Wolf Pack look to tighten divisional race with road win over the Aztecs
San Diego State will welcome Nevada to SDCCU Stadium on Saturday night for Homecoming 2019. The Aztecs (7-1, 4-1 Mountain West) will be looking to atone for a 28-24 loss last year up in Reno in a game that they let get away from them after leading 24-15 at halftime. The loss to the Wolf Pack also was the start of a rough end to the 2018 season, as San Diego State lost five of their final six games.
The Aztecs last took the field two weeks ago in Las Vegas, where they sprinted out a 17-0 lead against UNLV but only hung on to a 20-17 win. Big plays were a difference-maker for San Diego State in this game, as Ryan Agnew got things rolling with a 49-yard touchdown pass to Ethan Dedeaux. Special teams got in the act as well with a blocked punt by Trenton Thompson was recovered by Caden McDonald in the end zone to give the Aztecs a 14-0 lead. Thompson also led the San Diego State defense in tackles with 12, and with the win, the Aztecs are 5-0 away from home.
Nevada (5-4, 2-3) grinded out a tough 21-10 win over New Mexico at Mackay Stadium on Saturday night. The defense took care of business all night long; they limited the Lobos to just 5 of 15 third-down conversions and only gave up 109 rushing yards. The offense did most of their damage through the air, as quarterback Carson Strong completed 28 of 40 passes for 305 yards and two touchdowns. Romeo Doubs had a huge night as well, catching 11 passes for 167 yards including a key 57-yard touchdown reception towards the end of the second quarter.
Nevada at San Diego State
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 9 at 10:30 p.m. ET
Spread: San Diego State -17
When San Diego State Has the Ball
Ryan Agnew is an experienced quarterback who does a nice job of managing the game on a weekly basis. Agnew is completing 63.3 percent of his passes for 1,427 yards, 10 touchdowns, and three interceptions. Juwan Washington leads a balanced rushing attack for the Aztecs with 432 yards and two touchdowns, while Chance Bell is averaging 4.8 yards per carry and has one touchdown on the season. Kobe Smith has been the most consistent wide receiver with 41 receptions for 514 yards and four touchdowns. Staying ahead of the sticks will be a huge plus for San Diego State as they attack the Wolf Pack defense.
Nevada will need to be stout defensively on third down, as they have limited teams to a 33.6 percent conversion rate in 2019. Defensive back Tyson Williams and linebacker Lawson Hall are the two leading tacklers for the Wolf Pack and will need to combine for about 20 tackles on Saturday. Daniel Brown and Berdale Robins have combined for five interceptions so far this season, and causing an early turnover to create a short field for the Nevada offense will be crucial.
When Nevada Has the Ball
It has been a tough year offensively for the Wolf Pack after getting off to a promising start in Week 1 when they beat Purdue 34-31. The revolving door at quarterback has been a big issue for Nevada, as they have started Carson Strong, Malik Henry, and Cristian Solano so far in 2019. Strong will start this week and has had a roller coaster ride of a freshman season with five touchdowns and six interceptions. Against San Diego State, the Wolf Pack will have to find a way to spread out this stout defense and get the ball moving through the air. Elijah Cooks (42 catches, 498 yards, 5 TDs) and Romeo Daubs (35, 574, 2) need to get at least 12-15 targets this week. Nevada has 19 turnovers in nine games this season, so taking care of the football will be key. That is another big reason why they are averaging just 19.3 points per game.
The Aztecs will be looking to force the Wolf Pack into long-yardage situations so that Strong will have to beat them with his arm. By curbing the threat of Toa Taua running the ball, it should set up head coach Rocky Long to let his guys pin their ears back and pressure Strong all night long. Stopping the run is a big-time strength of the Aztecs, who are only allowing 69.9 yards per game on the ground. Linebacker Kyahva Tezino and safety Dwayne Johnson Jr. should have ample opportunity to make plays against this struggling Nevada offense. Look for these two guys to take a big step towards getting to that 100 tackles mark for the season this week.
The 2019 season has shown that more often than not that San Diego State is going to play a low-scoring game where they run the ball well and put the game away with their defense. The Aztecs will do enough on the ground with Juwan Washington controlling the clock and Ryan Agnew passing efficiently to get the job done on Saturday night. Look for the Aztecs to win by about 7-10 points and improve to 8-1 on the year.
Prediction: San Diego State 24, Nevada 16
— Written by Scott Whittum, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @ScottWhittum.