The Nevada Wolf Pack have somehow put together enough victories to qualify for a bowl game, but they don't exactly come into it with a head of steam. And their antics at the close of their Fremont Cannon rivalry game against UNLV have landed some players on suspension. So they are a bit short-handed as they move into the Idaho Potato Bowl against the Ohio Bobcats in this game that begins at 3:30 PM ET on Friday at Albertsons Stadium in Boise.
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Nevada (7-5 SU, 6-6 ATS) scored a couple of upsets the season, over Purdue (in the season opener) and San Diego State. But for the most part, when they lost, they lost HUGE. We mean by margins of 71 points to Oregon, 51 to Hawaii, 28 to Wyoming and 26 to Utah State. And that's why their numbers show that they have been outscored by an average of eleven points per game, surrendering 20 more touchdowns than they have scored. Oh, and they also lost their season finale to UNLV, where there was a brawl at the end that has resulted in the suspension of cornerback Daniel Brown, free safety Austin Arnold, nose tackle Hausia Sekona and linebacker Gabe Sewell (for the first half).
Nevada has committed 22 turnovers; they were a little more wide-open earlier in the campaign, with Matt Mumme as the offensive coordinator, but head coach Jay Norvell, former co-offensive coordinator at Oklahoma, took over play-calling duties and made the pledge to be a little more conservative. However, redshirt freshman quarterback Carson Strong has put up some decent numbers over the last five games, completing 66% of his passes for 7.6 yards per attempt and 1451 yards. he had 351 passing yards against UNLV.
Ohio (6-6 SU, 4-8 ATS) has had a stable situation for the last 15 years, with head coach Frank Solich, who once upon a time piloted Nebraska into the national title game. He had to make some adjustments on a staff this season, as Jimmy Burrow, the father of Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow, retired from his defensive coordinator position, but Ron Collins, who once worked right here on the Blue Carpet with Boise State (2001-05) took over. Not that it was a banner year for the defense, which gave up slightly over one 400 yards per game. But Ohio could've had a different record, as they lost four games by a field goal or less.
In the college bowl odds for this Idaho Potato Bowl game, Ohio is the solid favorite:
Ohio Bobcats -9.5
Nevada Wolf Pack +9.5
Over 60.5 points -110
Under 60.5 points -110
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The big task in this game is on the Nevada defense, because running the football has always been a staple of Solich's offenses. The trigger man is dynamic; quarterback Nathan Rourke is 22nd in the nation in passing efficiency, has thrown 20 touchdown passes, averaged 14 yards per completion (20th in the country) and has piled up 780 yards on the ground. The highlights a ground attack that has averaged 5.5 yards per carry and which also includes redshirt freshman O'Shaan Allison (823 yards). Only Ohio State, Air Force and Alabama have converted third downs at a higher rate. Ohio's 51.6% is just above that of LSU.
On the stop end, Ohio is not necessarily opportunistic, intercepting just five passes, and they don't get a lot of penetration (21 sacks, 109th in Tackles For Loss). So you would think that there would be an opening for Nevada. But the Wolf Pack does not get high marks for its offensive line. As a team, Nevada has averaged only 3.5 yards per rushing attempt, and only ten teams have permitted more in the way of tackles behind the line of scrimmage. And let's face it – when you have a guy like Mumme (a disciple of his father Hal, who invented the Air Raid) as your coordinator, you're not built to run the football. Still, they had 254 yards against Fresno State in the season's penultimate game.
Where we think Nevada is going to have a lot of trouble is in slowing down what Ohio can do on offense. This defensive unit did not stop any team who could really run the football, only slowing down rather dormant ground forces from UTEP, Weber State, San Jose State and San Diego State. They have undergone some transition in the coaching staff, as defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel and two others on that side of the ball were fired. So Jody Sears is the interim coordinator, and as mentioned, they have those defensive starters suspended. That doesn't even count linebacker Lucas Weber who is questionable as he's coming off a broken ankle. Let's also not forget that two of the top receivers – Kaleb Fossum (definitely out) and Romeo Doubs (questionable) – may not be available. It's just our feeling that Nevada is going to have a hard time keeping up with Ohio and its dual threat quarterback, especially if they can't stop the Bobcats on first or second down. And we have seen Ohio supremely prepared for its last two bowl efforts - 41-6 win over UAB in the Bahamas Bowl and a 27-0 shutout of San Diego State in the Frisco Bowl. We're laying the points.
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