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Position preview for Nevada-Idaho State: Who has the edge where?

Tanner Conner
Wide receiver Tanner Conner is Idaho State's best player. (Idaho State athletics)

Nevada Sports Net columnist Chris Murray breaks down Nevada’s football game against Idaho State on Saturday at Mackay Stadium with a position-by-position analysis.

Idaho State (0-1) at Nevada (1-0)

When: Saturday, 7:30 p.m.

Where: Mackay Stadium (capacity 27,000)

Surface: FieldTurf

Weather: High of 83; low of 53

TV/Radio: Nevada Sports Net/94.5 FM

Online: Watch Stadium

Betting line: None listed

All-time series: Nevada leads, 18-12

Last matchup: Idaho State won, 30-28, on Sept. 16, 2017

Position-by-position

Quarterback: Carson Strong opened the season with a 312-yard, two-TD performance against Cal, which typically has one of the Pac-12’s stoutest defenses. He should feast on an FCS secondary. Idaho State’s Tyler Vander Waal is a Wyoming transfer who played Nevada in 2019 (3-of-10, 63 yards, one TD in a 31-3 win). Vander Waal is prone to interceptions (13 picks in seven games at Idaho State). Edge: Nevada

Running backs: Nevada didn’t get its ground game going against Cal but should have more success against Idaho State. Toa Taua and Devonte Lee combined for just 73 yards on 22 carries against the Bears (3.32 yards per attempt). Idaho State has a young backfield with sophomore Malaki Rango (351 yards, 3.9 ypc, three TDs in five spring season games) and freshman Raiden Hunter. Edge: Nevada

Wide receivers/tight end: This is another young group for Idaho State, which starts freshmen Xavier Guillory and Christian Fredericksen, who are 6-2 and 6-3, respectively, as well as 6-3 senior Tanner Conner, the team’s best player and only preseason All-Big Sky pick. Conner, who also is a track and field star, caught 34 balls for 685 yards and three TDs during the six-game spring season. This is a good group for Idaho State, but Nevada has an embarrassment of riches. Edge: Nevada

Offensive line: Nevada’s offensive line didn’t get much push against Cal in the run game and allowed 11 pressures of Carson Strong, although he was never sacked. The Wolf Pack lost starting guards Andrew Cannon and Jermaine Ledbetter to injuries. Cannon (knee) is out for this game; Ledbetter (ankle) should play. Idaho State starts four sophomores on the line, which is a pretty light group. Edge: Nevada

Defensive line: Nevada getting a consistent pass rush on Idaho State QB Tyler Vander Waal is key given his erratic passing while under duress. If the Pack doesn’t pressure him, Vander Waal is talented enough to do damage through the air. Idaho State runs a three-man front, and it’s a hefty group, averaging 297 pounds per starter. DE Raemo Trevino is the Bengals’ most disruptive defensive lineman. Edge: Nevada

Linebackers: Idaho State’s top linebacker is Conner Wills, who has 126 tackles in 19 games and was honorable mention All-Big Sky in the spring. He had 14 tackles in the Bengals’ season opener. Darian Green, who began his career at UMass, also is a solid player. Bishop Manogue alum Preston Helu is a reserve. Nevada’s Lawson Hall-Daiyan Henley duo has turned into a strong group. Edge: Nevada

Secondary: Idaho State allowed 275.3 passing yards and 13 touchdowns in six games in the spring, so this is a suspect unit that doesn’t get much help from the pass rush. Safety Quantraill Morris-Walker, who had two interceptions in the spring, is the Bengals’ top secondary player. For Nevada, it’d be a disappointment if the Wolf Pack didn’t have multiple interceptions given the competition. Edge: Nevada

Special teams: Kevin Ryan serves as the Bengals’ punter and kicker. A lefty, he averages around 41 yards per punt, although he averaged 55 yards on four attempts last week. Ryan is 20-of-28 on field goals, so he’s a solid kicker. Idaho State gets almost nothing out of its return game, but its coverage units have been good. Nevada got a big punt return from Romeo Doubs versus Cal last week. Edge: Nevada

Coaching: Idaho State is led by head coach Rob Phenicie, who had two stints as an assistant coach at UNLV, so he’s familiar with Nevada. Phenicie led the Bengals past Nevada in 2017, a shocking 30-28 win as a 33.5-point underdog. But his tenure has largely been a struggle (15-26 overall, 11-19 in the Big Sky). Nevada’s Jay Norvell is 23-13 since going 3-9 in his debut season in 2017, which included that loss to the Bengals. Edge: Nevada

Columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at crmurray@sbgtv.com or follow him on Twitter at @ByChrisMurray.

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