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Nevada-San Diego State: Position preview and prediction

Gabe Sewell
Gabe Sewell and the Wolf Pack take on San Diego State on Saturday. (John Byrne/Nevada athletics)

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

San Diego State (6-1, 3-0 MW) at Nevada (4-4, 2-2)

When: Saturday, 7:30 p.m.

Where: Mackay Stadium (capacity 27,000)

Surface: FieldTurf

Weather: High of 73; low of 41

TV/Radio: ESPNU/94.5 FM

Online: ESPN3.com

Betting line: SDSU by 2.5; total of 46

All-time series: SDSU leads, 7-3

Last game: SDSU 42, Nevada 23 (Nov. 18, 2017 in San Diego)

Position-by-position

Quarterback: SDSU has been without QB Christian Chapman (sprained MCL) since early September. He’s not expected to play, but is ready as the emergency QB. Backup Ryan Agnew (51.8 percent, 876 yards, four TDs, four INTs) has been more serviceable than stellar. Nevada’s Ty Gangi must avoid big mistakes (four INTs in two games vs. SDSU). Edge: Nevada

Running backs: SDSU is without its starter here, too, as Juwan Washington broke his clavicle in late September. Backup Chase Jasmin has averaged 87 yards per game in the last five but doesn’t offer the explosive play. Nevada’s Toa Taua is coming off a big game but has a tall task in piercing the Aztecs’ front. Edge: Nevada

Wide receivers/tight end: Fred Trevillion leads SDSU with 14 catches. Yep. Just 14. Nevada’s Kaleb Fossum caught 15 passes in one game this year. TE Parker Houston, a Reed High alum, leads SDSU with two touchdown catches. For Nevada, Elijah Cooks (six TDs) has become a big weapon over the last month. Edge: Nevada

Offensive line: SDSU returned all five starters, with its line accounting for 87 career starts. All-MW OT Tyler?Roemer, a Fernley native, starts at left tackle. One-time Nevada commit Dominic?Gudino starts at center. Nevada’s Union played well at Hawaii and must be superb to get traction in the run game against a stout front. Edge: SDSU

Defensive line: The Aztecs are second in the nation in run yards allowed per carry (2.4) but has just 13 sacks. I’ll go with SDSU on that strength of that run defense, but it’s hard to pick against the Wolf Pack given how well its line has played, limiting foes to 3.5 yards per carry while recording 10 of the Wolf Pack’s 23 sacks. Edge: SDSU

Linebackers: SDSU always has great linebacker play and this year is no different. The group is led by Ronley Lakalaka, who has started 32 games (44 career games). Nevada’s Gabe Sewell leads the team in tackles (56) while adding big-impact plays (five TFL, three sacks, two fumble recoveries). The difference-maker is Malik Reed. Edge: Nevada

Secondary: SDSU has given up a high passing percentage (62 percent) but has nearly as many interceptions (seven) as pass touchdowns allowed (eight). Nevada’s safeties will play a big role in slowing down the Aztecs' rushing game but can’t allow deep passes via the play action. Edge: SDSU

Special teams: SDSU K John Barron II has been the MW special teams player of the week four times this year. He’s an NFL-caliber kicker: 13-of-15 on field goal in 2018, including 4-of-4 from 50-plus. SDSU’s return game has not been as potent as usual. Nevada fumbled two punt catches last week. Edge: SDSU

Coaching: I love Rocky Long. I’ve loved Rocky Long since he was New Mexico’s head coach. The dude just wins games and does so with a physical team. Nevada’s Jay Norvell has his program trending up you could make a good case for him being the MW coach of the year if the Wolf Pack wins out (that'd be a five-game win streak). Edge: SDSU

Prediction

Nevada 24, SDSU 20: I’ve batted this one around my brain for a couple of days. It’s a tough call. On one hand, SDSU beat Boise State on the road and Arizona State at home. On the other hand, it needed a late field goal to beat SJSU at home and equally struggled to fend off Air Force and Eastern Michigan. You can almost guarantee this is going to be a close game because SDSU’s defense is elite and its offense is dreadful, in part because of the injury absence of its two best offensive players (Chapman and Washington). Ultimately, I’ll take Nevada because the Wolf Pack is much better equipped to handle the Aztecs’ rushing attack than in years past. If the Wolf Pack can hold SDSU under 175 rushing yards and avoid the big turnover, it should have the offensive firepower to get past the Aztecs. Season record: 8-0

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