Nevada was largely without two defensive starters in last week's win against Fresno State but expects to get one of those players back fully and the other to be a larger contributor.
Starting cornerback EJ Muhammad, who missed the Fresno State game with a concussion, has been cleared for Friday's game against San Jose State.
"He was under concussion protocol, and those things are tricky," Nevada coach Jay Norvell said. "You never quite know when they're going to release them. There was an opportunity he was going to play, but he just didn't work through the protocol. He's been cleared to practice (this week) and has been out on the field and I anticipate him being ready."
Meanwhile, Dom Peterson, the Wolf Pack's star defensive lineman, played only a couple of snaps against Fresno State with a sprained ankle. He's expected to get more reps against a strong Spartans offensive line.
"It's hard to really predict," Norvell said. "I really thought he'd play (against Fresno State). I knew he wouldn't be 100 percent last week. But I think he'll be better this week, and he'll have a few more days to get better. He'll play more than he did last week. I don't know how much more, but I think it'll be pretty hard to keep him out of this game."
Nevada D-line playing well
Even without Peterson, Nevada's defensive line played well against Fresno State, holding the Bulldogs to 2.9 yards per rush while tacking on six tackles for loss and two sacks, although the Wolf Pack got a consistent pass rush on Jake Haener, whose mobility avoided a number of sacks.
Nevada's defensive line, which is replete with former walk-ons, has been strong this season. Against Fresno State, the Wolf Pack started three former walk-ons in Zak Mahannah, Amir Johnson and Sam Hammond with another walk-on, Daniel Grzesiak, recording two tackles for loss and a key sack. The group is led by assistant coach Jackie Shipp, who was hired to lead the position prior to last season.
The Wolf Pack defensive line will have its hands full with San Jose State's offensive line, which has allowed just four sacks and only 17 tackles for loss in five games, both ranking in the top five in the nation on a per-game basis. But Nevada feels confident with its defensive line play entering the contest.
"You have to give Coach Shipp credit for developing those players," Norvell said. "He meticulous. I've watched him coach for a lot of years. Jackie and I coached together at Oklahoma, and I saw him every day. He coaches every step those kids take. Very demanding, but an excellent, excellent technician and great coach."
SJSU not focused on title game
Unlike Nevada, SJSU controls its destiny in reaching the MW title game. If the Spartans beat the Wolf Pack on Friday, it will reach its first championship game since joining the conference in 2013. But coach Brent Brennan, whose team has relocated to Las Vegas for this week's contest due to local COVID-19 restrictions, said the Spartans are not focused on the MW title game this week.
“Since I’ve been here, we haven’t beaten Nevada, so to us all that matters is this game and being as ready as we can be for this game," Brennan said.
Nevada has beaten SJSU three straight seasons, including a 41-38 win at Mackay Stadium last season on a walk-off field goal by Brandon Talton. The Wolf Pack has won 10 of the last 11 matchups in the series.
Brennan was highly complimentary of the Wolf Pack's offense, saying Carson Strong, Romeo Doubs and Toa Taua are among the league's best offensive players.
“They have so many weapons we have to contain with their big-play people, which starts with Strong and Doubs and Taua," Brennen said. "Those three are a monster. We need to have our eyes in the right place and play sound defense and tackling has to be good in this game.”