The Bobcats are fresh off of their first home victory of the season, taking down the Lumberjacks from Stephen F. Austin in a 41-37 thriller. Now Texas State awaits a team it has never faced before: the Nevada Wolf Pack.
The University of Nevada-Reno (3-1) has won two games in a row, including its Mountain West Conference debut at Hawaii, a blowout victory, 69-24. The week before its trip to the Islands, the Wolf Pack battled and beat Southland Conference’s Northwestern State 45-24.
Its 31-24 win on the road over University of California, a team that went toe-to-toe with AP Top 25’s Ohio State, might have been the most impressive. Its lone loss was to South Florida in week two, where it was up as much as 21-6 before losing 32-31 at home.
The Wolf Pack is led by its explosive pistol offense, which boasts one of the top rushing teams in the nation (fourth, 317.75 yards per game). It’s eighth in total (557.25 ypg) and 12th in scoring offense (44 points per game).
“(Nevada) has a great scheme,” said Coach Dennis Franchione. “And they have a great head coach who developed the scheme. We are tremendous admirers of what they do. They have an outstanding offensive line, a quarterback who’s fast and that can throw. He’s a prototype pistol quarterback.”
One reason for such success is the Wolf Pack’s touchdown-crazed junior running back. Stefphon Jefferson leads the nation in rushing yards (174.8 ypg). He is coming off the best performance in his career with 170 yards on 31 attempts and seven total touchdowns. His performance earned him the Walter Camp National Player Offensive Player of the Week. He also tied an NCAA record (most touchdowns in a game) and broke several school/conference records.
Nevada has a dynamic quarterback holding the reigns in its offense in current sophomore Cody Fajardo. Last year’s WAC Freshman of the Year is currently the country’s 24th leading rusher (104.3 ypg), ninth in total offense (344 ypg) and 55th in passing efficiency.
Fajardo takes care of the ball with only one interception to his name. He has tossed four touchdowns and has passed for 958 yards. Wide receiver Brandon Wimberley is more often than not the go-to at wide-out when Nevada is not handing the ball off to its leading rushers.
Wimberley has caught a pass in each of his 31 games. The senior has 24 catches for 255 yards on the young season.
Senior Zach Sudfield leads all tight ends with two touchdowns and 192 yards on 14 receptions. Kolby Arendse is another target with 10 catches for 132 yards.
“Fortunately, with us running this offense it will help our defense,” Franchione said. “We’ve spent a month working against passing, pass blocking offensive lines. Now we are going to see an offensive line get under your pads and knock you off the ball.”
The Nevada offensive line is a big component to an effective running team. Its left side of the line has a total of 71 starts. This includes starting guard Chris Barker who has begun 44 games in a row.
“Their (offensive line) is pretty good,” said Bobcat junior safety Xavier Daniels. “They are sound, very fundamentally sound. (As a defensive player) you can’t get too high, and you can’t get too low. We have to forget about what happened last week and prepare for the next team.”
Nevada starts a freshman (DE Lenny Jones) and two sophomores (DE Brock Hekking and DT Jordan Hanson). Three senior linebackers and junior DT Jack Reynoso add experience to their front.
“[Nevada] has a really good defense,” said Bobcat senior quarterback Shaun Rutherford. “They have a lot of good players. We have the same mindset. We want to punch the ball down their throat and take what we can get.”
Senior Nevada defensive back Duke Williams roams the secondary with 36 tackles on the year. Senior defensive back Khalid Wooten will do a little bit of everything for the Wolf Pack. He intercepted a pass against Hawaii and ranks third on the team in total tackles (25).
A weakness of the Wolf Pack’s in its closer contests has been penalties and ball security. The team combined for 32 penalties in its first three games and 11 fumbles, four of which were lost.
Kickoff for the Mountain West Vs. WAC matchup is set for 1 p.m. at Bobcat Stadium.
Follow Jordan Brewer on Twitter: @jbrewer3