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Nevada-Arkansas State: Position preview and prediction

Kaleb Fossum
Kaleb Fossum runs with the ball during a game against Fresno State this season. (John Byrne/Nevada athletics)

Nevada Sports Net columnist Chris Murray breaks down Nevada’s bowl game against Arkansas State with a position-by-position analysis.

Arizona Bowl

Records: Nevada (7-5, 5-3 Mountain West) vs. Arkansas State (8-4, 5-3 Sun Belt)

When: Saturday, 10:15 a.m.

Where: Arizona Stadium (capacity 55,675) in Tucson, Ariz.

Surface: FieldTurf

Weather: High of 52; low of 29

TV/Radio: CBS Sports Network/94.5 FM

Broadcast crew: Rich Waltz (Play-By-Play), Aaron Murray (Color Analyst), John Schriffen (Sideline)

Online: None

Betting line: Arkansas State by 1.5; total of 56

All-time series: Nevada leads, 3-2

Last game: Arkansas State 44, Nevada 28 (Nov. 3, 1999)

Position-by-position

Quarterback: Both teams have highly productive quarterbacks. Nevada’s Ty Gangi has thrown for 3,131 yards and 23 TDs. Arkansas State’s Justice Hansen has thrown for 3,172 yards and 27 TDs. Interceptions are the big difference. Hansen hasn’t thrown one since Oct. 27. Gangi has four since then, including three in Nevada's regular-season finale. Edge: Arkansas State

Running backs: Arkansas State has more rushing attempts than passing attempts this year, so it likes to run the ball. Marcel Murray (793 yards, seven TDs) and Warren Wand (652 yards, four TDs) are the top backs. The long wait for the bowl game should benefit Nevada's Toa Taua (ankle), who is 184 yards shy of 1,000 during his true freshman season. Edge: Nevada

Wide receivers/tight end: Nevada is without star receiver McLane Mannix, who transferred to Texas Tech. That should send more balls to Kaleb Fossum and Romeo Doubs. Arkansas State’s top receivers are Oregon transfer Kirk Merritt (75/939/7) and Justin McInnis (56/694/5), who is 6-foot-6. Edge: Arkansas State

Offensive line: Arkansas State has the thickest line Nevada has seen this season, averaging 325 pounds across the board. That group includes two freshmen starters and two senior starters who allowed 21 sacks and paved the way for 4.8 yards per carry. Nevada’s line should have success in the run game against the Red Wolves' vulnerable defensive front. Edge: Arkansas State

Defensive line: Both teams can get after the quarterback with 32 sacks apiece. Arkansas State is much worse against the run (5.0 yards allowed per carry) than Nevada. The Wolf Pack is expected to get back DE Korey Rush (broken foot), who has missed the last three games. Arkansas State DT Forrest Merrill is a big, productive player. Edge: Nevada

Linebackers: Each team has an excellent hybrid backer: Nevada’s Malik Reed (72 tackles, 15.5 TFL, eight sacks, four forced fumbles) and Arkansas State’s Ronheen Bingham (65 tackles, 18.5 TFL, nine sacks, five pass breakups). Tajhe Chambers (70 tackles, 5.5 TFL, four fumble recoveries) also is a good player for the Red Wolves. Edge: Arkansas State

Secondary: Arkansas State faced only 304 passing attempts this season, tied for the sixth fewest in the FBS, so this group hasn’t been tested a ton (it’s basically average across the board). Nevada will be without safety Nephi Sewell, who transferred to BYU. Tyson Williams will step into his starting spot. Edge: Arkansas State

Special teams: Arkansas State is 12-of-19 on field goals and has a solid return game. The Red Wolves have held foes to minus-15 punt return yards (an FBS best), leading to a strong 40.2-yard net punt total. Nevada basically won the 2015 Arizona Bowl because of a kickoff return for a touchdown. If either team gets a big play from its special teams, that's a huge plus. Edge: Arkansas State

Coaching: Unlike his three predecessors (who were one-and-done en route to bigger jobs), Arkansas State’s Blake Anderson has stuck around Jonesboro. He’s 39-24 overall, but 8-15 against non-league foes, including 1-3 in bowls. This is Norvell’s 20th career bowl but his first as a head coach. Edge: Arkansas State

Prediction

Nevada 28, Arkansas State 27: I’ve been waffling on this one. Arkansas State is the slightly better team, but my biggest concern with the Red Wolves is they haven't beaten a good team (0-4 against squads that reached bowls). And of their eight victories, one was against an FCS school and four were against teams with three wins or fewer. Arkansas State’s best win might have come against four-win UNLV, which beat Nevada (that’s the only common opponent both teams had). On the other hand, Nevada lost two key starters to transfer – Mannix and Sewell – and weren’t exactly great against bowl teams, either (2-4, with the two bowl teams it beat – Hawaii and San Diego State – getting blown out in their postseason games). If Nevada limits itself to one turnover or fewer and runs the ball at least 40 times, it wins. If it falls short of those two goals, it loses. I’ll say the Wolf Pack plays a clean enough game to score its sixth bowl victory in school history. Season record: 11-1

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