Fresno State vs. Nevada: Three Keys To A Wolf Pack Win
Nevada hosts Fresno State hoping to stay in the Mountain West football title game race. Here’s how the Wolf Pack can beat the Bulldogs.
Can the Wolf Pack bounce back?
WEEK 14: Fresno State Bulldogs (3-1) vs. Nevada Wolf Pack (5-1)
WHEN: Saturday, December 5 — 6:00 PM PT/7:00 PM MT
WHERE: Mackay Stadium; Reno, NV
STREAMING: Fans can sign up to receive a free one-week trial of Fubo, which includes FS2, by following this link.
You can also find the audio broadcast on TuneIn.
RADIO: The Nevada broadcast can be found in and around Reno on 94.5 FM and elsewhere on the Wolf Pack Radio Network. The Fresno State broadcast can be found around the Central Valley on 940 AM.
SERIES RECORD: Fresno State leads the series 29-21-1. However, in the last meeting on November 23, 2019, the Wolf Pack defeated the Bulldogs in Fresno, 35-28.
LAST WEEK: Nevada lost on the road to Hawaii, 24-21, while Fresno State had its game against San Diego State canceled because of COVID-19 concerns.
ODDS (as of 12/3, via Vegas Insider): Nevada -7
SP+ PROJECTION: Nevada by 9.6 (71% win probability)
FEI PROJECTION: Nevada by 3.9
After a stunning road defeat against Hawaii last Saturday night, the Nevada Wolf Pack won’t have much time to lick their wounds because there’s still plenty on the line in a home date this week with the Fresno State Bulldogs.
The ‘Dogs have been sidelined for a couple weeks because of COVID-19 issues, but they put together their most complete performance of the fall before that in a road victory over Utah State. Like Nevada, they remain in the hunt for a spot in the Mountain West football championship game, too, which means that both sides had better be prepared to bring their A-game to stay in contention.
Here’s how Nevada can keep its title game hopes alive and beat the Bulldogs.
Three Keys to a Nevada Victory
1. Be ready to face the worst-case scenario on defense.
In a nutshell, this means playing without defensive tackle Dom Peterson, who is still listed atop the latest depth chart but missed most of the second half last Saturday after suffering an injury. Nevada head coach Jay Norvell told Nevada Sports Net’s Chris Murray that while no decision has been made yet, “[Peterson] didn’t really practice… and wasn’t able to run around very good” during practice earlier in the week. Considering that the junior leads the Wolf Pack in both sacks and tackles for loss, this is a critical thread to follow.
It’s especially important because, as a unit, Nevada’s pass rush has been below average nationally even with Peterson. Their 5.5% team sack rate ranks just 78th overall and fellow lineman Sam Hammond is the only other Wolf Pack defender with more than one sack. Against a Bulldogs offense that will be content to sit back and find opportunities to spread the ball around through the air, others like Zak Mahannah and Amir Johnson need to be ready to pick up the slack and get pressure on Fresno State quarterback Jake Haener.
2. Don’t get gun-shy about taking downfield shots again.
Part of how Hawaii was able to contain the Wolf Pack offense revolved around their determination not to let Nevada beat them deep and, for the most part, that plan worked. Fresno State may try and do the same thing, but it’s also true that the Bulldogs may not have the same caliber of cornerback that the Warriors had in Cortez Davis, who had most of the responsibility in covering Romeo Doubs, and that Doubs proved he could beat even very good corners, as he did in his game-long battle with San Diego State’s Darren Hall.
It’ll be interesting, then, to see how the Wolf Pack employ Doubs and whether it’s junior Wylan Free or redshirt freshman Bralyn Lux who lines up across from him most often. Free, at 6-foot-2 and 175 pounds, is the rangier of the two but it’s actually the 5-foot-11 Lux who leads the Bulldogs with four passes defended. Will defensive coordinator William Inge give them help over the top or trust the pair to handle him one-on-one?
3. Limit yards after the catch.
Nevada has received a lot of attention for the Strong-to-Doubs connection, but don’t overlook that Fresno State has plenty of weapons with which it can pick up chunk yardage, too. Despite playing only four games, the Bulldogs are the only team in the Mountain West to have four pass catchers — Jalen Cropper, Josh Kelly, Ronnie Rivers, and Keric Wheatfall — with at least two 30-yard receiving plays. Cropper and Wheatfall have provided the vertical element while Rivers has continued to prove he’s the best all-around running back in the conference by creating plenty in space.
Nevada isn’t in a great position heading into this game despite doing so as a favorite. Fresno State might still be getting players back onto the practice field from quarantine, but there’s no doubt that they’re otherwise well-rested. If Dom Peterson doesn’t play, the Wolf Pack will have a very difficult time getting the Bulldogs offense off the field, so while I think Nevada’s own offense is still plenty good enough to move the ball itself, there’s been enough drops and enough penalties and other mental mistakes in past weeks to suggest those elements could doom them again.
Expect a points bonanza, but I think the Wolf Pack will ultimately come up short.
Fresno State 42, Nevada 40