When Nevada (1-1) and Texas A&M (2-0) square off on Saturday, the old working relationship between Aggies head coach Kevin Sumlin and Wolf Pack head coach Brian Polian will be quickly put to the test at Kyle Field. In 2012, Sumlin’s first year in College Station, his special teams coach was Polian. At the conclusion of an 11-win season Polian headed back west to helm Nevada, setting up a teacher vs. pupil showdown heavily favoring the Aggies.
Nevada entered the season with 11 starters returning, six on offense and five on defense, from a 7-6 team that was better than their final win-loss record indicated. Out of the Mountain West Conference, the Wolf Pack beat Washington State (24-13), hung with Arizona on the road (35-28), nearly upended Boise State (51-46), and gave a scare to Colorado State (31-24) before falling.
One carry over from the 2014 season Polian would like to see gone is the underperforming defense. In 2014 the Wolf Pack finished with the No. 100 total defense in the nation. In two games against UC Davis and Arizona, Nevada is on the same track with the No. 103-ranked squad allowing 449 yards per game.
A&M has the feel of a rising star taken for granted in preseason rankings. Everyone knew the Aggies offense would be electric but new defensive coordinator John Chavis has his unit ahead of schedule as the statistics currently rest with the nation’s No. 50 defense. The difference, even without the test of SEC action, is dramatically different. The Aggies allowed an average of 451 yards of offense a year ago and have managed to shrink the opposition’s output to an average of 326 yards.
Nevada at Texas A&M
Kickoff: 12 p.m. ET
Network: SEC Network
Spread: Texas A&M -34
Three Things to Watch
1. Nevada’s defense vs. Texas A&M’s offense
Anytime a Kevin Sumlin team takes the field, the opposition will have to find a way to slow down the Aggies offense. Sumlin mixes up a no-huddle fast-paced offense spreading the opposition out looking for holes in the secondary to exploit.
Nevada allowed 570 yards of offense to Arizona last week, a unit that runs a similar type of approach. Easy to expect A&M will be able to achieve similar success with Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray under center. The Aggies have been somewhat balanced on offense, passing for 240 yards per game and totaling 464 yards of offense through two contests.
2. A&M’s defense vs. Nevada’s trio of offensive weapons
Wolf Pack senior running back Don Jackson is a legitimate FBS-caliber back, coming up just 43 yards shy of being a 1,000-yard rusher in 2014. In two games this season, Jackson has posted 215 yards rushing with two scores. On the outside starting quarterback Tyler Stewart has favorites Jerico Richardson and Hasaan Henderson. The tandem receivers have flip-flopped leading Nevada in receptions and receiving yards thus far. Neither is a big breakaway threat but both are reliable in helping move the chains.
Chavis has done a noted job getting his front four to put consistent pressure on the opposition’s quarterback and getting stops behind the line of scrimmage. To keep what could be a pesky matchup from being a close game, Chavis’ unit will have to contain Jackson and keep pressure on Stewart, keeping him from finding his top two targets throughout the game.
3. Nevada’s special teams coverage vs. true freshman return specialist Christian Kirk
Few true freshman have an impact on a team this quickly the way Christian Kirk has for the Aggies. He’s been explosive in the passing game leading A&M with 10 receptions for 149 yards with two scores, but has been equally as dangerous in the return game — taking a punt return back against Arizona State for a score and then setting up his team for a score against Ball State after a 56-yard return in the second quarter.
Can Nevada play keep away from Kirk on punts and limit his explosiveness when attempting to flip the field?
If Texas A&M’s offensive coordinator, Jake Spavital, wanted to work on the team’s rushing attack, this would be a good week to pad the stats and get his linemen in a groove. Arizona’s Nick Wilson ran for 194 yards on 21 carries against Nevada last week. Perhaps Tra Carson can put together his first 100-yard game of the season in Week 3?
On paper this non-conference matchup seems heavily one-sided, allowing the Aggies to rest some starters for their Week 4 neutral-site showdown against Arkansas in Arlington, Texas.
Prediction: Texas A&M 41, Nevada 21
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and he recently started his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @HogManInLA.