Football beat reporters Cali Rastrelli and Katie O’Keefe have spent the week analyzing CSU football’s upcoming home game against Nevada. Kickoff is slated for 1:30 p.m. on Saturday. Here are five reasons why each team has a chance of winning:
5 reasons Nevada will win
[Cali Rastrelli] Their dynamic man under center. Nevada quarterback Cody Fajardo has the same type of skill set that has plagued the Rams all season. He is an efficient passer, but if he is backed into a corner — he’s agile enough to run. It’s no secret that CSU has struggled giving up long pass plays, and Fajardo will be looking to take full advantage. Only a junior, Fajardo’s 6,308 career yards rank him 8th in Wolfpack history, and his 396 completions put him at ninth. He has been named to four national award watchlists this season, including the unofficial Hesiman watch.
[CR] Motivational edge. Nevada is currently on a four-game losing streak, coming off of a 41-23 loss to No. 16 Fresno State. At the startof the fourth quarter, the Wolfpack was within one scoring drive of the Bulldogs — a situation the Rams are familiar with. Their built up irritation might push them to come out on top in Saturday’s game.
[Katie O’Keefe] Winning the turnover battle. Nevada owns a +6 turnover margin while CSU’s is +2. In their win against Hawaii, the Wolf Pack intercepted the Warriors four times and have nine picks on the season. They are ranked second in the Mountain West in turnover margin.
[KO] Hasaan Henderson. While Nevada’s top two receivers could be out this week due to injuries, the redshirt freshman who had five receptions for 82 yards and a touchdown last week against Fresno State, has emerged as another weapon for quarterback Cody Fajardo. At 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds, Henderson will be a difficult target for the Rams secondary to bring down.
[KO] Hungry for a win. Have you ever been face to face with a hungry wolf pack? Me either, but it’s probably incredibly terrifying. Not only has Nevada lost its last four games in a row, but they are in jeopardy of failing to make a bowl game for the first time since 2004. Nevada needs to win each of its remaining three games in order to keep their bowl streak alive.
5 reasons CSU will win
[CR] Rush defense. Fajardo may be quick to scamper, but CSU’s rushing defense has learned how to unsettle a quarterback. The Wolfpack is allowing an average of two sacks per game — the Rams are sacking quarterbacks an average of twice per game. Linebacker Shaquil Barrett, who leads the team with 7.5, has been working back from an ankle injury the past two weeks, so he will be hungry to get back to his crushing ways.
[CR] Kapri Bibbs. He makes this list almost every time, but he deserves it. He leads the MW with 15 rushing touchdowns, and he has four three-touchdown performances this season. Besides that, Nevada’s rush defense is 12th in the MW, allowing opposing rushers 257.7 yards per game. Bibbs is always hungry for the end zone, but you can bet he will take full advantage of those weaknesses.
[CR] Hughes Stadium. The Rams have dropped their last two home games in a pair of heartbreakers. The players are frustrated and coach McElwain is beyond disappointed. Come Saturday, the team will be out for vengeance. Third time is the charm, right?
[KO] Motivation. After the loss to San Jose State in CSU’s Homecoming game, the Rams were mad and they took their frustration out on Wyoming in their 52-22 Border War win. After the loss to Boise State last week, receiver Charles Lovett said it hurt more than any other loss this season. Factor in the loss to BSU and the chance for the Rams to make it to a bowl game on the line, and the Rams should have plenty of motivation to win this game.
[KO] “Attack mode mentality.” That’s what coach Mac said the Rams need in these last four games and they displayed it last week, going for it six times on fourth down and putting up more than 600 yards of total offense. Quarterback Garrett Grayson threw for a career-best 397 yards and rushed for 48 yards. They also had 109 plays vs. BSU’s 58. “The style that we’ve started to developed is one that’s going to wear down the defense,” said center Weston Richburg. The Rams need to continue attacking in order to beat Nevada, a team that will not go away easily.
When it comes down to it:
Rastrelli’s pick: CSU 35, Nevada 27
O’Keefe’s pick: CSU 41, Nevada 34
Football Beat Reporters Cali Rastrelli and Katie O’Keefe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org