Utah State quarterback will challenge Nevada Wolf Pack | NevadaAppeal.com

Utah State quarterback will challenge Nevada Wolf Pack

Joe Santoro
For the Nevada Appeal
Utah State quarterback Jordan Love passes in the second half against LSU in Baton Rouge, La., on Oct. 5.
Gerald Herbert/AP | AP

The Nevada Wolf Pack knows all about Utah State Aggies quarterback Jordan Love.

“We have a problem on our hands this week,” Wolf Pack safety Austin Arnold said.

The Wolf Pack will try to solve the problem of stopping Love and the Aggies this Saturday night (7:15 p.m., ESPNU) at Maverik Stadium in Logan, Utah. The Wolf Pack is 4-2 overall and 1-1 in the West Division of the Mountain West while Utah State is 3-2 overall and 2-0 in the Mountain Division.

“Once again we face a tremendous quarterback in Jordan Love,” Wolf Pack coach Jay Norvell said. “He’s may be the best in our league.”

The Wolf Pack has had little success this year slowing down talented quarterbacks. Purdue’s Elijah Sindelar threw for 423 yards and four touchdowns against the Pack, Oregon’s Justin Herbert passed for 310 yards and five touchdowns, Hawaii’s Cole MacDonald had 312 yards and four touchdowns and San Jose State’s Josh Love had 405 yards and three touchdowns. The four quarterbacks combined to complete 101-of-153 passes for 1,450 yards, 16 touchdowns and three interceptions against Nevada.

“We have to know people are going to attack us in certain ways,” Norvell said after last Saturday’s 41-38 win over San Jose State at Mackay Stadium. “Some of the things that have hurt us in the passing game, we’re going to keep seeing it until we stop it.”

The Wolf Pack is ranked 10th in the Mountain West in pass defense, allowing 297 yards a game. The Pack has also allowed the most passing touchdowns in the conference this season at 20. The Pack defense also has just eight sacks this season in six games while Utah State has 11 in five games.

“We just have to play with more confidence,” Arnold said. “There’s too much in our heads sometimes because we’re so young. We just have to start believing in ourselves and believing in our ability.”

San Jose State scored touchdowns on five of its last eight drives last Saturday at Mackay Stadium, three on Love passes.

“We came out strong and played aggressive with more confidence,” Arnold said. “But in the second half we took a step back. It just takes time when it comes to having a young secondary.”

Utah State’s Love, a 6-foot-4, 225-pound junior from Bakersfield, Calif., has struggled this year, with eight interceptions and just six touchdowns in five games. Love, though, is also ranked third in the Mountain West at 267.4 passing yards a game, completing 120-of-192 passes for 1,337 yards.

“I just think he’s tremendous,” Norvell said. “We’re taking strides in the back end in our secondary but we’re still not where we want to be. We’ve got to step up.”

Love, who has never faced the Wolf Pack (the two teams did not meet in 2017 or 2018), has passed for 6,535 yards and 46 touchdowns in his Utah State career. He threw for 3,567 yards and 32 touchdowns a year ago.

“He is just so poised,” said Arnold, who returned an interception off a Josh Love pass last week for a 40-yard touchdown and a 14-0 Pack lead in the first quarter. “He has a lot of experience playing with that team. It’s how effortlessly he throws the ball, how effortlessly he makes it look.”

Love, though, was intercepted three times in each of the Aggies’ losses against Wake Forest and LSU this season.

“He’s played a lot of football,” Norvell said. “He knows what he wants to do with the football.”

Love has played in 30 games in his career with 24 starts. Norvell’s quarterback, Malik Henry, has played in just two games with just one start. The junior completed 22-of-37 passes last week against San Jose State with one touchdown and two interceptions. Henry, like Love, is from California and both quarterbacks played their senior high school seasons in 2015 (Love at Liberty High in Bakersfield and Henry at Long Peach Poly) and sat out their first college season in 2016. Henry was highly recruited nationally and ended up signing with Florida State. Love signed with Utah State, turning down five other offers from Big Sky Conference schools.

“This will be much different than last week,” Norvell said. “We’re playing on the road. We’re playing at night.”

Utah State, which has allowed 281.4 yards a game through the air, has had two weeks to prepare for the Wolf Pack after an eye-opening 42-6 loss at LSU on Oct. 5. Love had one of his worst games as a Utah State quarterback at LSU, completing just 15-of-30 for 130 yards and three interceptions.

“Being able to have that extra week, getting everybody healthy, the extra film (study), the extra treatment, it’s going to give us an upper edge on them,” Utah State linebacker Kevin Meitzenheimer said.

The Aggies are anxious to wipe away the sting of the loss to LSU. “We were humbled the last time out,” Utah State kicker Dominik Eberle said. “But we took that as a motivator. That is not going to happen again. That is not who we are.”

“We got a good jump on Nevada,” Utah State coach Gary Andersen said. “It’s not like we walked around moping (after losing to LSU) because we lost that football game. We put it in the rear view mirror.”

An extra week of rest and preparation is not the only edge the Aggies might have on Saturday over the Wolf Pack. The Aggies are difficult to beat at home, having won nine in a row at Maverik Stadium by an average score of 55-18. Utah State, which last lost at home on Oct. 28, 2017 (41-14 to Boise State in Love‘s second career start), is also 37-9 in its last 46 home games.

“It’s a great atmosphere,” Norvell said. “It’s kind of what college football is all about. A hostile crowd.”

This will be Norvell’s first game in Logan as the Wolf Pack coach. The last time the Wolf Pack played in Logan the coach was Brian Polian as Nevada wasted a 20-point third quarter lead in a 31-27 loss in 2015. The Wolf Pack has lost its last two games at Utah State, also losing 21-17 in Logan in 2011 under coach Chris Ault.

That loss in 2011, though, snapped a seven-game Wolf Pack winning streak at Utah State. The Pack has had a lot of success against the Aggies since the rivalry began in 1904, winning 18 of 24 games overall and 9-of-13 in Logan.

The Wolf Pack, though, will be about a three-touchdown underdog on Saturday.

“You have two very good football teams that are fighting like crazy to stay in the conference hunt,” said Andersen, who is 1-3 as a head coach against Nevada.

Andersen lost to the Wolf Pack 24-23 in 2003 as Southern Utah’s head coach in the first night game ever played at the current Mackay Stadium. Andersen, who previously coached at Utah State from 2009-12 before becoming head coach at Wisconsin (2013-14) and Oregon State (2015-17), also lost to the Pack as Utah State’s coach in 2009 and 2010 and beat the Pack in 2011.

“The one thing you notice (about Nevada) is they play hard,” Andersen said. “They seem to really like football. The last game (against San Jose State) is a perfect example of what they’ve gone through. That team has fought and battled whether it’s been good, bad or indifferent.”

Andersen came away impressed after watching the Pack’s Henry play against San Jose State a week ago.

“When he walked into that moment he was prepared,” Andersen said. “He took advantage of the moment. I’m sure he’ll have high expectations for himself. He’s definitely a young man you have to deal with.”