Handle the 3-3-5San Diego State is holding opponents to 18.7 points per game. Oddly, the Aztec vs. Wolf Pack games have been high scoring affairs the past two seasons. Their defense is similar to what BYU and Hawai'i run so Nevada has had some exposure to a similar scheme in the weeks leading up to this game. Their corners play man coverage very well and the Wolf Pack will have to beat it to have any success through the air. It's not a large defense but it's very athletic. The 3-3-5 allows the Aztecs to blitz from a lot of different angles, the offensive line and running backs will have remain attentive to pick up blitzes.
Make opportunities on defenseSan Diego State is a power, grind it out team who wants to play the ball control game. The Wolf Pack would help its cause immensely if they were able to force a few turnovers. Nevada is ranked 10th nationally in turnover margin, SDSU ranks 87th. The Wolf Pack need to keep forcing turnovers and then make the most of them.
Make this game a positive turning pointEach of the past two seasons, Nevada's loss to the Aztecs has been the catalyst for the Wolf Pack's season going off the rails. In 2012, Nevada gave up a 10 point lead late in the 4th quarter and lost by 1 in overtime. The Wolf Pack went 1-4 the rest of the season.
In 2013, Nevada overcame an end of the first half implosion, came back from 21 points down to send the game to overtime, but couldn't complete the comeback and lost 51-44. The Wolf Pack went 1-5 the rest of the season.
This game has the potential to catapult Nevada's 2014 season in one of two directions, limping to the end of season match up with rival UNLV and a bowl game or positioned to compete for a spot in the Mountain West conference title game. It needs to be the latter.
Start fast and keep pressingThe Wolf Pack have outscored opponents by 56 points in the 4th quarter this season, San Diego State has not allowed a 4th score in either of the last two games. Nevada has proved it can keep up the pressure on opposing teams late in the game, the Wolf Pack need to prove they can open the game with the same intensity they've shown in the second half of games.
Slow the RunAztecs averaging 227 yards per game, ranked 22nd nationally. They run a lot of power sets with two tight ends plus a full back. Nevada needs to avoid getting into 3rd and short against SDSU. While Kaehler can certainly manage 3rd and longs, the odds of the Wolf Pack forcing a punt goes up significantly if they are able to get the Aztecs behind the chains. The Nevada defenders must stay in their gaps, if Pumphrey pops through a gap that doesn't have a man in it, he's gone.
Players to Watch For
Projecting who the players to watch in this game is a challenge because of the number of injuries that SDSU is dealing with.
#3 WR Ezell Ruffin
Ruffin is the Aztec's most experienced wide receiver with 18 starts and started the season on the Biletnikoff watch list. Led SDSU in receiving last season with 68 catches for 1,136 yards and three touchdowns. Caught five passes for 100 yards last season against Nevada. Coming back from broken collar bone in week 2 against North Carolina. Questionable for Saturday.
#81 WR Eric Judge
Caught six passes for 54 yards and two touchdowns including the game winning touchdown in overtime against Nevada last season. The sophomore has been a little dinged up this season but still leads the team in receiving with 13 receptions for 229 yards. If Ruffin is unable to play, it's likely Judge will draw Nevada CB Charles Garrett.
#19 RB Donnel Pumphrey
The good news is, Nevada won't have to deal with the Aztec's Adam Muema, who left early for the NFL and then took a really strange trip. The bad news is, Donnel Pumphrey is in his place. One of the nation's top rushers, Pumphrey lacks size but he has great quickness (especially laterally), has a great burst and is difficult to get a hands on. If the Wolf Pack defense steps out of a gap that Pumphrey cuts through, his next stop will likely be the end zone. Rushed for 112 yards on 11 carries last season against Nevada. He is eighth nationally in yards per game (141.3) and has rushed for 989 yards through the first seven games of this season.
#18 QB Quinn Kaehler
Kaehler hasn't garnered a great deal of respect, often criticized for "lacking arm strength" and finished last in the MWC in passing efficiency but he had one of the best games of his career against Nevada last season, 23-of-32 for 286 yards and three touchdowns. Coming back from shoulder injury. Missed game at Fresno State, saw very limited action against New Mexico and played injured against Hawai'i. Is expected to be close to 100% on Saturday.
#58 DL Alex Barrett
A big, physical defender on the defensive line who leads the team in sacks and is 2nd in tackles for a loss. Has 24 total tackles, 6.5 tackles for a loss and three sacks on the season.
#50 LB Derek Largent
One of SDSU's top linebackers. Was an incredibly disruptive force against the Wolf Pack last season, recording 15 tackles, four tackles for a loss, two sacks and one forced fumble. Nevada must find a way to limit Largent's impact on the offense. Coming back from having his appendix removed on Sept. 27. Saw limited action against Hawai'i but is expected to play on Saturday.