CSU Rams (0-4) at Nevada (2-3, 0-1 Mountain West), 8:30 p.m. MDT Friday, Mackay Stadium
TV/Radio: FS1/104.3 HD2
Line: Nevada -3.5, 43.5 over/under
Weather: 72 degrees, clear
What to know
Unhappy homecoming? Not everyone in Reno was thrilled with how Jay Norvell left Nevada to take the CSU head coaching job last winter. Norvell guided the Wolf Pack to seven-plus wins in his last four seasons in Reno, including two bowl victories. But it’s all of the players who followed him to Fort Collins (10 total, including QB Clay Millen), as well as the 2022 recruits, that stuck in the craw of the Wolf Pack faithful — many of whom will no doubt share their displeasure in Norvell’s first trip back.
Clay Millen’s health. It’s looking unlikely the Rams’ freshman starting quarterback will be available Friday after Millen injured his shoulder two weeks ago vs. Sacramento State. Brayden Fowler-Nicolosi, who came on in relief of Millen after he was hurt in the second quarter of the 41-10 loss, has been getting most of the first-team reps in practice the past two weeks. After completing just 6 of 15 passes for 116 yards and a touchdown against Sac State, the hope is that all that preparation will pay off for the true freshman.
Getting defensive. Finally, the Rams encounter an offense as inconsistent as their own. With QB Carson Strong off to the pros, the Wolf Pack offense has taken a step back under first-year head coach Ken Wilson. Nevada ranks 123rd in total offense (280.4 yards/game), 120th in passing offense (147.2 yards/game) and 101st in scoring (24.4 points/game). What’s kept Nevada afloat? Taking care of the football. The Wolf Pack have 11 takeaways to just three turnovers through five games — good for a plus-1.60 turnover margin that’s No. 4 in the nation.
Bye, bye. With both teams coming off bye weeks, neither the Rams nor Wolf Pack can expect an advantage in preparation. Credit the Mountain West schedulers for putting the Rams’ off-week ahead of a Friday night road game. Since 2017, CSU has played eight short-week games away from FoCo and lost six (including two Rocky Mountain Showdowns in Denver). Both wins came at Mountain West cellar dweller New Mexico.
CSU O-line vs. Nevada DT Dom Peterson. With injuries decimating an already thin O-line, CSU has allowed an FBS-worst 6.25 sacks/game while averaging just 1.2 yards/carry. Now comes a date with the Wolf Pack’s 6-foot, 299-pound fifth-year senior, who has 25 career sacks, two of which have been against CSU. If the Rams are going to turn around the second-worst third-down conversion rate in FBS (19.6%), it all starts here.
CSU front seven vs. Nevada RB Toa Taua. The Rams are statistically among the bottom 30 in the country at 414.2 total yards allowed/game, with both the pass and rush defense springing leaks at different times this fall. But if the Rams can limit Taua and force Nevada’s QBs (Nate Cox and Shane Illingworth) to beat them, they have a chance.
Sean Keeler, sports columnist: Nevada 22, CSU 20
Who says misery doesn’t love company? The Rams and Buffs have never opened a football season with identical 0-5 records in the same autumn. Ever. (Hooraaaaaay!) Chances are, Jay Norvell goes back to his old stomping grounds and gets the Russell Wilson treatment. And the way things are going in FoCo right now, the Russell Wilson result.
Matt Schubert, deputy sports editor: Nevada 20, CSU 14
If Fowler-Nicolosi starts for the Rams under center, as expected, it’s hard to envision a true freshman quarterback going into (extremely) hostile territory for his first FBS start and coming out with a win. Especially behind the Rams’ current patchwork offensive line.
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