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What you need to Know: BYU vs Nevada preview

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Nevada visits Provo on Saturday as both teams try to end losing streaks. As both teams struggle with pass defense, it could be a game where both teams air it out.

Cody Fajardo rushes against BYU in 2013
Cody Fajardo rushes against BYU in 2013
Lance Iversen/USA TODAY Sports

The History

On Saturday the BYU Cougars will host the Nevada Wolf Pack for the 10th meeting between the schools.  The Cougars have a winning record at 5-2-2, but in the modern era, the Cougars are only 2-2.  The series started in 1929 and the last game was played in 2013.  Interestingly, the two ties both came at home in 1930 and 1940.  On the road BYU has a 4-1 record with the lone loss coming in 2002.

Provo, UT 2010 (13-27)

In the first career start for freshman quarterback Jake Heaps, the Cougars couldn't create enough offense to beat a Colin Kaepernick-led Wolf Pack.  Even though the Cougar defense held Nevada to almost half of their 50-point per game average, BYU's offense only scored 13 in the loss. The only Cougar touchdown came on a JJ Di Luigi 2-yard rush in the first quarter.  With as many field goals as touchdowns in the game, the Cougars came out on the losing end for the second time in as many tries against Nevada.

Reno, NV 2013 (28-23)

In the Cougars last visit to Reno, the Wolf Pack put up quite the fight,  scoring the only points of the first half on their first drive of the game. With a 7-0 lead and a field goal attempt to end the half, the Wolf Pack allowed Logan Taele through the line on his way to blocking the field goal.

After not scoring any points in the first half, the Cougars came out strong in the second half as Jamaal Williams took the ball 66 yards on the second play and tied up the game at seven. Nevada would answer right back with a touchdown of their own, which was aided by a fourth down penalty by the Cougars. BYU would take its next position and drive 80 yards finishing with Taysom Hill finding Kaneakua Friel from 10 yards out for the equalizer.

The game remained tied until the fourth quarter when Hill found JD Falslev in the endzone to take the 21-14 lead. With six minutes left in the game, the Cougars increased their lead to 28-17 when Hill found his way to the endzone from 35 yards out. Nevada would add on another touchdown with less than three minutes left, cutting the lead to five, but couldn't get any closer and the final score ended 28-23.

The Outlook

After a second disappointing loss, this time in overtime, the Cougars are looking to regroup and halt their losing skid. With a start, and a full week of practice under his belt, Christian Stewart will look to improve upon his performance at UCF and put BYU back in the winning column. With a number of players injured before, and during, the UCF game, several young players had their shot to make plays and gave Cougar fans hope for things to come.

The Positives

The play of freshmen Sione Takitaki and Fred Warner have to top the list of positives coming out of last week. Takitaki had a phenomenal game as he seemed to always be in the backfield, recording two sacks, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, and two quarterback hurries in the game. Fred Warner added six tackles, four of which were solo. If the young guys on defense continue to improve and make plays, the defense will continue to improve, giving a little more wiggle room for the offense.

With Williams sitting on the bench nursing an ankle injury after the first play, the Cougars turned to Algernon Brown and Paul Lasike to carry the load. With exception to a couple of plays, the running backs did what was needed in order to give the Cougars a chance to win. Brown ended with 80 yards while Lasike ended with 55 yeards for the game. It's also important to note the emergence of the tight end as Devin Mahina pulled in four catches, two of which were for touchdowns.

The Negatives

Turnovers again came back to haunt the Cougars as they lost both turnovers in key situations. The interception thrown by Stewart looked to be a miscommunication with Mitch Mathews that could, and should, have been avoided. The killer was that it was inside the 20, easily within field goal range. However, the second turnover may have been the game changer. Holding a seven-point lead entering the fourth quarter, the Cougars were once again in the red zone and driving to put the game away when Brown lost the ball, likely taking points off the board for the Cougars and giving the momentum back to the Knights. Turnovers are hard enough to deal with, but when they come at the cost of points they are devastating.

Injuries continue to plague the Cougars and it's affecting both sides of the ball. Without Williams, the Cougar offense managed a total of four yards in the first quarter and only 20 yards in the fourth quarter. The defense lost more players early as Jordan Johnson broke his arm on the first drive of the game and Craig Bills left with concussion symptoms a bit later. The result was another game allowing over 300 yards passing to an opponent. Every team deals with injuries and players need to step up in their place, right now the Cougars need the players left to dig deep and find a way to stop the opposing offense.

The Match-ups

BYU Special Teams vs Nevada Special Teams

After the concerns with the kickoff and punt coverage last game, the Cougars will need to be on top of things this week as they try to win the field position battle. In the third quarter, against UCF, the Cougars kicked off after a touchdown and UCF returned it 58 yards into Cougar territory. In the fourth quarter, Scott Arellano booted a kick from inside the 10 for 58 yards, but that was then returned 29 yards.  Both teams are in the middle third of the punt returns and punt return defense, but Nevada is ranked 26th in kick return defense and 48th in kick returns. BYU will need to keep the ball away from Nevada's returners while also setting up their own returners for big returns. BYU does have the edge in net punting as Arellano is ranked 16th in the country at almost 41 yards per punt.  BYU also holds the edge in field goal kicking as Trevor Samson is hitting on 89 percent of his attempts, compared to 71 percent for Nevada's Brent Zuzo.

Christian Stewart vs Nevada Secondary

Stewart will have his opportunities to throw the ball against a less than stellar pass defense. The Nevada secondary knows that Stewart is still green and will use this to its advantage. With a strong run game to set up the pass, Stewart should be able to sling the ball all over a defense that allows just over 300 passing yards per game. Stewart should be able to take advantage of 1-on-1 match-ups all over the field. Nevada does play aggresively in pass coverage though with seven interceptions on the year expect the Wolf Pack to go hard for the ball, possibly giving up a big play or two in the process.

The Keys to Watch

When the Wolf Pack have the ball:

Watch for the Wolf Pack to exploit the roughed up Cougar defense and attack them with the pass. Nevada runs the ball almost twice as much as they pass, but its rushing offense only accounts for 40 percent of the Wolf Pack's total yardage. Quarterback Cody Fajardo is both the leading passer and leading rusher on the team, so expect him to make plays through the air and on the ground. He is passing the ball with 62 percent accuracy and has nine touchdowns to six interceptions.  Watch for running back Don Jackson, who is averaging around four yards per carry, to get the bulk of the called runs. Receivers Jerico Richardson and Hasaan Henderson lead a talented group of receivers that has allowed Fajardo to spread the ball around and not rely on one receiver.  Henderson is the go to guy when needed, so watch for Fajardo to get him the ball under any circumstance, letting his talented receiver make the play.

Watch for the Cougars to try and find the balance between aggressive run stopping and dropping players back in coverage. The more aggressive the Cougars have been, the more big plays have been made available to the opposing offense. Watch for some of the pass rush to carry over from last week as the defense looks to rattle Fajardo and works to force him into turning the ball over. The Cougars have been strong against the run, so expect that to continue while they look to improve their pass defense.

When the Cougar have the ball:

The Cougars should be able to take advantage of a defense that is ranked 119th in passing yards allowed per game. Stewart should continue to feel more comfortable in the pocket and the coaches should have plays called to exploit Nevada's weakness and allow the Cougar receivers to make plays. Don't expect the Cougars to shy away from the run though, even if Williams can't play, as they look to exploit a middle of the pack Nevada rushing defense in order to open up the big pass plays. Watch for BYU to use short passes, zone reads, and dump offs in order to keep the Wolf Pack on their toes. Don't forget about the tight ends as they could play a critical role in the passing success.

Watch for the Wolf Pack to try to take away the run as they know the Cougars are much more proficient at running than passing. With an inexperienced quarterback for the Cougars, the Wolf Pack will look to force Stewart to beat them with the pass. Watch for Nevada to put as much pressure as possible on Stewart as they try to force bad decisions and hurried throws that can be turned into turnovers.

Interesting Tidbit

Head coach Brian Polian comes from a football family filled with prestige. His two brothers Chris and Dennis both work in the NFL and his father, Bill knows what it takes to win in the NFL. Bill is known by NFL fans as the general manager who built the Buffalo Bills' Super Bowl teams and then took the Indianapolis Colts to two Super Bowls as their president.

Brian and his wife are working with the community to expand the game of football to the female viewership and help a local charity at the same time. The couple has introduced an event call "Football 101" that is exclusively for female fans. Included in the cost of the event the fans will have a dinner, a live auction, speeches by the Wolf Pack staff, and a drill session. Paired with the local "Moms on the Run" charity, the event is designed to raise money for the athletic department and the charity that fights cancer. You can find the full article on the event here.

Next Meeting

There are no future meetings scheduled between the schools at this time.

The Forecast

The temperature should be in the mid-50s with 0% chance of rain and winds about 5 mph heading WSW.

The Broadcasting Details

Time: 8:15 pm MDT

Where: LaVell Edwards Stadium- Provo, Utah

TV: ESPN2

Radio (BYU): KSL 1160 AM/102.7 FM, BYU Radio-Sirius XM 143

Listen Live via Internet (KSL): Click Here

Radio Links (Nevada): Click Here