Keys to the game
Nevada's Banged Up Receiving CorpsThe Wolf Pack enter this week's game fairly healthy, but it's a given that starting WR Hassan Henderson will not play, after he was injured against Air Force. Henderson's rest of season status is unknown at this time, but it's certain he won't play this weekend. In his place, senior Kendall Brock and freshman Wyatt Demps will likely see more playing time.
Demps is listed as the starter on this week's depth chart and could earn his first start in a Wolf Pack uniform this Saturday night. The coaches have been high on this true freshman out of Elk Grove, CA since Fall camp and he has played in several games this season, catching two receptions for 33 yards.
Brock has been a big team player during his 4 year career at Nevada, pressed into service early as a freshman, moved from running back to slot receiver his first season, moved from receiver to running back his sophomore and junior seasons before being switched to wide receiver right before his senior season began. Kendall has taken it all in stride and done whatever the team needs him to do to make them better. Brock made a key play this past weekend, catching a 34 yard pass in the closing minutes of regulation at Air Force that put Nevada in a position to tie the game. He has nine receptions for 102 yards on the season.
Fresno's DefenseFresno runs a multiple, 3 man front that's similar to Air Force and San Diego State with pressure coming from a lot of different positions so Nevada will have had some practice against this type of defense over the past few games, which could help. That said, the Bulldog defense has really struggled this season, giving up 30+ points in 6 games this season, going 0-6 in those games. Fresno has been especially bad on the road, surrendering an average of 40 points per game. They've been especially vulnerable through the air, where opposing quarterbacks have a 161.9 QB rating, one of the worst ratings in the country.
Fresno State Running GameThe Bulldogs have struggled to find any consistency out of the quarterback position this season so they've fallen back on running the ball out of the spread. Fresno ran the ball 53 times for 232 yards in their previous game against San Jose State and have averaged nearly 40 rushing attempts per game this season. After the way Air Force ran against Nevada this past weekend, it could be safe to say the Bulldogs will try to run on the Wolf Pack. It would be nice to see the Wolf Pack defense force a few fumbles in this game but both Nevada and Fresno are two of the better teams in the country in ball security.
Manage the Senior Night EmotionsCoach Polian wasn't in a mood to be reflective about this year's senior class, saying "There's still a lot of football to be played." A lot of emotion can surround a player's final home game of his career, a place where they invested so much blood, sweat and tears over the past several years. Their families are often in attendance. The pre-game ceremony disrupts their routine. It will be vitally important for the Nevada seniors to remain focused on the task at hand, beating Fresno State and going 1-0 this week. As Brock Hekking said, "Don't hold anything back. Many of these seniors will never play football again after this season."
Players to Watch
S Derron Smith
Senior safety Derron Smith has intercepted a Cody Fajardo pass in each of the past two seasons against Nevada. In 2012 he returned an interception 34 yards for a touchdown and last season he returned one 47 yards to the Wolf Pack three yard line. Fajardo would be wise to be aware of where the ball hawking safety is at all times, but he has yet to record his first interception this season. Smith has 14 career interceptions, the second most among all active FBS players.
RB Marteze Waller
One of the lone bright spots on the Fresno State offense this season has been Marteze Waller. Waller is 3rd in total rushing yards in the MWC and averaging 6.6 yards per carry. He's come on especially strong in the last 4 games, averaging over 140 yards per game amd 7.5 yards per carry. Brock Hekking reiterated a mantra Nevada's defense has been preaching all season long, "Stay gap and assignment sound, run to the ball."
WR Josh Harper
Senior wide-out Jose Harper is among one of the nations best in TD catches per games played, averaging .757 touchdowns. The senior is also just the fourth Bulldog to register over 200 career receptions. Harper is fourth in the MWC with 793 receiving yards on the season and six touchdowns. Last time Nevada and Fresno State played, Harper had 17 receptions for 253 yards and two touchdowns. Regardless of whether it's not Derek Carr under center throwing to him, Nevada will need to account for Harper.
QB Brian Burrell
Following in the footsteps of a record breaking NFL QB (Derek Carr) is never easy, it has been especially hard for Brian Burrell, Brandon Connette and Zack Greenlee, the three QB's Fresno has relied on off and on throughout the season. Fresno coach Tim DeRuyter seems to have settled on Burrell as his guy for now but he has certainly not cemented his status as the starter with outstanding numbers. On the season, Burrell is averaging 176.9 yards per game on 168-of-289 passing (58.1 %), 16 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. 3rd worst QB rating in the conference ahead of UNLV and Hawai'i's QB.
Tere Calloway (Shoulder) and Hassan Henderson (head/neck) are out.
Neil Henderson can be reached via Twitter.