Mountain West rankings: Nevada Wolf Pack still the best
The Nevada Wolf Pack’s survival-of-the-fittest season continued this past Saturday afternoon.
With San Diego State quarterback Lucas Johnson (hamstring) and running back Greg Bell (ankle) battling injuries all game, the Wolf Pack still needed a goal line stand in the final minute to hold off the Aztecs, 26-21, and hold onto the top spot in this week’s Nevada Appeal Mountain West football rankings.
The Wolf Pack, now 5-0, will play at No. 7 Hawaii (2-3) this Saturday night with just three regular season games remaining. No. 4 San Diego State (3-2) has already had its scheduled game this week against Fresno State canceled because of COVID-19 and has just one Mountain West game left.
“They played better than us,” San Diego State defensive lineman Caden McDonald said of the Wolf Pack on Saturday.
The Wolf Pack certainly played better at the right time, keeping the Aztecs out of the end zone with under a minute to play. The Aztecs’ Darren Hall picked off a deflected Carson Strong pass with 3:23 to play at the Nevada 26-yard line and promptly drove down to the 4-yard line.
Three incomplete Johnson passes and a 1-yard run by Chance Bell, though, allowed the Wolf Pack to stay unbeaten on the season.
Johnson, who earlier scored on a 35-yard run, was bothered all day long by a hamstring injury and was removed at times from the game. Greg Bell, the Mountain West’s leading rusher, was hampered by an ankle injury suffered on the third play of the game and finished with just 28 yards on nine carries. San Diego State was also victimized by six crucial penalties.
“We had an opportunity to win the game,” Aztecs coach Brady Hoke said. “There were too many penalties and some I don’t agree with at all. But we’re going to fight on just like Aztecs do.”
Hoke said Monday that the Aztecs are hoping to find a non-league opponent this week to replace the canceled game against Fresno State.
The Mountain West had three games called off last week because of COVID-19 (San Jose State at Fresno State, UNLV at Colorado State and Utah State at Wyoming).
“We definitely plan on playing this week,” said Hoke, whose Aztecs are now all but eliminated from the Mountain West title race.
No. 2 Boise State (4-1, 4-0) used special teams, wide receiver Khalil Shakir and running back Andrew Van Buren to bury Hawaii 40-32 last weekend in Honolulu. Boise’s Avery Williams returned a kickoff 99 yards for a 26-9 lead in the third quarter.
“I thought special teams was the dagger,” Boise State head coach Bryan Harsin said. “I do think there’s a belief on special teams that we can make plays and change the game.”
Williams, who blocked two punts two weeks ago and also returned a kickoff for a touchdown against Air Force last month, now has eight special teams touchdowns in his career.
“We needed something on special teams to open this game up a little bit,” Williams said.
Shakir caught 11 passes for 130 yards and two touchdowns from quarterback Hank Bachmeier. Shakir, though, was more impressed with Williams’ performance.
“You never know what he’s going to do,” Shakir said of Williams. “He’s so elusive and sneaky. His moves are amazing.”
One of Shakir’s touchdown catches came on a pass from wide receiver C.T. Thomas. Van Buren had 113 yards on 27 carries and scored two touchdowns on a pair of 11-yard runs in the third quarter.
No. 7 Hawaii (2-3) fell behind 40-17 before scoring on a pair of touchdown passes from quarterback Chevan Cordeiro in the final 10 minutes. Cordeiro was 25-of-48 for 253 yards and three touchdowns and will face the Wolf Pack Saturday night. Wide receiver Calvin Turner caught two of Cordeiro’s touchdown passes (36, 15 yards) and also scored on a 1-yard run.
No. 6 Air Force (2-2, 1-2) dominated No. 10 New Mexico (0-4), 28-0, in the only other Mountain West game last week.
The Falcons ran for 356 yards and controlled the ball for 36:29. Air Force’s Brad Roberts rushed for 177 yards and three touchdowns on 28 carries.
New Mexico quarterback Trae Hall was 23-of-42 for 221 yards and an interception.
The Mountain West season, and the two teams in the conference title game on Dec. 19, will likely come down to three crucial games over the next three weeks. San Jose State is at Boise State this Saturday, Fresno State is at Nevada on Dec. 5 while Nevada will travel to San Jose State on Dec. 12.
No. 5 Fresno State (3-1) has not played a game since it beat Utah State on Nov. 14 and will not play again until it takes on the Wolf Pack at Mackay Stadium.
The Nevada Appeal’s Mountain West football rankings:
1. NEVADA (5-0, 5-0): Last week: Nevada 26, San Diego State 21. This week: Nevada at Hawaii, Saturday.
2. BOISE STATE (4-1, 4-0): Last week: Boise State 40, Hawaii 32. This week: San Jose State at Boise State, Saturday.
3. SAN JOSE STATE (4-0, 4-0): Last week: San Jose State at Fresno State, canceled. This week: San Jose State at Boise State, Saturday.
4. SAN DIEGO STATE (3-2, 3-2): Last week: Nevada 26, San Diego State 21. This week: San Diego State at Fresno, canceled.
5. FRESNO STATE (3-1, 3-1): Last week: San Jose State at Fresno State, canceled. This week: San Diego State at Fresno State, canceled.
6. AIR FORCE (2-2, 1-2). Last week: Air Force 28, New Mexico 0. This week: Colorado State at Air Force, Thursday.
7. HAWAII (2-3, 2-3): Last week: Boise State 40, Hawaii 32. This week: Nevada at Hawaii, Saturday.
8. COLORADO STATE (1-2, 1-2): Last week: UNLV at Colorado State, canceled. This week: Colorado State at Air Force, Thursday.
9. WYOMING (1-2, 1-2): Last week: Utah State at Wyoming, canceled. This week: Wyoming at UNLV, Friday.
10. NEW MEXICO (0-4, 0-4): Last week: Air Force 28, New Mexico 0. This week: New Mexico at Utah State, Thursday.
11. UTAH STATE (0-4, 0-4). Last week: Utah State at Wyoming, canceled. This week: New Mexico at Utah State, Thursday.
12. UNLV (0-4, 0-4): Last week: UNLV at Colorado State, canceled. This week: Wyoming at UNLV, Friday.