Players to Watch
#27 RB Jay Ajayi
Jay Ajayi makes the Boise offense go. He's a big, fast, punishing, runner who is very tough to bring down. He'll break a lot of tackles. Last time out against Nevada, the Wolf Pack led 17-7 going into the 2nd half, then Ajayi exploded for 222 yards on the ground to help the Broncos pile up a season worst 407 yards on the ground against the Wolf Pack defense. If he has a weakness, it's ball security when he's fighting for extra yards, which he does a LOT. Nevada would do well to go for the ball in that situation. Great receiving out of the backfield, he's tied for 2nd with receptions on the team at 28.
#2 XWR Matt Miller
The 5th year senior Miller is a big target with great athleticism on the outside at 6-3, 213. He will leave Boise State as the leading receiver in school history. He was injured against Louisiana-Lafayette and only played in the 1st half against Air Force last week. He's listed as questionable for this Saturday. In his absence, it's likely the Broncos will lean heavily on Shane Williams-Rhodes and Jay Ajayi in the passing game.
#9 QB Grant Hedrick
Hedrick took over the starting job last season on the 2nd offensive play of last year's Nevada at Boise State game when he was injured on a scramble to the sideline. Southwick was lost for the season and Hedrick took over. He went 4-3 over the last 7 games of the season and is 7-5 as a starter. He used his arms (150 yards on 18-of-21 passing) and his legs (115 yards on 8 carries) to blow the doors off Nevada in the 2nd half of last seasons game. If Hedrick has a weakness, he appears to make poor decisions with the ball when under any kind of pressure. He through 4 interceptions last week against an Air Force defense that had only recorded 1 all season up to that point.
#11 HWR Shane Williams-Rhodes
Junior slot receiver Williams-Rhodes knows you hate him, he'll also be leaned on heavily by the Broncos if Matt Miller is unable to go. He's one of the best in the country and running the bubble screen and if the Boise State staff watched any tape of the Nevada-San Jose State game, the Wolf Pack defense had better be ready for a healthy dose of them. He's also a very dangerous punt returner, ranking 42 in the nation with a 9.13 yards per return record.
#8 OLB Kamalei Correa
Boise State likes to use the STUD linebacker Correa to generate an little extra pressure. He has 21 tackles on the season, 3.5 tackles for losses and 2 sacks.
#20 MLB Tanner Vallejo
Just a sophomore, Vallejo has been an immediate impact player for the Broncos. He has great lateral quickness which makes him perfect for the middle linebacker positon.
Keys to the Game
Win 1st and 2nd Down to force 3rd and longBoise's Offensive line is one of the most inexperienced in the country. Take advantage. Despite their inexperience, they've given up very few sacks this season. If Nevada can force Boise State into some 3rd and longs, the Wolf Pack defensive line can pin its ears back and put pressure on the passer.
On the opposite side of the ball, Nevada needs to avoid getting behind the chains on 1st and 2nd down. The Broncos are one of the best teams in the nation at getting tackles for losses averaging 8.2 per game. It's imperative that the Wolf Pack don't make any mistakes that would cost the offense yards leading to 3rd and long situations.
Protect Home FieldThis will be a capacity crowd, on homecoming, against a hated rival. Football is as much a mental game as it is a physical one, the hometown crowd needs to provide a lift to the Wolf Pack and make it as hostile an environment as they can for the Broncos. The Nevada players need to feed off that energy. As a head coach, Bryan Harsin is 3-4 in road games and Boise State is 3-7 in road games since the beginning of last season. Nevada is 5-3 at home under second-year head coach Brian Polian.
Remain efficient in the Redzone on both sides of the ballNevada is among the best in the country at Red Zone efficiency on both sides of the ball. Boise has struggled to score when in the Red Zone. This has largely been where Nevada's defense has made its living, attacking and utilizing the short field to their advantage. If Nevada is to win this game, it must win this battle and not settle for field goals as they did twice early on in their loss at Arizona.
Win the Turnover BattleNevada has had at least a +1 turnover margin in every game against an FBS opponent this season. It's been a key point of emphasis for the team and it has paid huge dividends. The last time the Broncos visited Mackay Stadium, Nevada was in the midst of a furious comeback when the normally reliable TE Zach Sudfeld fumbled the ball to Boise State as he crossed the goal line. It ended up being the difference in the game.
Treat this like a Championship GameAs long as Nevada remains in the hunt for the Western Division MWC title, every game is a championship game. The Wolf Pack need to treat this game as a championship game. Get this win, and Nevada is in the driver's seat for the Western division and will get a healthy jolt of confidence heading into a very tough stretch of games versus Colorado State and BYU.
Key Stat Comparisons
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DetailsDate: Saturday, October 4th
Time: 7:30 p.m. PST
Location: Mackay Stadium, Reno, NV
TV: CBS Sports Network
Radio: ESPN Radio 630AM
Nevada 24 Boise State 17
Neil Henderson can be reached via Twitter.