After taking care of business in the Battle for the Fremont Cannon, the Nevada Wolf Pack will look to continue their winning ways on Thursday night when they host the struggling Utah State Aggies at Mackay Stadium in Reno, Nevada.
Nevada (2-0) answered the bell every time UNLV tried to fight back on Saturday night when the Wolf Pack defeated the Rebels, 37-19, at Allegiant Stadium. It was the first game with a crowd — 2,000 fans were allowed in — and the Nevada fans in attendance got their money's worth. The Wolf Pack averaged 9.2 yards per play against UNLV as the combination of Carson Strong at quarterback and Romeo Doubs at wide receiver were virtually unstoppable. Toa Taua complemented the passing game with 88 rushing yards on 12 carries and a touchdown. Defensively, Nevada kept UNLV's dynamic running back Charles Williams in check by limiting him to 99 yards.
Utah State (0-2) put up a good fight for the first 30 minutes against San Diego State, but then the wheels came off in the second half as the Aztecs pulled away for a 38-7 win last Saturday night in Logan, Utah. It was the inability to stop San Diego State's running game that ended up being the difference-maker. The Aggies defense allowed 570 yards of offense while gaining just 215 against a stout Aztec defense. This lifeless effort was not what head coach Gary Andersen was looking for following a 42-13 loss at Boise State in the season opener last weekend per the Salt Lake Tribune. "It was 100 percent pathetic and embarrassing for everybody in Aggie nation — all of us involved," Andersen said. Fans are going to learn a lot this week about the players in this program and whether or not they will respond with better effort after Andersen's post-game comments.
Utah State at Nevada
Kickoff: Thursday, Nov. 5 at 7 p.m. ET
Spread: Nevada -14.5
When Nevada Has the Ball
Strong will set the tone this week in the passing game as he completed 21 of 27 passes for two touchdowns and no interceptions. Romeo Doubs caught six passes for 211 yards and a touchdown, and he is a matchup problem for pretty much anyone in the conference. The offensive line should be able to tee off on the Utah State defensive front since they have been pushed around with relative ease in the first two weeks of the season.
Taua and Devonte Lee should get a combined 20-25 touches this week in the running game after these two combined to rush for 129 yards last week, and the 200-yard mark should be within reach this week. Taking care of the football will be important because the Wolf Pack lost that battle in last year's 36-10 loss to the Aggies up in Logan when Malik Henry threw two interceptions as the offense was limited to 326 total yards.
When Utah State Has the Ball
It is going to start up front with the offensive line setting the tone with physicality since that is a problem that needs to be addressed for the entire team starting this week. Jaylen Warren's absence from the running game hurt on Saturday night, as Devonta'e Henry-Cole was limited to 27 rushing yards on 11 carries. Jason Shelley was just 13-of-21 for 88 yards with a touchdown and interception in the San Diego State game and needs to create more explosive plays in the passing game.
Deven Thompkins will need more targets this week. His 37-yard touchdown catch right before the end of the half was excellent and should have generated more momentum than it did in the second half. Thompkins is the type of player who can stretch a defense, so attacking the Wolf Pack in the first half will be key. It will be important because it will get the Nevada defense on its heels and keep them from stacking the box with nine guys. The other benefit for the Aggies will be a good old-fashioned injection of confidence for an offense that needs it right now.
The short week should favor Nevada since the Wolf Pack will be at home and have plenty of confidence coming into this game. Strong didn't play in last year's game against the Aggies, and that will be the difference-maker for the Wolf Pack, as he is the best passer in this game. Utah State won't have an answer for Doubs in the passing game over the course of four quarters and should score 35-40 points this week. Expect a better effort from the Aggies this week, but when all is said and done, Nevada has a better all-around team and will pull away for a 17-to-20-point win on Thursday night.
Prediction: Nevada 38, Utah State 20
Podcast: Week 10 Preview and Predictions
— Written by Scott Whittum, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter@ScottWhittum.
(Justin Lockhart photo courtesy of @NevadaFootball)