West – Mountain)
2015 Finish: 7-6, 5-3 (t-2nd Mountain West – Mountain)
Quarterback: Redshirt junior Lamar Jordan is not going to scare anyone with his arm. That’s less an indictment on his skill set, and more a statement about what the Lobos want to do offensively: Run. New Mexico only throws the ball 15 times a game, averaging 106 yards a contest, the lowest number in the conference. Leading the triple-option attack, Jordan is averaging 49 yards and nine carries a game. Redshirt senior Austin Apodaca also sees time regularly, appearing in six of the Lobos’ eight games. Apodaca is the better passer of the two, completing 36-of-63 passes for 398 yards (66.3 yards per game) with three touchdowns compared with two interceptions.
Weapons: New Mexico boasts the best rushing attack in the nation. It leads the county in rush yards per game (357.0), rush yards (2,856), rushing touchdowns (30) and yards per rush (6.78). So it should come as no surprise the team fields multiple threats out of the backfield. Senior Teriyone Gipson leads all of college football with 10.71 yards per carry. Who’s second in the country in that category? His teammate, Tyrone Owens (8.21 yards per carry). Gipson averages 116 yards a night, just ahead of Owens’ 102.6. Despite the video game numbers, neither lead the team in touchdowns. Richard McQuarely instead has the honor. New Mexico’s short yardage back has scored 11 times on just 76 touches.
What to look for?
-There’s no way to sugar coach it. Nevada has been bad against the run this year. Allowing 268.3 yards per game on the ground, only four teams in all of college football have been worse. The Pack allowed Wyoming to run for more than 400 yards its last time out and it gets even more difficult this week against the premier running team in country. Nevada also saw the triple-option in the first game of the year against Cal Poly, and surrendered 383 yards on the ground. The extra week to game plan and get healthy won’t hurt, but Nevada’s front seven faces an awfully tall task on Saturday against a team leading the conference in scoring (38.5 points per game).
-Saturday will be the first start for Nevada redshirt sophomore quarterback Ty Gangi. Fortunately for him, he’s had an extra week to prepare as he tries to lift an offense that’s scoring just 22.5 points per game. Only Fresno State (20.6) has been worse in the Mountain West. The Lobos are a middle-of-the-road defensive team, ranked fourth in the conference against the run and seventh against the pass. They are however, coming off two strong performances. They held Hawaii to 298 yards (and 21 points) last week, and Louisiana-Monroe to 235 yards the week prior. It’s the first time since the 2008 season New Mexico held its opponent to less than 300 total yards in consecutive weeks. Gangi showed a lot of poise in the loss to Wyoming. It will be worth watching how he handles adversity on the road.
-The game plan will not call for Gangi to throw the ball 43 times as he did against Wyoming. Nevada must run the ball to take some responsibility off the redshirt sophomore in his first career start, on the road, but also to keep New Mexico’s offense off the field. The Lobos are seventh in the nation in time of possession (34:07 per game) and the Pack must flip that script with James Butler and Jaxson Kincaide out of the backfield. That’s new easy ask against a New Mexico front that’s allowing just 143.4 rushing yards per game – fourth best in the Mountain West.
-Nevada’s defense must win on first down. If Nevada can hold New Mexico on first and 10 and put the Lobos into and-long situations on second and third down, advantage Wolf Pack. It would force the Lobos to get away from what they do best and throw the ball. The less running, the better. New Mexico has only thrown seven touchdowns this year, compared with five interceptions. The outcome of Saturday’s contest will be decided on first down.
Saturday’s matchup pins two teams that are trending in different directions. Nevada has lost four of its last five, while New Mexico has won three straight and nine of its last 13 Mountain West games. The Wolf Pack has struggled mightily against the run and that’s what New Mexico does best. In fact, New Mexico does it better than every team in college football. Meanwhile, Nevada is one of the nation’s worst teams stopping the run. The bye week will help (Polian is 3-3 off a bye), but it’s not going to be enough to stop the Lobos triple-option on the road.
New Mexico 41, Nevada 27