Nevada vs. San Jose State: Three Keys To A Wolf Pack Win
The Wolf Pack are in a must-win situation against SJSU to keep their title game hopes alive. Here’s how Nevada can beat the Spartans.
They need help, but first Nevada has to help itself.
WEEK 15: Nevada Wolf Pack (6-1) vs. San Jose State Spartans
WHEN: Friday, December 11 — 7:00 PM PT/8:00 PM MT
WHERE: Sam Boyd Stadium; Las Vegas, NV
TV: CBS Sports Network
STREAMING: Fans can sign up to receive a free one-week trial of Fubo, which includes CBSSN, 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 San Jose State broadcast can be found on 1220 AM (KDOW) out of Palo Alto.
SERIES RECORD: Nevada leads the series 22-9-1. In the last meeting on Octcober 12, 2019, the Wolf Pack defeated the Spartans in Reno, 41-38.
LAST WEEK: Nevada defeated Fresno State at home, 37-26, while San Jose State won on the road at Hawaii, 35-24.
ODDS (as of 12/10, via Vegas Insider): San Jose State -2.5
SP+ PROJECTION: Nevada by 1.2 (53% win probability)
FEI PROJECTION: San Jose State by 1.5
The Nevada Wolf Pack are on the verge of playing for their first outright conference championship in 25 years, but first they’ll have to overcome some unusual circumstances in their regular season finale.
Jay Norvell and company head back to Las Vegas for the second time this season to face off against the San Jose State Spartans at the old digs of archrival UNLV. Yes, that is a 2020 sentence if we ever wrote one this year. CEFCU Stadium is probably unavailable for the rest of the year, however, because of COVID-related health measures that Santa Clara County has imposed to slow the current pandemic’s spread, meaning that both sides will get a chance to do what they couldn’t in what we all assumed would be their final trip to Sam Boyd last fall: Win.
Here’s how Nevada can put itself in a position to reach the title game by beating the Spartans.
Three Keys to a Nevada Victory
1. Maximize red zone opportunities.
If Vegas and the advanced numbers didn’t give it away, this is about as even a matchup as you’ll find anywhere in the country and that extends in a number of directions. One of the most important, however, is how well both sides have done inside the 20-yard line.
On defense, both the Wolf Pack and Spartans have held their own pretty well against the national average, holding opponents to respective 84% and 80% conversion rates and, more importantly, are even with a 60% touchdown rate allowed inside the red zone.
On offense, however, lies one of the game’s biggest X-factors. The Spartans rank in a tie for 8th among FBS teams with a 94.4% red zone conversion rate while Nevada sits at 15th with a 93.1%, but none of the 26 teams with a conversion rate at 90% or above has done a worse job scoring touchdowns in those situations than the Wolf Pack, who have done so on just 15-of-29 tries (51.7%).
This is not meant to disrespect Brandon Talton, of course, who has been as automatic as ever no matter the situation, but Carson Strong has to be better than he’s generally been in the red zone. Though he has ten touchdowns and just one interception, he’s only completed 43.6% of his 29 attempts, meaning he has probably left a little something on the table here and there. Against San Jose State, he must be on point.
2. Slow Cade Hall and Viliami Fehoko.
It’s hard to find anyone outside of the Spartans’ athletic facilities who expected that San Jose State would have a pair of legitimate Defensive Player of the Year contenders, but how well the Wolf Pack keep the defensive end duo of Hall and Fehoko from feasting will go a long way toward determining how this game unfolds. After all, they’re the only pair of defenders on the same team anywhere in the Mountain West with at least five sacks each.
The good news for Nevada is they’ve passed each of their previous tests against strong pass rushes, allowing zero sacks to San Diego State and just two to Fresno State last Saturday, so it’s more a matter of simply doing it one last time. If they can, left tackle Jacob Gardner might have one of the more underrated cases as the conference’s freshman of the year.
3. Get another strong performance from the defensive line.
Even with a limited Dom Peterson last weekend, Nevada’s defensive line did a lot to make Fresno State one-dimensional and harried Jake Haener more often than not when he dropped back to pass. Though they only had two sacks, it could have easily been a lot more.
As Nevada Sports Net’s Chris Murray noted, this is a huge credit to former Wolf Pack walk-ons like Sam Hammond and Zak Mahannah, who’ve done their share to raise Nevada into the top 50 by advanced measures like stuff rate (19.2%) and opportunity rate allowed (45.1%). They’re in a better position to make San Jose State one-dimensional than Hawaii was a week ago if Spartans quarterback Nick Starkel gets off to another slow start: SJSU has averaged over six yards per carry in the last two games, but the Warriors and UNLV just aren’t on the same level defensively.
Considering how well these two teams have played all season long, it’s hard to envision either side laying an egg so close to the finish line. San Jose State’s biggest offensive strength, its passing game, showed some cracks last week against Hawaii, though, so the question is whether Nevada is better suited to help that work in their favor.
This game should be every bit as good as advertised, but I think the Wolf Pack will get their chance to host the Mountain West title game next Saturday.
Nevada 34, San Jose State 30