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Opponent preview: Can Boise State slow down Nevada's pass rush?

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With so much focus on the Nevada offense, it is easy to forget that the Wolf Pack defense boasts some of the best playmakers in the conference. Can the Bronco offensive line handle Nevada DEs Kevin Basped and Dontay Moch?

Join me after the jump for a preview of the battle between the Boise State offense and the Nevada defense. (I'll get to the Nevada running game tomorrow.) And feel free to leave your thoughts on what factors might make the biggest difference on Friday night.


8-3, (7-0)

Nevada at No. 6 Boise State

Kickoff: Friday, 8:00pm MT, TV: ESPN2

Weather forecast: partly cloudy, high of 44

Spread: Boise State by 14

11-0, (6-0)

Nevada's season-to-date

The Wolf Pack got off to a disappointing start, going 0-3 against the likes of Notre Dame and Colorado State. What went wrong? Turnovers mostly, and their 8-0 run since the 0-3 start shows just how important a role turnovers can play in the final outcome (and how random fumble recoveries can be).

Chris Ault has gone from hot seat to hot commodity, Colin Kaepernick has gone from bust to the greatest running quarterback of all time, and Nevada has made good on the preseason promise of a meaningful post-Thanksgiving date against the Broncos ... barely.

During its eight-game winning streak, the Wolf Pack has still showed signs of being the Wolf Pack of old. Witness:

  • A three-point win at Utah State. The Broncos just won there by 31 points.
  • A 10-point home win over Hawaii. Boise State beat Hawaii by 45 on the road.

Still, Nevada is playing the best football of its up-and-down season, rolling to victories of 55, 38, and 43 points in its last three games. The WAC is bad. Nevada is not. That alone makes a big difference.

Nevada on offense

  • WR Brandon Wimberly
  • RB Luke Lippincott
  • RB Colin Kaepernick
  • WR Chris Wellington
  • OL John Bender
  • OL Kenneth Ackerman
  • OL Alonzo Durham
  • OL Steve Haley
  • OL Chris Barker
  • WR Tray Session
  • TE Virgil Green

By now you've probably heard that the Wolf Pack can run the ball pretty well. I'll be writing something tomorrow to that effect.

Where the Wolf Pack will have to make the most of their opportunities is in the passing game. The team's leading receiver, Brandon Wimberley, only has 595 yards (the second leading receiver, Tray Session, has 291), and Colin Kaepernick is only marginally better than he was last season. Chances are good that Kaepernick will have to throw efficiently for the Wolf Pack to win. Can he?


Nevada on defense

  • DE Kevin Basped
  • DT Nate Agaiava
  • DT Zack Madonick
  • DE Dontay Moch
  • DL Ryan Coulson
  • LB James-Michael Johnson
  • LB Mike Bethea
  • LB Brandon Marshall
  • DB Isaiah Frey
  • DB Mo Harvey
  • DB Doyle Miller

The Nevada defense is last in the conference in pass defense (119th in the country), but tops in the WAC in rush defense. Part of that can be attributed to opponents falling behind early. Another part can be attributed to the Nevada pass defense just being atrocious since it has always been atrocious. The potential for big plays will be there for Boise State, and with the Bronco running game firing on all cylinders, it will be interesting to see just how good the Nevada run defense really is.


Nevada special teams

Mike Ball is the forgotten running back behind Lippincott and Taua, but he's capable of big returns. The Broncos gave up two fake punt conversions last week. Fortunately, Nevada isn't known for stellar special teams play, but that doesn't mean they might not try something against the Broncos.

Dontay Moch and Kevin Basped in the spotlight

Moch and Basped, as any coherent Nevada fan will tell you, are THE NATION'S BEST DEFENSIVE END TANDEM BAR NONE HANDS DOWN PERIOD END OF STORY KENO. The statistics certainly show that the two DEs deserve a lot of credit for the way they have terrorized WAC backfields for the past two seasons. Here are their stats thus far in 2009:

Basped: 7.5 sacks, 10.5 TFLs
Moch: 6.5 sacks, 19.5 TFLs, 2 forced fumbles

Basped, an all-WAC first teamer last year, has done his damage in one fewer game than Moch, a reigning all-WAC second teamer.

Boise State pass protection in the spotlight

It won't do the Wolf Pack a lot of good to have two of the conference's best defensive ends if neither end can get to Kellen Moore on a regular basis. Therefore, the play of the Boise State offensive line will be a big factor in the success of the passing game on Friday. How will they hold up? Do you want the good news or the bad news first?

The good news comes to us courtesy of OBNUG reader Mikrino, who posted a FanShot yesterday with this golden nugget:

2009 National Leaders in Sacks Allowed

1. Boise State:   	11 games, 5 sacks, 32 yards lost, 0.46 sacks allowed per game

The Broncos are the best in the country at keeping sackmasters out of the scorebook. Even more impressive, Boise State has not given up multiple sacks in a single game since Oregon. The only other teams to get the Broncos were UC Davis, Tulsa, and San Jose State.

However, all this is not to say that Kellen Moore has been kept clean. While the sacks have been few and far between, the hits and hurries have not. Here is a look at the game-by-game pressure that Moore has faced.

Kellen Moore under pressure
Opponent Hits Hurries Total
Oregon 4 3 7
Miami (OH) 3 8 11
Fresno State 1 6 7
Bowling Green 0 2 2
UC Davis 1 4 5
Tulsa 2 7 9
Hawaii 3 10 13
San Jose State 5 8 13
Louisiana Tech 2 15 17
Idaho 7 8 15
Utah State 3 7 10


Moore has been hassled on about one-third of his throws in recent games. So perhaps the question should be: How much does pressure impact Moore? Or does pressure from certain areas make more difference than others?

I'd be curious to know what you think, but for the record, I think Moore is unstoppable when he has time to throw, he's great when faced with stiff pressure, and he's better than most when he's getting hit. The only pressure I've seen that makes a noticeable difference with his passing is pressure up the middle. Considering that Moch and Basped are edge rushers, even if they get close, Moore should be okay.

And now, the rest of the story on the Nevada defense

Moch and Basped are excellent defensive ends. There is no doubt about that. But what I find interesting is that even though they rush the passer with the best of them, the Nevada pass defense is horrible. A big part of pass defense is pressure on the quarterback. Does that mean that the Nevada secondary is exponentially worse than your average 119th-ranked secondary?

Against the run, Nevada is significantly better. Don't blow off their good rush defense stats as a consequence of opponents abandoning the run to play catch-up. Case in point: The Wolf Pack held Fresno State's Ryan Mathews to 35 yards on 8 carries before he left with a concussion in the second quarter.

A lot will be written about how nothing compares to the Nevada rushing attack, but I would argue that the same can be said of Boise State's ground game. The misdirection, handoffs, and movement when the Broncos run the ball rivals that of any other college football team for uniqueness, effectiveness, and big-play potential. If Boise State executes, I think they can run effectively against Nevada. But it won't be easy. Would you give the Broncos the edge?

Other factors

  • Some Boise State receiver will be open. Most WAC offenses have one or two great receivers who can really hurt a defense. Boise State has, what, four? Five? If Nevada chooses to focus on Pettis and Young, then Kirby Moore and Kyle Efaw can do plenty of damage in the wide open spaces that the Wolf Pack leave. Avery out of the backfield is a threat. No one can stop the quick screens and hitches to Young and Pettis. It seems like no matter how you look at it, the Boise State wide receivers win the matchup against the Nevada secondary. And it is not that close.
  • The focus on Garrett Pendergast. Against San Jose State, Pendergast struggled to block the Spartans' second-best defensive lineman, Adonis Davis. He'll probably have the matchup against either Moch or Basped, so it will be interesting to see if the Broncos leave him on an island or give him help. Advantage: Nevada.
  • Turnovers for touchdowns. Two pick-sixes were the only things that kept Nevada in the game last year when the Broncos visited Reno. Kellen Moore made a mistake against Louisiana Tech, and it cost the team a touchdown and a blowout. If the Broncos get up on the Wolf Pack on Friday, perhaps the only thing that could save UNR is a quick score off a turnover.
  • Fumbles from center. I thought we were done with that. BAD WORDS.
  • Boise State's advantage on special teams. Year in and year out, the Broncos have excellent all-around special teams. Year in and year out, Nevada does not. While the Wolf Pack are certainly improved, they are not Virginia Tech. It would appear that Young and Martin might get a couple cracks at kickoff returns, Wilson could get his hands on a few punts, and Brotzman could be called on in big spots. At the very least, Boise State needs to use its advantage on special teams to win the field position battle.

Your turn

I know there are plenty other factors to watch for on Friday night, so what ones did I not mention? What will you be watching? Can the Boise State offensive line control Nevada's defensive ends? Leave your thoughts in the comments.