When Nevada is running the ball: Nevada’s base offense uses one back along with three wide receivers, so its running game uses a spread zone-blocking scheme to create holes for running back Robert Hubbard and mobile quarterback Jeff Rowe. Hubbard and Rowe were both named to the preseason All-WAC first team, however, the Rams have shown an ability to stop running quarterbacks before with Colorado-Boulder’s Bernard Jackson. Currently, CSU has the top-ranked defense in the nation and it will get a chance to earn that ranking against a legitimate bowl contender. While Nevada does boast a good back combo, CSU, led by Jesse Nading and Blake Smith, gets the nod.
When Nevada is passing the ball: Led by Rowe and returning WAC first-team receiver Caleb Spencer, Nevada’s pass offense can put up a lot of points if not contained. In Nevada’s first two games, it has scored 40 points despite having two losses. Rowe has a strong, accurate arm and threw for three scores against CSU last season. The CSU pass defense has not been tested in its first two games; however the Rams have shown that the linebackers and defensive backfield can create pressure and sack the quarterback. The lack of CSU interceptions in the first two games, in addition to Rowe’s ability to throw the ball around, gives Nevada the nod.
When CSU is running the ball: After two games, CSU’s starting running back Gartrell Johnson III, is averaging 1.6 yards per carry. Johnson’s average is the worst out of any Division-I running back with more than 15 carries. Johnson is not the only one to blame for his miniscule average, however: the offensive line has not been able to create holes for Johnson and the other backs, Michael Myers and Nnamdi Ohaeri. Nevada’s defense is coming off a day in which it gave up 493 yards, but only 153 of that was against the run. CSU would kill for a day like that for its beleaguered rush offense.
When CSU is passing the ball: Caleb Hanie is coming off the most accurate game in school history with a 20-for-23 performance versus CU. Nevada runs a 3-4 defense using ball-swarming linebackers as the catalyst to create turnovers. This season, however, Nevada has generated only one interception. The Wolf Pack is also coming off a performance in which it gave up five passing touchdowns to Arizona State. On paper, this looks likes the biggest mismatch of the game.
When the Special Teams battle: There is little known about the scoring ability of the Pack’s special teams considering Nevada has not attempted a field goal this season. However, just like CSU, Nevada has had a missed extra point this season. As far as the punters go, Jimmie Kaylor has the edge with an average of 44.4 yards per punt compared to Thomas Barcia’s 37.8-yard average.
Prediction: Nevada Head Coach Chris Ault, with 177 wins, is one of the few active coaches with more victories than CSU’s Sonny Lubick, who has 124. Ault may have the experience, but CSU has a history of beating Nevada. The Rams are undefeated all-time against Nevada, recording eight victories with no defeats. While Nevada is in a must-win situation after starting with two losses, CSU’s passing game should be enough to overcome the ineptitude of their rushing game.
Final Score: CSU 31-23
Sports editor Mike Donovan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.