Strong on paper and super strong in the passing game hasn’t been enough for the Nevada Wolf Pack. Despite the excellence of quarterback Carson Strong, their Mountain West title hopes have vanished.
Back-to-back losses late in the season will do that to a team.
So instead of gearing up for next week’s conference championship, the Wolf Pack (7-4, 4-3 MW) will play the Colorado State Rams on Saturday night only to prepare for the bowl season.
“That’s tough to swallow,” Nevada head coach Jay Norvell. “The last two weeks have been tough.”
The host Rams, meanwhile, are simply playing for pride in their final tilt of the campaign Saturday night at Canvas Stadium in Fort Collins, Colorado. There’s no title in sight, with a 2-5 conference mark, and not even a bowl bid in play, entering this game with a 3-8 overall record.
“Obviously we have fallen short and our record is not where we want it to be as a record, but our program building is where we want it to be,” Colorado State head coach Steve Addazio told reporters. "We've really come a long way from the last year when he first got here to where we are now, and we continue to build. I've been here for six years, and this is the team I'm most proud of.
“I’ve been with a lot of teams with a lot of guys, but this team keeps fighting and keeps pushing. We've come a long way, and we're going to continue to do that.”
Nevada at Colorado State
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 27, at 9 p.m. ET
TV: CBS Sports Network
Spread: Nevada -4
When Nevada Has the Ball
It was a slow start for Strong & Co. in last week’s 41-39 triple-overtime home loss to Air Force. He was sacked five teams in the first half as the offense managed just a field goal in the first 30 minutes.
Norvell pointed to the pivotal Week 11 loss to then-No. 22 San Diego State as a major downer heading into its final home game of the campaign.
“I’m not quite sure we totally got that loss out of our system,” Norvell said of the drop to San Diego State. “We didn’t start well in the first half.”
But boy did the Wolf Pack rally in the second half behind three Strong touchdown passes. He tossed one more in the second overtime period, but it wasn’t enough as the Falcons scored the game-winning two-point try in the third OT while Nevada was unsuccessful.
Strong's effort (26-of-43, 340 yds., 4 TDs) lifted him to a new school record for completions (349) in a single season and moved him to within two of Chris Vargas' 1993 mark of 34 touchdowns. Now with 3,887 passing yards, Strong, who is expected to declare for the 2022 NFL Draft, also is closing in on Vargas' single-season record of 4,265 passing yards.
"He's tough as hell, just watching him," Addazio told reporters when talking of Strong. "He gets whacked a fair amount, but he's tough, he's resilient, he throws the ball extremely accurately … He's a big, physical-looking guy. It looks like he has a lot of confidence. He carries himself very well. I'm very impressed with him."
What’s unimpressive about the Wolf Pack attack? The running game is non-existent, now ranked dead last out of 130 FBS teams at 59.6 rushing yards per game. The team's 2.4 yards per carry also rank at the bottom.
So when it comes to Colorado State's defensive game plan why even bother to stop the run? The focus should be on getting to Strong — who will be looking for top targets Romeo Doubs (75 rec., 1,012 yds., 9 TDs) and Cole Turner (60, 672, 10) — all game long, especially with Nevada's offensive line allowing three sacks (3.2) per game.
But Strong could well scorch the Rams, regardless, especially after what was a rocky outing for the defense last week. CSU yielded 426 passing yards and two touchdowns in last week's 50-45 loss at Hawaii. That was the most passing yards in a single game for the Rainbow Warriors this season.
When Colorado State Has the Ball
Offensively, plenty of positives can be taken out of last week’s loss to Hawaii. Todd Centeio was sensational, his 527 passing yards and five touchdowns representing the second-highest total ever put up by a Rams quarterback. He now has 2,773 yards and 15 touchdowns against eight interceptions on the year.
Trey McBride grabbed six of those passes for 89 yards before learning he’s been named a finalist for the Mackey Award, which goes to the nation's top tight end. McBride, who leads his FBS peers in receptions (84), yards (1,008), receptions per game, yards per game, and 100-yard receiving games, has a strong case to win the prestigious award over fellow finalists Charlie Kolar (Iowa State) and Jalen Wydermyer (Texas A&M). McBride also is currently projected a first-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft according to ESPN's Todd McShay.
But with Centeio and McBride being seniors, one final hurrah at home would be most welcome. And the same goes for tight end Cameron Butler, who hauled in two balls for 93 yards against the Rainbow Warriors.
There’s also that aspect of continuing to build the program that Addazio is embracing, and last week’s game helped on a few other offensive fronts. Junior wide receiver Dante Wright (8 rec., 150 yds.) and classmate Gary Williams (6, 92) both had strong showings.
So Saturday night's finale acts as another opportunity to develop the Rams' offense for next season, especially with Nevada's defense giving up close to 400 yards per game.
Will it be too much Strong for the Rams to handle?
"They make plays,” Addazio told reporters. “They made some great plays against Air Force. That was an unbelievable game. I thought Air Force was going to take off a little bit at one point, but not so fast, and they got after the quarterback, but he made some unbelievable throws. Those guys, you can tell, they're just ballers. That's a real challenge right there."
Yes, it is.
The Rams would like to go out a winner, especially after five straight losses and just one win at home this season. And the Wolf Pack might come into this game a little down following back-to-back losses that ended their conference title aspirations.
But any possible trap-game situation is offset by Nevada’s dynamite QB. Strong is trying to push his draft stock as high as it can go, so he’ll add to his resume and film archive by carving up a Colorado State defense that has done a good job, statistically speaking, against the pass this season.
He can Strong-arm the Rams on his own.
Prediction: Nevada 38, Colorado State 26
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