Ahead of Saturday’s key conference matchup between Colorado State and Nevada, Collegian Sports Editor Keegan Pope and Nevada Sagebrush Sports Editor Eric Uribe debate who will win and why.
Rams will ride momentum to fourth-straight victory
When Colorado State and Nevada face off Saturday in a key cross-division matchup, more than just a conference game will be on the line. CSU will look to start a season 5-1 for the first time since 2000 with a win over the Wolfpack. Riding a three-game winning streak, including a win over a talented Boston College team on the road two weeks ago, coach Jim McElwain and Co. will ride into Mackay Stadium feeling more confident than any CSU team has in recent memory. And despite facing a tough Nevada team who will be looking for revenge after being blown out 38-17 last year by the Rams, CSU will find a way to escape the Silver State with a victory.
Colorado State’s up-and-coming star receiver has been one of the best wideouts in the entire country this season, totaling 34 catches, 582 yards and eight touchdowns in just five games. Higgins has the rare blend of size and speed to go along with the ability to turn even the simplest of routes into a big play.
There was no better example of that than in last Saturday’s game against Tulsa when Higgins took a run-of-the-mill wide receiver screen and followed his blockers before turning on the jets and outrunning everyone to the endzone. For a Wolfpack defense that gives up 302.6 passing yards per game, Colorado State’s 14th-ranked passing offense will be a nightmare and Higgins will be the main villain.
CSU’s three-headed rushing monster
While he wasn’t on staff last season, first-year defensive coordinator Scott Boone will likely have trouble sleeping after watching the film of Nevada’s defense being gashed by former Rams running back Kapri Bibbs to the tune of 312 yards and four touchdowns last season. Bibbs is gone, along with most of his offensive line, but the CSU running game hasn’t missed a beat.
Instead of a single star, the Rams are now led by the three-headed rushing monster of Alabama transfer Dee Hart, Treyous Jarrells and converted safety Jasen Oden Jr. who have combined to average 182.8 yards a game to go with nine touchdowns. All three have the ability to run between the tackles, catch the ball out of the backfield and break the big play. The Wolfpack’s defense hasn’t struggled against the run as much as they have against the pass, but expect a heavy dose of all three running backs in an attempt to keep Cody Fajardo and Co. off the field.
CSU will walk into Mackay Stadium with a huge amount of confidence after the way they ended last year as well as how they’ve started this one. McElwain’s teams are 5-2 in their last seven true road games since starting 0-7 in his first two years at the helm. Players like Higgins, along with McElwain and staff, have brought a swagger and an attitude to a program that was on life support just three years ago. Unlike when McElwain first arrived, CSU now expects not only to compete in every game, but to win. And they’ve done just that.
Meanwhile, the Wolfpack are coming off of a heartbreaking 51-46 loss to Boise State in which they had multiple chances to steal an upset from the Broncos. They will surely be fired up playing at home again with revenge on their mind, but CSU has aspirations of a Mountain Division title and will continue its climb toward that goal.
Final Score: CSU 42, Nevada 31
Collegian Sports Editor Keegan Pope can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @ByKeeganPope
Big game from Fajardo will propel Nevada to home win
Can you answer these trivia questions?
Who is the the only active Football Bowl Subdivision quarterback with 8,000 passing yards and 2,000 rushing yards in his career?
Which quarterback ranks fourth among active FBS quarterbacks in career completion percentage with 67.2 percent?
Which quarterback has the third most 100-yard rushing games among signal callers with nine?
No, it’s not Oregon’s Marcus Mariota. No, it’s not Ohio State’s Braxton Miller or UCLA’s Brett Hundley.
No, the right answer is none other than Nevada quarterback Cody Fajardo. The six-foot-two, 215-pound Fajardo’s career stat line is godly: 8,265 passing yards, 2,753 rushing yards and 82 touchdowns (46 passing and 36 rushing). Fajardo is the reason the Wolf Pack has a chance to beat anyone in the nation.
The senior is not only the clear-cut top quarterback in the Mountain West Conference — he’s one of the best in the country. And having an elite player at the game’s most important position means everything in football. Evident by Nevada’s 51-46 loss to Boise State on Saturday, Fajardo giveth and Fajardo taketh away. In a Jekyll-and-Hyde game, Fajardo matched his career high in touchdowns (five) and set a career mark in giveaways (four). However, don’t expect Fajardo to throw four interceptions again.
Before Saturday, the field general had never thrown more than two in a single game. As a matter of fact, Fajardo threw three picks all of last year. The performance was an anomaly — in turnovers, at least. The five-touchdown performance? I wouldn’t be stunned to see him repeat that against the Rams.
The only comparable quarterback Colorado State has faced this season is Boston College’s Tyler Murphy. While Rams contained the Florida transfer throughout the game (248 combined yards), Fajardo is in a different league. While Murphy is a run-first player, Fajardo can beat you through the air or on the ground. Just ask No. 10 Arizona, fresh off its road upset over No. 2 Oregon.
Here’s another trivia question.
Guess which stat line belongs to Fajardo and Mariota in their respective game against the Wildcats this season. 29-of-39 for 321 yards and three touchdowns. 20-of-32 for 276 yards and two touchdowns. The first belongs to Fajardo, while the latter is Mariota’s. Yes, you got that right, Fajardo outperformed the Heisman Trophy-contending Mariota against Arizona — and he did it on the road, no less, while Mariota was at home. Both teams lost to the Wildcats by a touchdown, but let’s be real, the Wolf Pack’s talent doesn’t hold a candle to the Ducks. Nonetheless, Nevada’s performance versus Arizona is a testament to Fajardo, who almost single-handedly willed his team to victory.
Apart from Fajardo, a big matchup the Wolf Pack will exploit against Colorado State is the Ram’s leaky run defense, which is surrendering 182 yards per game. The figure is identical to Nevada’s rushing offense average per game. Credit to the Rams where credit is due, they have the conference’s most-balanced offensive arsenal with under-the-radar quarterback Garrett Grayson and tailback Dee Hart. Colorado State’s conference-best 34 points per game proves that. And after Nevada’s paper-thin defensive performance against the Broncos, I fully expect Saturday’s showdown with Colorado State to be a shootout. Defensive stops will be at a premium and the game could come down to who has the ball last. But I can’t help but look past both teams’ performance against Boise State.
While Nevada fought the MWC powerhouse tooth and nail, nearly pulling off a victory in spite of four turnovers, the Rams were not nearly as competitive, losing 37-24 (and the Rams last 14 points were in garbage time, too). This game, with the path to the MWC Championship in both teams’ sight, will go down to the wire. But the Fajardo-led Wolf Pack will have enough firepower to hold off Colorado State.
Final Score: Nevada 45, Colorado State 38
Sagebrush Sports Editor Eric Uribe can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @Uribe_Eric.