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

Dom Peterson
Dom Peterson and the Nevada defensive line have to slow down Wyoming's powerful rushing attack. (Byrne Photo/Nevada athletics)

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

Wyoming (0-0) at Nevada (0-0)

When: Saturday, 4 p.m.

Where: Mackay Stadium (capacity 27,000)

Surface: FieldTurf

Weather: High of 71; low of 34

TV/Radio: CBS Sports Network/94.5 FM

Betting line: Wyoming by 4.5; total of 51

All-time series: Wyoming leads 5-3

Last matchup: Wyoming won, 31-3, on Oct. 26, 2019

Position-by-position

Quarterback: Both teams start sophomore quarterbacks, although they’re quite different. Wyoming’s Sean Chambers is a huge running threat who is inaccurate (45.9 percent completions) but hits a lot of big plays down the field. Nevada’s Carson Strong is a throw-first player with some running ability who has a high completion percent but hasn’t stretched the field with consistency. This one’s a coin flip. We’ll give the edge to Chambers because he’s 9-2 as a starter; Strong is 5-5. Edge: Wyoming

Running backs: Wyoming’s Xazavian Valladay (6-0, 196) led the MW in rushing in 2019 with 1,265 yards (5.1 ypc) while adding six touchdowns. He’s not much of a receiving threat. Louisville transfer Trey Smith is a good backup. Nevada has a solid one-two punch in Toa Taua (807, 4.1 ypc, six TDs) and Devonte Lee (302, 4.1 ypc, seven TDs), although neither has been as productive as Valladay. Edge: Wyoming

Wide receivers/tight end: The Wolf Pack has one of the conference’s top receiving corps, a group headlined by Elijah Cooks and Romeo Doubs, who combined for 120 catches for 1,575 yards and 12 touchdowns last season. Watch out for 6-6 tight end Cole Turner. The run-first Cowboys do not return a receiver who had more than eight receptions last season, so this isn’t a strength. Edge: Nevada

Offensive line: Wyoming’s offensive line starts four upperclassmen, including Keegan Cryder, the league’s best center. The Cowboys return 116 starts on the line. It’s a big (317 pounds per starter) and physical group that ranks among the MW’s best. Nevada’s line was a major issue in 2019 but should be better this season. After Miles Beach’s retirement, left tackle is a big question. Edge: Wyoming

Defensive line: Wyoming always has a strong defensive line, but freshman All-American Solomon Byrd opted out due to COVID-19 (as did tackle Mario Mora) and the group’s best player, Garrett Crall, won't play as he recovers from offseason foot surgery. That thins this group considerably. Tackle Cole Godbout is a handful on the inside. Nevada’s defensive strength is its line anchored by Dom Peterson (15 TFL, nine sacks in 2019). Edge: Nevada

Linebackers: Wyoming lost star Logan Wilson to the NFL (he was a third-round draft pick) but returns Chad Muma (61 tackles, seven TFL, two interceptions). It’s a young group other than him. Nevada and Wyoming basically run the same defense, both starting two linebackers. For the Wolf Pack, middle linebacker Lawson Hall is in line for a big season, but there’s a lot of inexperience outside him. Edge: Wyoming

Secondary: Wyoming’s starting free safety Rome Weber opted out of the season, leaving only two returning starters on the five-man starting unit. Keyon Blankenbaker (57 tackles, 10 pass breakups) is a solid nickel, although this is the weakest of Wyoming’s three defensive units. Nevada will be without starting FS Austin Arnold (suspended). SS Tyson Williams must help out in the run game. Edge: Nevada

Special teams: Wyoming’s special teams ranked third in ESPN’s FPI among MW teams in 2019, although four-year starting kicker Cooper Rothe has graduated. Freshman Luke Glassock takes his place. Cornell grad transfer Nick Null is Wyoming’s punter. He was an All-Ivy League kicker. Nevada returns All-MW kicker Brandon Talton (he gives the Wolf Pack the edge here) and breaks in new punter Julian Diaz. Edge: Nevada

Coaching: As I noted in this story, Wyoming’s Craig Bohl and Nevada’s Jay Norvell have the same winning percentage in the FBS, but Bohl has led his team to a MW title game and won three FCS national titles, so he gets the edge (Nevada DC Brian Ward coached under Bohl at NDSU, and Wolf Pack CB coach Freddie Banks played for him there). Both teams have new defensive coordinators, and it will be interesting to see how Ward’s defensive unit differs from his predecessor, Jeff Casteel. Edge: Wyoming

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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