Nevada-Boise: 10 things to look for during today’s game
For the Nevada Appeal
Ten things to look for when the Nevada Wolf Pack (10-1) takes on the Boise State Broncos (10-0) at Mackay Stadium Friday night (7:21 p.m. kickoff) . . .
1. Can the Wolf Pack avoid a slow start?
The Wolf Pack fell behind Boise 27-3 last year, 24-3 in 2008 and 21-7 in 2007 before losing all three games by 11 (2009), seven (2008) and two (2007) points. Avoiding a slow start just might be the key to beating the Broncos. Last year the Wolf Pack won the coin toss, deferred to the second half and watched Boise State’s Titus Young return the opening kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown. This year they may want to receive the opening kick if given a choice.
2. Will the crowd stay behind the Wolf Pack?
A huge factor Friday night just might be the 30,000 or so fans in the stands. Yes, some of them will be wearing Boise State orange and blue. Boise fans have been coming down to Reno in big numbers for this game since the first meeting in 1971. But the vast majority of fans will be wearing silver and blue. It is important, if Boise indeed gets another early lead, for the crowd to stay behind this Pack team. The crowd just might be the key in ending the Pack’s 10-game losing streak in this series.
3. Who will be this year’s Dan Paul?
The Broncos love to hit their opponents with a sneak attack. Last year’s sneak attack on the Pack was in the form of seldom-used fullback/ tight end Dan Paul. The 6-foot, 240-pounder had just one catch all season heading into last year’s game against Nevada. All Paul did was catch three touchdown passes against the Pack to give Boise its 27-3 early lead. Paul, by the way, is now in his third year with the Broncos. Half of the six catches he has in his career came a year ago against the Pack, 44% (22-of-50) of his receiving yards came in that game and, yes, 100% of his three TD catches. Paul has two catches for 10 yards this year.
4. Will defense be overrated once again?
Most of the experts are pointing to Boise State’s defense as the difference between these two teams. The Broncos, after all, allow just 11.5 points a game and just 2.2 yards per carry on the ground. What the experts fail to mention, though, is that the Broncos have never stopped the Wolf Pack since Colin Kaepernick has been on the field. The Pack has averaged 44.6 points against Boise the past three years with Kaepernick at quarterback. Kaepernick has thrown seven touchdowns in three games against Boise. He ran for 187 yards and four touchdowns against Boise in 2007 when he was a red-shirt freshman starting his first college game. The Wolf Pack rushed for 242 yards against Boise a year ago (Vai Taua had 160). Neither team has played any defense in this rivalry the last three years.
5. Mr. Moore meet Mr. Moch
Any chance the Wolf Pack has of slowing down Boise quarterback Kellen Moore will rest with their pass rush. Wolf Pack defensive end Dontay Moch could all but win his second Western Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year award (and jump up two or three rounds in the NFL draft in April) by abusing Moore on Friday night. Moch had three of the Pack’s six sacks a week ago against New Mexico State. Ryan Coulson and Brett Roy have also been known to put a few bruises on opposing quarterbacks. The Pack sacked Moore twice two years ago in Reno and did not get to him last year in Boise.
6. Mr. Kaepernick meet Mr. Winterswyk
Another huge key will be how well the Wolf Pack offensive line controls Boise’s front four. The Broncos, like the Wolf Pack, have an extremely talented and productive defensive line with ends Ryan Winterswyk (six tackles for a loss, 2.5 sacks) and Shea McClellin (7.5 sacks, 11.5 tackles for a loss) and tackles Billy Winn (four sacks, seven tackles for a loss) and Chase Baker (six tackles for a loss, 4.5 sacks). Those four are a big reason why opponents average less than the length of Colin Kaepernick from head to toe (2.2 yards) per rush. Boise sacked Kaepernick twice last year but did not touch him in 2008. At any rate, don’t expect Kaepernick (or Moore, for that matter) to just sit back and camp out in the pocket.
7. Boise’s dynamic duo
Boise just might have the best tandem of wide receivers in the nation in Titus Young (5-foot-11, 175 pounds) and Austin Pettis (6-3, 203). This will really be the first game that the Pack has had to worry about both of them in the same game when they are Boise’s top two targets. The two were freshmen in 2007 and combined for just three catches for 41 yards. In 2008 against Nevada Young did not play and Pettis destroyed the Pack with nine catches for 126 yards and two scores. And last year against Nevada Pettis missed all but the first series with an injury. Young caught four passes for 69 yards and returned the opening kickoff for a score. The Pack secondary will have to keep Pettis and Young in front of them for the Pack to have a chance in this game.
8. Boise’s kick and punt returners
As if Moore isn’t enough, the Broncos can also hurt you by returning a kick or punt for a quick score. Chris Potter, who stands just 5-9, 160 pounds, averages 15.1 yards on punt returns and has a touchdown to his credit this year (76 yards against Idaho). Young is back returning kickoffs (he’s also returned four punts) again and averages 25.3 yards each time he brings one back. He doesn’t have a touchdown this year but that is probably due to the fact that he’s only returned 15 kickoffs since Boise opponents rarely kick off. The Pack kick coverage teams have had an up and down year. This needs to be an up night.
9. Watch out for the trick play
Boise running a trick play is sort of like the Rolling Stones singing “Satisfaction” in concert. You know it’s coming and they rarely disappoint. The Broncos haven’t gone wild with the trick plays this year so they might be saving up something special for the Pack. Wide receiver Austin Pettis has thrown three passes this year, completing all three for two touchdowns (against Louisiana Tech and Oregon State). The TD against Louisiana Tech was to Moore. The Pack tried that play once this year but the pass to Kaepernick in the end zone was picked off. These two teams know each other extremely well. It might be a trick play that decides the winner.
10. Will the Broncos be able to handle adversity?
The Wolf Pack has not had a lead against Boise State since 2007. The last Wolf Pack lead against Boise was 61-58 and 51-44 in overtime in 2007. Those two leads lasted all of six plays combined. The last lead the Wolf Pack has had on Boise in regulation time was 44-41 in 2007 with five minutes to play. Boise tied it on their next drive with a last-second field goal to send it into that historic overtime. And, in case you forgot, Boise beat the Wolf Pack seven consecutive times from 1999-2006 by an average of 39 points. So, as you can see, Boise hasn’t had to deal with a whole lot of adversity against Nevada in the last dozen years. It might be time to see if they can deal with some hard times in this rivalry.