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Nevada-Oregon football: A position preview and prediction

Elijah Cooks
Elijah Cooks hauls in a touchdown pass against Purdue. (Jenna Holland/Nevada Sports Net)

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

Nevada (1-0) at Oregon (0-1)

When: Saturday, 4:30 p.m.

Where: Autzen Stadium (capacity 54,000)

Surface: FieldTurf

Weather: High of 73; low of 57 (10 percent chance of rain)

TV/Radio: Pac-12 Network/94.5 FM

Betting line: Oregon by 24; total of 61.5

All-time series: Oregon leads, 6-1

Last game: Oregon 69, Nevada 20 (Sept. 10, 2011)

Position-by-position

Quarterback: Oregon’s Justin Herbert will be a first-round pick in the 2020 NFL draft, and it’s easy to see why. He has the size, arm strength, mobility and experience NFL teams crave. The 6-foot-6, 237-pounder has thrown for 7,312 yards, 64 touchdowns and 17 interceptions in his career. Nevada’s Carson Strong was excellent in the second half of his starting debut in the win over Purdue and now gets his first road test. Edge: Oregon

Running backs: Last year, C.J. Verdell became the third Oregon freshman to rush for 1,000 yards. In the opener against Auburn, he had 14 carries for 76 yards and a touchdown. His backup, Travis Dye, also was a freshman last year and rushed for 739 yards with five scores. Nevada’s Toa Taua rushed for 56 yards and caught eight passes for 64 yards against Purdue. Oregon has a little more depth. Edge: Oregon

Wide receivers/tight end: Injuries have hit Oregon’s receiving corps hard. It’s an experienced group, just short on depth and without as much explosion. Jaylon Redd (5-8/180) and Johnny Johnson III (6-0/199) are the guys to watch. Penn State transfer WR Juwan Johnson (leg) and TE Steve McCormick (ankle) are questionable. Nevada’s Elijah Cooks (7 catches, 60 yards, two TDs) was big versus Purdue. Edge: Nevada

Offensive line: Oregon starts four seniors. The line averages 311 pounds per starter. LG Shane Lemieux is a preseason All-American. LT Penei Sewell was a freshman All-American. C Jake Hanson was second-team All-Pac-12. RG Dallas Warmack is a high-level Alabama transfer. And RT Calvin Throckmorton has started 39 straight games. It's an elite group. Nevada’s line allowed just one sack to Purdue in 51 pass attempts. Edge: Oregon

Defensive line: Oregon runs a three-man front anchored by 322-pound nose guard Jordon Scott, a second-team all-conference player in 2018 who has made 25 straight starts. DE Kayvon Thibodeaux (6-5/242) was the top-ranked player by ESPN in the 2019 recruiting class. This group is more average than great. Nevada’s front has its hands full with Oregon, but it was good versus the run against Purdue. Edge: Oregon

Linebackers: Weakside linebacker Troy Dye (6-4/226) is one of the nation’s top linebackers. He has 328 tackles, including 34.5 for loss, 12.5 sacks and three interceptions in his career. He’s a potential first-round draft pick. Two other Oregon linebackers made their first career starts last week. For Nevada, seniors Gabriel Sewell and Lucas Weber must have a strong game in limiting Oregon’s rushing attack. Edge: Oregon

Secondary: Oregon returned three starters from last year and has ballhawks Thomas Graham Jr. (seven INTs, 30 PBUs) and Jevon Holland (six INTs in 14 games). This is the strength of Oregon’s defense. Nevada’s Daniel Brown was spectacular against Purdue, snaring two interceptions. The Wolf Pack secondary must be better after giving up 423 passing yards to Purdue, the fourth most in the nation in week one. Edge: Oregon

Special teams: Nevada’s special teams effort against Purdue last week was one of the best in school history. The Wolf Pack appears to have a legit weapon in K Brandon Talton, who booted the game-winning 56-yard field goal, and P Quinton Conaway had an awesome game. Nevada must be good against punt returner Jevon Holland, who had three returns for 131 yards vs. Auburn. Carson Strong could be used in pooch punt situations again. Edge: Nevada

Coaching: I gave the edge here to Purdue last week when it should have gone to Nevada (the Wolf Pack out-coached the Boilermakers), so I’m making up for it by giving the edge to Nevada this week. Oregon has more firepower in personnel, so Nevada has to out-coached the Ducks to beat them. Oregon has three friendly faces on staff in ex-Nevada assistants Jim Mastro, Ken Wilson and Donte Williams. Ducks defensive coordinator Andy Avalos coached against Nevada each of the last two years when he was Boise State’s DC. Edge: Nevada

Prediction

Oregon 45, Nevada 23: The Wolf Pack should enter this game feeling as if it has nothing to lose. As more than a three-touchdown underdog, Nevada isn’t expected to keep this one close, so the team should go out there, play hard and have fun in front of the biggest crowd the Wolf Pack will play before all season. If Nevada can make Oregon one-dimensional by shutting down the Ducks’ run game and be opportunistic in the turnover margin and on special teams, it could find itself in this game late. But that’s a lot to ask for as Oregon, which is a really experienced team, should be fired up after letting its season opener slip away in the final couple of seconds in a loss to Auburn. I just don’t see how Nevada keeps Oregon under 40 points, although I do have the Wolf Pack covering. Record (straight up): 0-1. Record (against the spread): 1-0

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