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Nevada football at Fresno State: A position preview and prediction

Elijah Cooks
Elijah Cooks and the Wolf Pack take on Fresno State on Saturday. (Byrne Photo/Nevada athletics)

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

Nevada (6-4, 3-3 MW) at Fresno State (4-6, 2-4)

When: Saturday, 7:30 p.m.

Where: Bulldog Stadium (capacity 41,031)

Surface: FieldTurf

Weather: High of 69; low of 40

TV/Radio: ESPN2/94.5 FM

Betting line: Fresno State by 14; total of 51

All-time series: Fresno State leads 29-20-1

Last game: Fresno won, 21-3 (Oct. 6, 2018 in Reno)

Position-by-position

Quarterback: Fresno State’s Jorge Reyna has been a step down from Marcus McMaryion, but he’s a competent quarterback (2,242 yards, 63.4% passing, 11 TDs, nine INTs) who can hurt teams with his legs (409 yards, two TDs). Nevada’s Carson Strong has improved in his second go-around as a starter, limiting turnovers, but he needs some more explosive plays (just 5.95 yards per pass attempt). Edge: Fresno State

Running backs: Injuries have thinned Fresno State’s depth, including a season-ending knee surgery for local product Peyton Dixon (Manogue). But Ronnie Rivers is a solid back who has rushed for 702 yards and a MW-best 12 touchdowns. Nevada should get back Kelton Moore, who has missed three games with an ankle injury, but Toa Taua and Devonte Lee will get the bulk of the carries. Edge: Fresno State

Wide receivers/tight end: Fresno State doesn’t have much depth at receiver, but it does have a good tight end in Jared Rice while Rivers catches a lot of passes out of the backfield. The Bulldogs’ top receiver is sophomore Zane Pope (41/453/1). Nevada has two strong weapons in Romeo Doubs and Elijah Cooks. Slot Kaleb Fossum (shoulder) is out for the season, giving Ben Putman more reps. Edge: Nevada

Offensive line: Fresno State has started three centers, three left tackles and four left guards, so it’s been a revolving door at some key positions. Four of the team’s five starters are underclassmen. Still, the group is paving the way for 5.1 yards per carry, albeit while allowing 17 sacks. Nevada ranks last in the MW in rushing yards per carry (3.1) and is second to last in sacks allowed (25). Edge: Fresno State

Defensive line: Fresno State’s Mykal Walker hasn't been as productive this season as he was last year, but he’s a quality player. The Bulldogs have been so-so against the run (4.1 ypc allowed). Nevada’s line was excellent in the win over San Diego State, shutting down the Aztecs’ run game while getting constant pressure on the quarterback. The group's motor must be high to rein in Reyna’s rushing ability. Edge: Nevada

Linebackers: Fresno State’s Justin Rice is one of the MW’s best defenders. He has 96 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, two interceptions, four forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. His presence gives the Bulldogs a slight edge. Nevada’s Gabriel Sewell is coming off a tremendous effort in the Wolf Pack’s last game while fellow starters Lawson Hall and Kyle Adams have been solid. Edge: Fresno State

Secondary: The Bulldogs have two quality veterans in CB Jaron Bryant and SS Juju Hughes, but the Bulldogs have allowed 266.6 passing yards per game while allowing 61 percent passing. Both are the third worst in the MW. Fresno State does have 11 interceptions, the third most in the league. Nevada’s secondary was strong against SDSU, but the Bulldogs’ pass defense has been a little better over the long haul. Edge: Fresno State

Special teams: Fresno State K Cesar Silva has struggled, making just 12-of-21 field goals. P Blake Cusick (44.1 yards per punt) has been excellent. The Bulldogs haven’t gotten much out of its return game and has allowed one kickoff for a touchdown. Nevada gets the edge because it has a better kicker (Brandon Talton) and this game could come down to a field goal here or there despite the 14-point betting line. Edge: Nevada

Coaching: Fresno State’s Jeff Tedford and Nevada’s Jay Norvell both took over their programs in 2017. Tedford inherited a 1-11 team and has gone 26-12 overall and 16-6 in the MW with two West Division titles. Norvell inherited a 5-7 team and has gone 17-18 overall and 11-11 in the MW, so the edge goes to Tedford, although his team has struggled in 2019 after back-to-back double-digit win campaigns. Edge: Fresno State

Prediction

Fresno State 28, Nevada 21: Fresno State being a two-touchdown favorite despite having a 4-6 record compared to Nevada’s 6-4 record might have surprised some, but the computers value Fresno State at the same level as teams like Utah State, Wyoming and Hawaii, which all beat Nevada in lopsided fashion. The Wolf Pack played its best game of the season in its last outing, a road win over Top 25 team San Diego State, and is coming off a bye, so it has those two things in its favor. The quality of these defenses is basically equal. The big difference comes on offense where Fresno State is averaging 31.6 points per game, which is 12.5 more than Nevada. The Bulldogs also have the home-field edge, so I’ll take them to win this game but Nevada to cover. It will take a great effort from the Wolf Pack defense to win this one outright. Record (straight up): 8-2. Record (against the spread): 7-2-1

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