The San Jose State Spartans and Nevada Wolf Pack face off in a critical game for both teams. Nevada (5-4, 3-2 Mountain West Conference) is one win away from bowl eligibility, San Jose State (4-5, 3-2 MWC) two. The winner of this game also breaks the second place tie in the MW West Division.
This week’s game: The basics
Site: Mackay Stadium (Reno, Nev.; capacity 30,000)
Time: 1:00 p.m. (Pacific)
Streaming video: Mountain West Network on Campus Insiders, www.livestream.com/mwn
Radio: 1590 KLIV (San Jose) and Spartan Radio Network affiliates: 860 KTRB (San Francisco); 1460/101.1 KION (Salinas/Monterey/Santa Cruz); 1280 KWSX (Stockton); 1360 KFIV (Modesto).
Streaming audio: KLIV streams on www.kliv.com and the TuneIn app. KION streams on www.powertalk1460.com and the iHeartRadio app. To listen to Nevada’s radio broadcast, listen to 920 KBAD out of Las Vegas on www.920thegame.com or the TuneIn app.
Nevada: An overview
Nevada comes off a 7-6 season in which they made the New Orleans Bowl. Head coach Brian Polian is in his third season leading the Wolf Pack. Nevada leads the all-time series against San Jose State 18-8-2. Since 2000, San Jose State has won just three of 15 matchups against Nevada. The Spartans’ last win in Reno was a 49-30 blowout in 2000, when San Jose State finished 7-5 and Nevada 2-10. The Spartans’ last overall win against Nevada was in 2007, when San Jose State won 27-24 after Nevada’s attempt at a game-tying field goal hit the left upright as time expired. Nevada quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who would go on to start for the San Francisco 49ers, was a freshman at the time.
Part of the reason behind Nevada’s series advantage since the new millennium is due to Nevada having a stronger football program during this era. San Jose State has had three winning seasons, two bowl appearances, and five head coaches since 2000. In contrast, Nevada has had nine bowl appearances, eight winning seasons, and three different head coaches. The Kaepernick era at Nevada (2007-2010) would end with Nevada going 3-1 against San Jose State, including a 62-7 lopsided affair in San Jose in 2009.
Even though there is no official rivalry between the schools, San Jose State coach Ron Caragher thinks one does exist in certain ways.
“We got a nice geographical rival,” said Caragher on the Spartan Sports Report. “They’re a bus ride away from us and we recruit against them a lot.”
Nevada runs a pistol offense led by junior quarterback Tyler Stewart (6’4”, 220), featuring a power running attack led by running backs Don Jackson (5’10”, 210) and James Butler (5’9”, 200). Jackson is on the Doak Walker Award watch list. The two running backs have combined for 12 touchdowns and over 1,100 rushing yards.
“He’s a good player. He can throw an accurate pass when needed, but he does run the ball effectively,” commented Caragher on Stewart, who has rushed for 305 yards and three touchdowns. With 12 passing touchdowns, Stewart also ranks third in the conference in passing yards with 1,608.
Caragher also added about Nevada’s run game: “It’s a misdirection run game, and you throw that in with the quarterback element. It’s tough to defend.”
Nevada features the Mountain West’s leader in sacks, senior defensive end Ian Seau, who has eight sacks on the season, four of which were in the Oct. 24 victory over Hawaii. (Yes, he’s also related to Junior Seau.) Lenny Jones is not very far behind with six sacks. Freshman defensive back Dameon Baber has six interceptions. San Jose State quarterback Kenny Potter has been sacked three or four times in each of the past three games, so the target will be very visible on his jersey come Saturday afternoon.
Among the 12 MW teams, Nevada ranks fifth in rush defense, 11th in pass defense, second in turnover margin, third in red zone defense, and third in interceptions.
“Sometimes, you have to slide into, you have to protect double team, be able to help backs, maybe chip on the way out. But you have to hold on a lot of times, one-on-one block,” remarked Caragher about preparing against Nevada’s defensive line.
San Jose State has not had a “we quit” moment yet, in contrast with last year when the team ended with a six-game losing streak that included a turnover-filled, 13-0 loss to a 2-8 Hawaii team on Nov. 15, 2014. Following a 30-7 homecoming loss to current MW West leader San Diego State, the Spartans rebounded with a 31-21 win over New Mexico and a hard-fought battle against BYU that ended in a 17-16 loss, after San Jose State’s two-point conversion in the final minute failed. Coming into last week, BYU averaged nearly 35 points per game but could only manage 17. San Jose State’s run defense, often a weakness during the Caragher era, held BYU to a mere 1.4 yards per rush. Saturday’s game will show if the players have maintained an attitude of rebounding, a theme that Caragher frequently discusses.