(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty I
Sept. 25 (Week Three)
WHY THIS COULD HAPPEN
This is a second game of a home-and-home series. Last season in Columbia, the Tigers absolutely destroyed Nevada, as Chase Daniel and crew racked up 651 yards of total offense!
Do not expect the same outcome in Reno.
Head coach Chris Ault, in his third tenure with Nevada, has led the Wolf Pack to four straight bowl games after implementing the somewhat unorthodox "Pistol" formation.
QB Colin Kaepernick will be running the system for the third straight season and is coming off a season where he threw for over 2,800 yards while running for 1,130 yards. He threw for 22 touchdowns and ran for an additional 17 scores.
Despite his rushing total, Kaepernick was not the team's leading rusher. Junior running back Vai Taua ran for 1,521 yards and 15 touchdowns. These two helped lead the Wolf Pack to average 291.4 yards per game (second in the country) and were fifth in rushing touchdowns.
Nevada also gets back former starting running back Luke Lippincott, who was granted a sixth year of eligibility.
Nevada's passing game was good, but not great. The offensive line is experienced, with center Kenneth Ackerman and junior tackle Mike Gallett starting every game last season. Guard John Bender and tackle Alonzo Durham started a majority of the games last year.
The line should keep the Wolf Pack among the leaders in rushing and give Kaepernick time to throw (and hopefully improve his accuracy).
The Wolf Pack defense was ho-hum but does have an excellent pass rush. Junior defensive ends Kevin Basped and Dontay Moch each had double-digit sack numbers last season. Defensive tackle Nate Agaiava started all but one game in 2008, while tackle Chris Slack played in 11 of 13 games.
Starting DBs Antoine Thompson and Jonathon Amaya played in every game last year.
That pass defense is crucial against a Missouri team that must replace arguably the best quarterback in the program's history. Attempting to fill the quite large shoes of Daniel is Blaine Gabbert, whose experience is very limited.
Furthermore, they must also replace explosive wide receiver Jeremy Maclin and tight end Chase Coffman, who together accounted for over 2,200 receiving yards and 23 touchdowns.
The Tiger defense is what one could expect coming from the Big 12, but they were among the bottom in their own conference! They allowed the most passing yards per game and were middle of the pack against the run.
And then there are two anomalies about this game. Reno is almost 4,000 feet higher above sea level than Columbia, and elevation does play a role in performance.
Second, the game is on a Friday night, and for some reason, those non-Saturday games can be tricky for favored teams.
WHY IT MIGHT NOT HAPPEN
Missouri, under head coach Gary Pinkel, has established itself as an annual contender in the Big 12, at least in the North division. There are also still many weapons on offense to ease the transition from Daniel to Gabbert.
The receiving unit is not so much rebuilding as it is reloading. Danario Alexander moves to the starting WR position and is a big target at 6'5", 210 pounds. Jared Perry was the third starting receiver in Missouri's one-back, three-WR set and racked up 567 yards on 41 receptions.
Tight end Andrew Jones looks to continue the recent productive line of TEs under Pinkel (Coffman and Martin Rucker are both in the NFL).
This reload is key because despite a strong pass rush, Nevada had the worst pass defense in the FBS. While they were tied for eighth in sacks and tied for 21st in interceptions, they were dead last in passing yards allowed per game.
In fact, the Wolf Pack were the only FBS school to allow more than 300 yards per game (their 321.1 yards allowed per game were more than 35 yards more than the next worse team).
There is little doubt that this game will be a shootout. It will come down to which defense can, at the very least, force a punt or make a key stop.
Daniel passed for over 400 yards against Nevada (Missouri as a team passed for 519 yards). If Gabbert has at least half that total, and the Nevada defense has shown no improvement, then the Tigers can avoid an upset in Reno.