Cougars wrap up their non-conference slate at home against the struggling Wolf Pack
The No. 18 Cougars (3-0) are seeking their first 4-0 start since 2001 when they ran off seven straight wins to open the season. Washington State experienced no resistance in its Pac-12 opener, demolishing Oregon State 52-23. Senior quarterback Luke Falk threw for 396 yards, while completing 37-of-49 passes, and tied a school record with six touchdown passes.
Nothing has gone right for the Wolf Pack (0-3) so far this season. Nevada suffered a 30-28 upset loss to FCS opponent Idaho State after trailing the Bengals by 23 points in the third quarter. The Wolf Pack turned the ball over three times before halftime, leading to 10 points for Idaho State. It is Nevada's worst start since going 0-3 to open the 2009 season.
Nevada and Washington State have met three times prior to this season. The Cougars lead the series 2-1 with the Wolf Pack winning the most recent meeting 24-13 in 2014.
Nevada at Washington State
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 23 at 6 p.m. ET
TV Channel: Pac-12 Networks
Spread: Washington State - 28
Three Things to Watch
1. Do the Cougars have a new star receiver?
Tavares Martin Jr. is right on track to be Luke Falk's primary target this season. Martin enjoyed his finest outing with Washington State yet, hauling in 10 passes for a career-high 194 yards against Oregon State. It is his second career 100-yard game. Three of those receptions were touchdowns. Martin now has 12 career touchdown receptions.
Martin now ranks first for Washington State in receiving yards (276) and touchdown catches (4). He is averaging 12.5 yards per reception and 92.0 receiving yards per game. The junior showed glimpses of greater things a year ago when he totaled 728 yards and seven touchdowns. Martin averaged 11.4 yards per catch as a junior.
His ability to stretch the field should cause Nevada a ton of problems. Martin is one of three Cougar receivers with at least 20 catches, but the only one averaging more than 10 yards per reception.
2. Can the Wolf Pack get production on the ground?
One bright spot for Nevada in its loss to Idaho State was the running game. The Wolf Pack totaled 218 yards on the ground, eclipsing 200 rushing yards for the first time this season.
Jaxson Kincade and Kelton Moore led the way, combining for 192 yards on 36 carries. Moore set a new career high with 96 yards on 21 carries. Kincade fell just three yards shy of matching his career best, finishing with 96 yards on 15 carries.
Nevada hasn't had a consistently potent rushing attack since running the pistol offense under former head coach Chris Ault. The Wolf Pack will likely need to get things going in the backfield to keep Washington State's Air Raid offense off the field as much as possible. It isn't an insurmountable task against the Cougars. Washington State's defense allows 144.7 rushing yards per game, which ranks in the bottom half of the Pac-12.
3. How much will fumbles impact the game?
Holding onto the football is not an area of strength for Nevada. The Wolf Pack have fumbled 11 times in their three losses. They are tied with San Jose State for last in FBS in that category. Nevada has lost only four of those fumbles, but those turnovers have proved costly.
A fourth-quarter fumble against Toledo kept the Wolf Pack from cutting into a 10-point deficit. A first-half fumble against Idaho State set up a field goal that proved critical in a two-point loss. Overall, Nevada has suffered seven turnovers in three games. The Wolf Pack rank 120th among FBS teams with a -1.67 turnover margin.
Washington State can exploit ball security issues with precision. The Cougars forced two fumbles against Oregon State and are 15-3 under defensive coordinator Alex Grinch when forcing multiple turnovers. Washington State ranks fourth nationally with five fumble recoveries so far this season.
This would have qualified as a trap game for Washington State before this season when the Cougars had a bad habit of inexplicably dropping games to lesser non-conference opponents. No such danger exists along those lines against Nevada. The Wolf Pack have kept things close in their three losses, but they also haven't dealt with an offense as explosive as what the Cougars will throw at them.
Prediction: Washington State 38, Nevada 20
— Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.