The matchup between Nevada's receivers and Fresno State's defensive backs is the one matchup where the Wolf Pack can have an edge. Without senior cornerback L.J. Jones suiting up, the Bulldogs will rely on redshirt freshman Jamal Ellis to perform in his first career start. Going up against Nevada's pistol offense, the defense can not afford to drop players back into coverage and allow the run game to dominate.
"The challenge is that schematically they make you stop the run, so you're put in one-on-one situations," defensive coordinator Nick Toth said. "They don't have to be Randy Moss to get after you. In one-on-one situations, sometimes it's a coin toss. They do a good job in their scheme, getting their playmakers where they need to be."
If the young cornerbacks consistently give up big plays, the Wolf Pack will be able to turn this one into a shootout.
"When those balls that are in the air, we've got to win a lot more than we lose. That's really the game."
Nevada wide receiver Brandon Wimberly at 6-foot-3 will look to take advantage of those one-on-one situations with Rilley or Ellis. Dual threat quarterback Cody Fajardo has solid secondary passing options in Richy Turner and Aaron Bradley as well.
"They've got some good receivers," safety Derron Smith said. "They have a real big, physical receiver in Wimberly so we'll have to contain him. But they have some good athleticism and good speed accross the field. Stopping the run is the main thing with that option attack and Cody Fajardo, he can still run and throw the ball. It's going to be a tough challenge for us as a defense, but I think if we do our assignments and stick to tour technique we'll be fine."
Offense Back on Track
Last week at San Diego State was the first time all season that Fresno State's offense appeared to be vulnerable. The Aztecs were able to pressure Derek Carr and hold their man assignments down field as the Bulldogs were held to just one score in the first half.
Left guard Alex Fifita is expected to be back, starting at left guard against Nevada. The personnel change alone will make a difference, but Nevada is not known for their pass rush, ranking 98th in the nation in sacks with 11. Nevada is not an aggressive blitzing team, using a base tampa-2 scheme, dropping several players back in zone coverage.
This fares well for Fresno State's offense. Derek Carr should have all the time he needs in the backfield to pick apart Nevada's secondary and find an open man. Expect the running game to pick up where it left off as well after gaining just 44 yards against SDSU.
Last year's matchup between the Bulldogs and the Wolf Pack was an even one, but turnovers changed the game drastically in the second half. The Bulldogs had four total turnovers, and turned three of them into touchdowns as they left Reno with a convincing win.
"That's the main thing is turnovers," Smith said. "We've just got to keep getting the turnovers. We were fortunate enough in that game to get multiple turnovers and turn three of them into turnovers. We'll be looking to do that again, get turnover and get stops, especially on third down. Get our offense the ball back. Our offense is potent enough to score everytime they touch the ball."