By Neil Patrick Healy
It’s a trap! That’s right, Wolf Pack fans, don’t get too comfortable now that Arizona and Texas A&M are in the rearview mirror. Nevada travels to the University of Buffalo to take on the Bulls this weekend, and the matchup has “trap game” written all over it. UC Davis was a glorified scrimmage, while Arizona and A&M were definitely superior teams. It is the game against Buffalo that will reveal just what kind of team Nevada is this season. Don’t get gored, Nevada, because you’re about to run with the Bulls.
What you need to know
Buffalo sits at 2-1 with convincing wins against Albany and Florida Atlantic, and a hard-fought 27-14 loss on the road at Penn State. The Bulls are bringing back their two big weapons on offense in senior quarterback Joe Licata and senior running back Anthone Taylor. Last season, Licata threw for 2,647 yards for 29 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, and Taylor ran for 1,403 yards and 12 touchdowns. The Bulls’ first-year head coach Lance Leipold was the head coach of Division III University of Wisconsin at Whitewater for eight years and won six D-III national championships.
Leading the Pack
Nevada sophomore running back James Butler finally had his coming-out party against the Aggies. Butler rushed for 107 yards on 17 carries, and he gave fans a glimpse of what the offense will look like come conference play. In what became the play of the game, Nevada junior wide receiver Hasaan Henderson had the Internet buzzing with a one-handed catch as A&M’s cornerback blatantly committed pass interference. If you haven’t seen the catch, then look it up right now. A nice impression of New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. Holy sweet dear lord baby Jesus, what a catch.
The biggest question
Can Nevada’s defense contain the Bulls’ running game? Taylor is averaging 5.2 yards per carry, and Nevada has struggled to stop the run in their last two matchups (7 yards per carry against Arizona and 5.8 against Texas A&M). The front seven of Nevada was considered one of the strengths of the Pack, but this game will be a great indicator if we should believe the hype.
Keys to the game
Nevada’s offense has to have a big performance against Buffalo. The Pack showed signs of life against A&M, but the entire unit needs to perform. The offensive line is in need of a big game to boost their confidence going into conference play, and the offense cannot commit turnovers. Last week against Florida Atlantic, the Bulls scored three touchdowns off turnovers (two fumble recoveries and one interception) and forced a safety. If they play a clean game, then the Pack can leave Buffalo with a win.
Best case is that Nevada can utilize their weapons on offense. The Pack needs running backs Don Jackson and James Butler to set the tone early in the game and become the one-two punch out of the backfield that many were expecting this season.
Worst case is that Buffalo will expose the constantly picked-on secondary of Nevada, and Licata has a big day. If Taylor can get productive yards on the ground, the front seven for Nevada will have another long day ahead of them.
Nevada messes with the Bulls but doesn’t get the horns. The Pack showed potential on offense against an SEC defense, so going up against a MAC opponent should provide opportunities to break the game open a bit. Butler and Jackson should set the tone on the ground and senior quarterback Tyler Stewart will have the opportunity to make plays through the air. Expect a back-and-forth game from both teams and Nevada pulling out the win.
Neil Patrick Healy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @NeilTheJuiceMan.