John Lepore | December 29th, 2018
Last year it was a battle of the Aggies. The New Mexico State version beat the Utah State version in OT 26-20. We can hope that this year’s iteration is just as compelling as Nevada goes up against Arkansas State.
Nevada Wolf Pack (7-5, 5-3) Mountain West
Strengths – The offense starts with Ty Gangi who can throw to anyone at any time. He threw for 3,131 yards this year along with 23 TDs. He also had 6 different players catch 20 passes. Two of them are the RBs for the Wolf Pack in Toa Taua and Kelton Moore. They both averaged over 5 yards per carry and combined for 11 TDs. This offense can score as evidenced by their 32.3 points per game. The defense is led by Malik Reed. The hybrid DE/LB had a great season racking up 72 tackles (15.5 for loss), 8 sacks, and 4 FFs. He will be needed all over the field to stop Arkansas State.
Weaknesses – The defense will be without Korey Rush as he is out with a broken foot. The senior DE had 11.5 TFL and 6 sacks before going down. This is a big blow to the pass rush as Arkansas State can now key on slowing down Reed. Another question is who will be the go-to guy in the passing game. While Gangi spreads it around, there is no true number one on this offense that he can get the ball to when needed.
Arkansas State Red Wolves (8-4, 5-3) Sun Belt
Strengths – Justice Hansen threw for 3,172 yards and had an impressive 27/6 TD/INT ratio. He also chipped in 399 yards on the ground and 6 rushing TDs. Marcel Murray and Warren Hand combined for over 1,700 yards from scrimmage and 14 TDs while both averaging over 5 yards per carry. The defense is anchored by senior Ronheen Bingham who had an incredible season with 18.5 TFL and 9 sacks while knocking down 5 passes and adding 65 tackles. Although he may be small for a DE in the NFL he should get some looks in the draft as a hybrid.
Weaknesses – While their defense overall was solid grading in the top half of the country, they can get gashed on the ground. They allowed over 200 yards a game rushing and with Nevada’s combo of Taua and Moore, the Wolf Pack may choose to make the Red Wolves stop them. The kicking game is weak with Blake Grupe, a freshman, only hitting 12 of 17 FG attempts and missing 3 Extra Points this season.
With Nevada missing Korey Rush I think Justice Hansen has a day. The defense of Arkansas State should make Nevada one-dimensional and they have the best defensive player on the field in Bingham. Arkansas State wins this one 36-23.
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Main Credit Image: Embed from Getty Images