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Nevada and Western Michigan each logged Power Five wins in 2021 and will try to cap their seasons with a bowl win when they face off in the Quick Lane Bowl in Detroit on Monday.
The Wolf Pack was close to competing for a Mountain West Championship, losing three conference games by a combined six points, but those losses proved to be the hurdle between a strong team and competing for hardware in early December. Unfortunately for Nevada, many of the key pieces from that championship-caliber team won’t be part of the competition on Monday.
Jay Norvell left after the season to accept the head coaching position at Colorado State and star quarterback Carson Strong opted out of the bowl game to prepare for the NFL Draft. There’s also been a handful of other opt-outs and transfer portal movement — including starting tight end Cole Turner opting out of the bowl — that have left Nevada with limited personnel on the field and the sideline.
Western Michigan, which saw its season hit a rocky patch after an early victory against eventual ACC Champion Pitt, is looking to claim its second-ever bowl win.
Next man up for Nevada: It’s impossible to replace Strong’s 4,186 passing yards and 36 touchdowns, considering not only his production but the high-end talent that has made him a top prospect for the 2022 NFL Draft. The quarterbacking duties will likely fall to Nate Cox, a 6-foot-9 senior who appeared in three games this year, with most of that work coming in garbage time. We know that Cox will likely lead the offense, but the next man up for some of those skill positions and the offense itself — considering Norvell and the team’s offensive coordinator both left for Colorado State — will be an unknown until the game gets underway.
WMU has its own explosive offensive weapon: Nevada still has Romeo Doubs and a ton of skill talent used to putting up yards and points, but Western Michigan has a great answer in sophomore wide receiver Skyy Moore. The Broncos passing offense leaned heavily on Moore, who ranked No. 3 among all FBS receivers with 8.3 receptions per game, trailing only Purdue’s David Bell and Western Kentucky’s Jerreth Sterns.
Broncos pass rush could be a difference maker: The Western Michigan defense finished the regular season ranking No. 15 nationally and No. 1 in the MAC with 3.08 sacks per game. That could be a problem for Cox as he gets settled in as the team’s new QB1, and he has players like senior defensive lineman Ali Fayad applying pressure in passing situations. Fayad’s 11.5 sacks in 2021 led the MAC ranked No. 7 nationally. Getting into a third-and-long situation against this WMU defense is the ultimate losing battle, with the pass rush contributing to a total opponent third down conversion rate (26.8) that ranked No. 4 among all FBS teams.
Game: Quick Lane Bowl
Date: Monday, Dec. 27 | Time: 11 a.m. ET
Location: Ford Field — Detroit, Mich.
TV: ESPN | Live stream: fuboTV (Try for free)
It’s real hard to get behind this Nevada group that is going to be far from the team that we saw rate among the best Group of Five teams in the country. Western Michigan has its full host of offensive weapons and somewhat of a home field advantage playing in Michigan with the motivation of winning its second-ever bowl game. This one might get sideways for the Wolf Pack. Prediction: Western Michigan (-7)
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