The Western Athletic Conference’s two top teams tangle Saturday afternoon when Louisiana Tech visits Nevada in Mackay Stadium.
Louisiana Tech (6-4, 4-1 WAC) and Nevada (6-3, 4-0) both take five-game winning streaks into the game in which a Wolfpack victory would assure Nevada of the WAC title. A Louisiana Tech win would create a two-way tie in the league. Tech has one WAC game remaining, and Nevada has two.
Kickoff is set for 3:05 p.m. CDT at Mackay Stadium in Reno, Nev.
Tech’s stingy defense will be put to the test against a powerful offense that is averaging 33.6 points and more than 524 points per game. Nevada is ranked seventh in the nation in rushing and fifth in total offense.
Nevada’s passing game is not bad either, averaging 262 yards per game.
“They are excellent at plugging in new guys and not losing a beat,” Louisiana Tech coach Sonny Dykes said of Nevada’s pistol offense. “Everyone in the program understands the system they run, and (they) are great at executing their game plan.”
Nevada initially replaced star quarterback Colin Kaepernick with senior Tyler Lantrip. But after a 1-3 start, redshirt freshman Cody Fajardo seized the job and has won all five starts. Fajardo has completed 100 of 142 passes for 1,255 yards and five TDs.
“Their quarterback is playing at a high level, and they are good up front,” Dykes said. “They are an excellent blue-collar football team, and they play hard in all aspects. They are well coached and have good athletes.”
Rishard Matthews leads the Wolfpack receivers with 59 catches for 958 yards and five TDs.
“Rishard Matthews is probably one of the best offensive players in the conference,” Dykes said. “When they run the ball as well as they do, they can hurt you with play-actions and boot(leg)s.”
While Nevada’s offense is powerful, Tech’s winning streak has been backed by a stingy, opportunistic defense.
“When you play hard and run to the football like we have, then you’ve got a good chance to create some turnovers,” Dykes said. “If you look at our season and split it in half, the big difference has been in getting turnovers. We were 1-4 in the first five games and now have won our last five games.”
Tech has intercepted 16 passes to rank fourth in the country, and the Bulldogs are ranked third in the nation in interceptions returned for a touchdown.
“Lots of that has to do with our pass rush,” Dykes said. “For whatever reason, we’re making the plays to get the interceptions. Last year, we probably led the country in drops. A lot of how we’re doing defensively this year is playing tough and going to the football.”
Bulldogs quarterback Colby Cameron has played well since taking over the starting job in Week 7 because of an injury to Nick Isham. Cameron has completed 53 of 93 passes for 831 yards with seven touchdowns and one interception. In his three starts this season, Tech has averaged more than 465 yards per game.
While Tech has already become bowl-eligible, Dykes said its work is far from done.
“It’s good to be bowl-eligible but not really,” Dykes said. “We’ve gotten better and improved, but we’re still striving to get better every day. Nobody is satisfied with where we are right now.”