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Nevada vs. Air Force Prediction: Mountain West Foes Meet on Friday Night

Wolf Pack, Falcons eager to bounce back from disappointing losses lst week.

Bolts of lightning?

The Nevada Wolf Pack have seen enough of those.

While plenty of such strikes in the sky disrupted their game against Iowa in Iowa City last Saturday, it'll be ones on the field trying to do the same this Friday night at Falcon Stadium Colorado Springs.

The hope is they don't get lit up by the host Air Force Falcons — which sport trademark thunderbolts on their helmets — as they did in the 27-0 weather-delayed Week 3 loss to the Hawkeyes.

Related: College Football Predictions for Every Game in Week 4

"That's a first right there," Nevada head coach Ken Wilson said of three lightning delays — all in the second half. "First one, we fed (the players) some food. The long one, we let them take their pads off, let them walk around in the hallway. The last one, we knew it wouldn't be too long, so we just put together our plan for the rest of the game."

Unfortunately, that plan didn't jolt the Wolf Pack to a comeback, as they were shut out on the marathon night by the host Hawkeyes in ugly fashion and fell to 2-2 heading into their first Mountain West game of the season.

Meanwhile, the Falcons themselves were shocked by the host Wyoming Cowboys during their conference opener last Friday night.

Despite being more than two-touchdown favorites, Air Force failed to flash in a frustrating 17-14 loss, dropping their first game of the year after a 2-0 start to the season.

So after getting zapped, the Falcons plan to file a winning flight plan on home turf this week.

“You never want to lose,” said Air Force quarterback Haaziq Daniels. “It's disappointment. You've got to learn from it — you've got to move on and try to get better.”

Nevada at Air Force

Kickoff: Friday, Sept. 23 at 8 p.m. ET
TV: FS1
Live Stream: fuboTV (Start your free trial)
Spread: Air Force -24
Tickets: As low as $16 on SITickets.com

When Nevada Has the Ball

The Wolf Pack's offense lacked bite last Saturday, averaging just 2.4 yards per play for only 151 total against Iowa. The passing attack — at 2.9 yards per attempt — was only slightly better than the ground game — just 1.9 yards per rush.

Ouch.

Most of that listlessness could be blamed on the absence of quarterback Nate Cox, who lined up for just one snap because of an undisclosed injury that apparently kept him from being able to throw the ball.

Instead, it was Oklahoma State transfer Shane Illingworth getting the start at quarterback, and the sophomore struggled with both the weather delays and the Hawkeyes' defense. He finished with 14-for-28 passing for 82 yards with an interception. A week earlier, Cox threw for more than 300 yards — albeit in a 55-41 loss to FCS Incarnate Word.

But without Cox against Iowa, Nevada just didn't move the ball against a heralded defense. The rain-soaked game and three weather delays certainly didn't help the cause.

"I don't think our offense ever got in a rhythm at any time," Wilson told reporters. "We never had a sustained drive. A lot of credit to Iowa's defense. Even when we made a couple of plays, they shut us right back down. They got pressure on our quarterback, and we didn't run the ball very well, and that left our defense on the field for way too long."

The good news is Cox has been declared "good this week" by Wilson, so expect to see more of him under center.

Air Force head coach Troy Calhoun said his team is preparing for both. "In regards to the quarterbacks … [there's] a guy that has touch and a really, really strong arm — they both do. There are some similarities."

No matter who's under center, the Wolf Pack will face a staunch Falcons defense.

It was a bend-but-don't-break effort against Wyoming last week, giving up two touchdowns and a field goal to the Cowboys, who leaned more on their ground game (180 yds., 5.1 ypc) to outlast the Falcons. Air Force ranks in the top 30 nationally in both scoring and passing defense and just outside of that range in total defense. This unit has produced six takeaways — including junior safety Camby Goff's team-leading two interceptions — but has recorded just one sack thus far.

When Air Force Has the Ball

Last week, Nevada was met by a trio of lightning delays.

This week, the Wolf Pack face the dreaded triple option of Air Force. And it's likely to be running hot after last week's stumble against Wyoming.

"It's extremely frustrating," said Falcons' leading rusher Brad Roberts, who managed just 54 yards on 17 carries against the Cowboys. "We've got to be better. That comes down to every position."

Indeed, the offensive line has to create the holes, and the ball carriers, including senior Roberts, have to hit them. Otherwise, the Air Force attack fizzles.

After piling up 509 yards on the ground in the first two games, the Falcons totaled 171 on 40 attempts (4.3 ypc). It's still the No. 1 rushing offense in the nation, and by a good margin (396 ypg vs. 312.7 for No. 2 Minnesota).

If there was a bright spot last Friday, it was the emergence of junior John Lee Eldridge III, who posted a career-high 104 yards on 13 carries (8.0 ypc).

Daniels also tied his career-best mark with two touchdown passes but he was ineffective on the ground with nine yards on six attempts. That simply can't happen if Air Force is going to contend for the Mountain West title.

The Falcons need both Daniels and Roberts to return to rolling form. Or, perhaps, they can get another 200-yard game from senior DeAndre Hughes, who torched Nevada in the 41-39 triple-overtime win. In that game, Air Force totaled 499 yards and 26 first downs but only 23 of them came through the air.

The Wolf Pack defense is well aware of what's needed to defeat the Falcons and the effort will be led by defensive tackle Dom Peterson. A two-time All-Mountain West selection, Peterson was on the Bednarik Award preseason watch list and will be critical to limiting the damage Air Force does on the ground.

Turnovers will be key too. Nevada is tied for the national lead with 11 takeaways, although seven of them are interceptions. Senior defensive back Bentlee Sanders is No. 1 in FBS with four picks, one of which he returned for a touchdown.

Final Analysis

Air Force's ability to run will decide this one.

If Nevada can stop it like Wyoming did last week and engineer its own extended drives, then there's a chance to keep it close.

"Hopefully, as we get into the (Mountain West) season here starting this Friday night, we'll have a system and a routine," Wilson told reporters, "and these guys will start playing better together and you'll see that stuff be able to keep us on the field longer and get more extended drives and be able to get some big plays out of those guys."

That all said, the experts haven't got a lot of faith in the Wolf Pack, figuring them to be a rebuilding team following the departure of former head coach Jay Norvell to conference rival Colorado State along with the exodus of several key players. Getting shut out by Iowa on the road in a weather-delayed game couldn't have helped the team's confidence either.

And the Falcons, despite last week's tough outing, are considered strong contenders for the title this fall. That rough go last week in Laramie might just have been the stumble they needed to power through the rest of the schedule with expected Air Force toughness.

"We're just going to have to get better and better and better as we go throughout the season," Calhoun added. "We're cranking it up on Friday night and playing a really, really hard opponent."

Prediction: Air Force 30, Nevada 10

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– Written by Todd Saelhof, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sports editor/writer for Postmedia in Canada. Follow him on @ToddSaelhofPM at #CollegeFootballFrenzy.

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