Utah State heading into sticky situation against visiting Nevada

LSU running back Chris Curry (24) carries against Utah State defensive end Nick Heninger (42) in the second half of an NCAA college football game in Baton Rouge, La., Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

When Nevada football coach Jay Norvell and his staff look back at the offensive plays they call Saturday during their Mountain West Conference showdown against Utah State, it may look a little like this:

Peanut butter. Peanut butter. Jelly. Peanut butter. Peanut butter. Jelly.

The Wolf Pack will have two running backs at their disposal Saturday night in Logan who were unavailable or held to limited action earlier this season. One is sophomore Toa Taua, who according to Norvell hadn’t been healthy until last weekend, when he rushed for 160 yards on a career-high 34 carries in a last-second 41-38 win over San Jose State. The other is sophomore Devonte Lee, who scored twice against the Spartans in his first game back from a knee injury he suffered last season.

Lee told the Reno Gazette-Journal that he and Taua are like peanut butter and jelly. And just for clarification, he’s the peanut butter.

"You can't have one without the other," Lee said. "We like to keep the one-two-punch going. We just complement each other."

The Aggies — coming off a bye week after being lambasted 42-6 by LSU, which has since moved from No. 5 to No. 2 in the AP Top 25 rankings — will no doubt be bringing their appetite to the MWC crossover game. But they’ll do their best not to overindulge in what the Wolf Pack is serving.

The Wolf Pack will most likely lean on their RBs with QB Malik Henry expected to make just his second start, though he did gain 352 yards and a touchdown against SJSU. With Nevada working out of the pistol offense, USU will have to be quick on the draw, Aggies coach Gary Andersen said.

“That running back, instead of running sideways the first two or three steps, he's coming right down at you quickly two or three steps before he gets the ball in his hands,” Andersen said. “It's a physical zone-type football play that's designed to hit the line of scrimmage with the back moving whether he's bouncing it outside or staying inside. He's got some momentum going with him, so there is a physical presence with it.”

The Aggies should have the manpower to jam up the Pack’s backs, though, if juniors David Woodward, Troy Lefeged and Kevin Meitzenheimer continue on their current trajectory. Woodward, a linebacker, leads the team with 71 tackles while safety Lefeged has 37 on the season. Meitzenheimer, meanwhile, registered a career-high 13 tackles and forced a fumble against LSU.

Besides, nothing helps wash down a PB&J sandwich better than water, and plenty of that should be available both in the sky and on the turf. The National Weather Service predicts a 90 percent chance of rain Saturday with the possibility of snow as temperatures drop.

That could put teams at the mercy of their kickers, but neither team is likely to complain about that.

Dominik Eberle has more than earned the Aggies’ confidence. The senior has made 77.6% of his field goals (52 of 67), which is second-best all-time at USU. He also is a perfect 141 for 141 on extra-point attempts.

Across the field, Nevada freshman Brandon Talton has embarked on creating a similar legacy. He is 12-for-12 on field goals, making him one of only two kickers in college football to not have a miss in 10 or more attempts (Washington’s Peyton Henry is 14-for-14). That includes a couple of high-pressure moments, like the 40-yard game winner he booted as time expired against SJSU.

Just this week, both ESPN and The Athletic named Talton to their mid-season All-America teams.

“He's got all the confidence in the world right now, and I want to compete against him,” Eberle said of Talton. “I want to see how that makes both of us better. But, in the end, kicking is a competition with oneself, and just going out there and doing your job and being one-for-one every single time."

Well, Saturday it may be a competition between the kicker and Mother Nature, but Eberle said he’s ready for that, too. The Aggies hope their offense is as well. Heisman Trophy candidate Jordan Love struggled at QB last time his team played at Maverik Stadium, a game that also saw plenty of precipitation. Love completed 17 of 33 attempts for 204 yards but also threw two interceptions, including a pick-6, in a 34-24 win over Colorado State.

The game is significant to both teams as they vie to win their division in the MWC.

“You have two very good football teams that are fighting like crazy to stay in the conference hunt and are right in the thick of it now,” Andersen said.

The Wolf Pack (4-2, 1-1) is in a dogfight with Hawaii for the No. 2 spot in the North behind San Diego State (5-1, 2-1). The Aggies (3-2), meanwhile, are 2-0 in the South and trying to keep their record clean heading into their brawl with Boise State (6-0, 3-0) on Nov. 23 — which will be their fifth MWC game in six contests.

No doubt, both teams will come in hungry.


At Maverik Stadium, Logan

Kickoff » Saturday, 8:15 p.m. MDT


Radio » 1280 AM/97.5 FM (Salt Lake City); 92.3 FM (Logan)

Records » USU 3-2, 2-0; Nevada 4-2, 1-1

All-time series » Nevada leads 18-6

Last meeting » Nevada 38, USU 37 (Nov. 19, 2016)

About USU » The Aggies coming off a bye week in which it worked on picking itself up from a 42-6 loss to then-No. 5 LSU. … Junior Kevin Meitzenheimer had a career game against LSU with 13 tackles and his first forced a fumble. … Utah State has won nine straight home games. … Six of the Aggies’ next seven games will be against MWC opponents.

About Nevada » Three of the Wolf Pack’s four wins have been by six points or less. … Freshman K Brandon Talton (12-12) is one of two kickers in the country who hasn’t missed a field goal. … Three of the Wolf Pack’s players hail from Utah. … Team’s 3-1 finish in nonconference play puts it off to its best start since 2014.

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