Friday night will bring about a high-stakes' showdown at Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas as the San Jose State Spartans will take on the Nevada Wolf Pack for their final "home" game of the season. The Spartans are playing their second straight home game away from San Jose due to a contact sports ban implemented by Santa Clara County that currently runs through Dec. 21. This game also is critical as both teams are fighting for a spot in next weekend's Mountain West Conference Football Championship Game.
It was a ground-and-pound approach that propelled San Jose State (5-0) to a 35-24 win over Hawaii last Saturday at Aloha Stadium. Tyler Nevens and Kairee Robinson combined for 263 rushing yards and three touchdowns to lead the way for the Spartans. Nick Starkel completed 11 of 23 passes for 167 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. The defense did a very nice job of forcing the Rainbow Warriors into becoming a one-dimensional offense, limiting them to 110 rushing yards on just 3.9 yards per carry. The win gave San Jose State its first 5-0 start since the 1939 season.
Nevada (6-1) is coming off of a 37-26 win over Fresno State last Saturday stay in the hunt for a berth in the Mountain West title game. Carson Strong (354 yards, 5 TDs, 2 INTs) led the way for the Wolf Pack with Tory Horton, (5 rec., 148 yds., 3 TDs), Romeo Doubs (7, 97), and Cole Turner (5, 69, 2) causing plenty of headaches for the Bulldogs' secondary. Defensively, it was a rough outing for Nevada with Jake Haener (485 passing yards, 2 TDs) doing most of the damage as Fresno State put up 599 total yards.
Nevada has won 10 of the last 11 meetings with San Jose State. The Spartans' last win over the Wolf Pack came in 2016.
Nevada vs. San Jose State
Kickoff: Friday, Dec. 11 at 10 p.m. ET
Where: Sam Boyd Stadium (Las Vegas)
Spread: San Jose State -3.5
When San Jose State Has the Ball
Head coach Brent Brennan and the offensive staff for the Spartans will be looking to set a physical tone right away with the running game. The inability to run the football effectively proved to be costly in last year's 41-38 loss to the Wolf Pack when SJSU managed just 15 rushing yards on 16 attempts. Thus, you can expect to see Tyler Nevens and Kairee Robinson get plenty of carries in this game.
Nick Starkel will need to do a good job of managing the game by not giving the football away and testing Nevada's pass defense early. Starkel has a few weapons to work with as Bailey Gaither, Tre Walker, and Derrick Deese Jr. are his primary targets. If the offensive line can provide some quality pass protection for Starkel then this offense is going to be tough to stop all night long.
When Nevada Has the Ball
Attacking the Spartans through the air is going to be the best course of action for the Wolf Pack this week. Carson Strong continues to perform at a pretty high level and his group of playmakers on the perimeter is going to be tough to completely shut down. Romeo Doubs is the leading receiver with 44 catches for 885 yards and nine touchdowns. But, he doesn't do it all by himself as shown last week in the win over Fresno State.
As for the running game, it won't be necessary for Nevada to run for 200-plus yards this week, but the offensive line does need to hold their own up front and account for guys like inside linebacker Kyle Harmon, who leads San Jose State with 63 tackles on the year. Toa Taua is a solid running back who can grind out yards if the line does its job. The biggest challenge along the line of scrimmage for the Wolf Pack is matching up against a San Jose State defense that is allowing 125 rushing yards per game and that includes a game against Air Force's option-oriented attack. The Spartans also have 15 sacks in five games, which is the same number Nevada has yielded in seven contests.
This game should end up hanging in the balance heading into the fourth quarter as neither team is going to pull away from the other. The adversity that San Jose State is going through is one of those things that can galvanize a team by bringing it closer together. Nevada is going to hit a couple of explosive plays in the passing game to keep the Spartans on their heels. However, the running game of San Jose State along with winning the turnover battle will be enough for the undefeated Spartans to punch their ticket to the Mountain West Conference Football Championship Game next week.
Prediction: San Jose State 34, Nevada 27
Podcast: CFB Rankings, Coaching Changes and Week 15 Preview and Predictions
— Written by Scott Whittum, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Parler @Scottwhittum.
(Top photo courtesy of @SanJoseStateFB)