BYU heads to Reno this weekend to face-off against the Nevada Wolf Pack. We had the chance to sit down with SB Nation's resident Mountain West Conference expert, Jeremy Mauss from Mountain West Connection. Jeremy also covers the Cougars for 1320 KFAN.
Here's Jeremy's answers to our questions:
Vanquish the Foe: When BYU last saw Nevada back in 2010, the Wolf Pack dominated the Cougars in Provo on their way to a 13-1 season and a top 25 finish. This year the Wolf Pack will miss a bowl for the first time since 2004. What is this team lacking that hasn't allowed them to continue the program's bowl streak?
Mountain West Connection: Their defense is not very good and is prone to give up big plays and 506 yards per game. Yes, there are some pretty good offenses in the Mountain West, but they are at the bottom, lower than Hawaii and just above New Mexico. On offense, there has been no constant at running back. The Wolf Pack have cycled through Don Jackson, Kendall Brock and Chris Solomon. None have had any great success and the rotation on who starts is different. In the pistol offense having multiple backs is a good thing but Nevada is not sure which back will be productive in any single week.
VTF: BYU has faced a few dual threat QBs from the Mountain West already this season in USU's Chuckie Keeton and Boise State's Grant Hedrick. How does Nevada QB Cody Fajardo compare to those players and does he have the ability to really test the BYU defense?
MWC: He is most comparable to Chuckie Keeton but he is more of a threat to run with the designed option plays. BYU is known for struggling against mobile quarterbacks in the past, but they have shored that up some this year. Fajarado is the best running quarterback they have seen all year but the Cougars defense can not just stop the run; they need to respect his passing ability because Nevada does have an excellent receiver in Brandon Wimberly as well as Richy Turney. Fajarado also has the ability to be hit and miss at times, but he definitely can be someone who can hurt BYU's defense.
VTF: What are the strengths of this Wolf Pack squad? And what are the weaknesses that the Cougars might exploit?
MWC: The pistol offense that Nevada uses is their biggest advantage. They run a lot of option and misdirection to catch defenses off guard and is their biggest strength. As for execution, it depends on how well Nevada running backs play in this game. If it is ran well then the offense will be dangerous against BYU, however it is has been inconsistent for the most part of the year.
The defense in general is their weakness and they are just as bad as defending the run as the pass. If BYU can be efficient in either they will be fine, but I think Taysom Hill's ability to run and throw will make the Wolf Pack defense look silly. I don't predict Texas like rushing numbers for Hill but I can see him going off for 150 on the ground and at least 200 in the air.
VTF: Outside of Fajardo, who are the standout players for Nevada this year that Cougar fans should keep an eye on Saturday?
MWC: Wide receiver Brandon Wimberly is the next best player for Nevada, and he is among the best nationally with 87 receptions. With BYU's secondary being banged up and not the best part of the defense there is a decent chance that Wimberly could have a big day. It will depend if Nevada's offensive line can buy enough time for Wimberly to get open.
VTF: BYU and Nevada are set to play again next season. What does the near future look like for Wolf Pack? Any chances the Cougars will be facing a much improved Nevada team next season?
MWC: Fajardo will be back under center as will most of their running back corp as well and three of their five offensive lineman. The defense is in the same spot as they will return nearly every starter from this team. Also, Brian Polian will be in his second year as a head coach, ever. Next year he should have a better grasp of things.
Next year's game will be more than likely be a more competitive matchup with the more grown up Wolf Pack.
VTF: What's your prediction for the game? Does Nevada have any kind of shot against BYU?
MWC: I think Nevada has the chance to put up some points, mainly because that is what the pistol does, even to teams with good defenses. Nevada will need a running back to step up early so that the coaching staff can feed him the ball the rest of the way, but as mentioned earlier that is not a safe bet to make.
I'll never count out Nevada because when they play well they are actually a pretty good team, but this will be the best defense that Nevada has faced since they played Florida State back in the early season. This game will probably be close for at least a half which should be enough time for BYU to figure out the pistol offense. In the end, this will be a game where quarterback Taysom Hill, running back Jamaal Williams and wide receiver Cody Hoffman will have big games and pull away in the second half. BYU should win this game by about 17 points.