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Nevada opponent preview: The Wolf Pack better not lose to San Jose State

Brett Brennan
Brett Brennan has secured just three wins in his first two seasons at San Jose State. (Young Kwak/AP file)

The Nevada football team’s season opens Aug. 30 when it hosts Purdue. Leading into the season opener, we will preview all 12 of Nevada’s games in 2019. Here is a look at the Wolf Pack’s game versus San Jose State.

Just the facts

San Jose State at Nevada

When: Oct. 12, 1 p.m.

Where: Mackay Stadium

TV: TBD

2018 recap

San Jose State improved as a team in 2018, but its record did not as the Spartans posted a 1-11 mark that included a loss to FCS foe UC Davis. The team’s only win was a 50-37 decision over UNLV in late October. Outside of that, SJSU was outscored by nearly 18 points per game. The Spartans were out-scored by 25.9 points per game the year prior, so this was progress even if Brent Brennan fell to 3-22 in his two seasons in San Jose. SJSU played competitive games with Hawaii, Colorado State, San Diego State, Wyoming and Nevada, which took a 21-12 victory over the Spartans, so at least the team was in more close games.

The history

Nevada and SJSU have played 32 games dating to 1899, a 6-0 win by the Wolf Pack (which I guess would have been called the Sagebrushers at the time). That game was the 13th in program history for Nevada. The teams have played all but one year since 2000 – they didn't face off in 2012 – and Nevada has won nine of the last 10 against the Spartans, who scored a 14-10 home win in 2016, which might have been the death knell in the Brian Polian era. The Wolf Pack has dominated this series since moving to the FBS in 1992, posting a 17-5 record against the Spartans, who have just three bowl berths in that period.

Spartans on offense

SJSU scored 21.3 points per game last season, the second-worst figure in the MW. The Spartans couldn’t run the ball, averaging an FBS-worst 61.5 yards per game and 2.07 yards per carry. Tyler Nevens, who rushed for a team-high 554 yards in 2018, and four starting offensive linemen are back, so there should be progress there. Starting quarterback Josh Love (1,963 yards, 56.1% passing, 14 TDs, nine INTs) returns and has his top receiver back in Tre Walker, a big-play threat who caught 39 passes for 714 yards and five touchdowns. Tight end Josh Oliver was a third-round NFL draft pick and SJSU lost four of its top six pass-catchers. There’s some continuity here, so you can expect some improvement, but I wouldn’t peg this as a top-half offense in the MW.

Spartans on defense

This unit got no help from the offense. It was on the field in huge numbers (SJSU had the fifth-worst time of possession among FBS teams), which led to the team giving up 36.6 points per game (115th in the nation). The Spartans were better against the run than the pass and returns seven starters on defense, although the losses of DL Bryson Bridges and Boogie Roberts hurt. They combined for 117 tackles, including 16.5 for loss. Four of the team’s top-five tacklers are back, including LBs Ethan Aguayo and Jesse Osuna, who combined for 199 tackles with a good chunk of disruptive plays. One key is finding a pass rush. SJSU had 11 sacks last season, only 0.5 more than Utah State’s Tipa Galeai had by himself.

Most likely outcome

The Wolf Pack better not lose this game. You just don’t lose to SJSU at home and live to talk about it. In the last five seasons, only two teams have lost to SJSU during the regular season and went on to make a bowl game – Wyoming in 2017 and New Mexico in 2015 – and those games were in San Jose. The last team to lose a home game to SJSU and still make a bowl was Colorado State in 2013. Nevada should have minimal issue in this game, and if it does it probably means the season isn’t going very well.

Sports columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at crmurray@sbgtv.com or follow him on Twitter @MurrayNSN.

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