NOVA Arizona Bowl Weigh-In: Arkansas State Red Wolves vs Nevada Wolf Pack
Nevada and Arkansas State share more than just canid-inspired monikers.
Back in the 1990s, college football had a rough gem of a conference called The Big West, which featured programs like Utah State, Northern Illinois, Boise State, San Diego State, Louisiana Tech – and Nevada and Arkansas State. The Big West’s footprint was too wide and rangy to last (it dissolved its football division in after the 2000 season), which was too bad. Had the conference survived to today, it would arguably be the best conference in the Group of Five.
Nevada and Arkansas State share a history limited only to the Big West, meeting five times as conference foes, with the Wolf Pack holding a 3-2 edge. One of Arkansas State’s most memorable games of the 1990s (there are only a handful) happened in 1993, when A-State scored a last second, game-winning TD on the Wolf Pack to close the season with its only conference victory. Nevada won a share of the Big West that year, but the loss bounced the Wolf Pack out of a bowl.
When Last These Titans Met
The year was 1999, and both teams were pretty awful. Played in beautiful Jonesboro, Arkansas, both teams entered the game with three wins. Arkansas State legendary quarterback Cleo Lemons led the team to a 44-28 thumping of the Wolf Pack.
Statistical (Fraternal) Twins
In the preseason, the Wolf Pack was predicted to finish a humble 4th in the Mountain West West – and exceeded expectations by finishing second behind mighty Fresno State. The Red Wolves, on the other hand, was picked to finish first in the Sun Belt West and win the conference title. Arkansas State lost 3 of 4 to start conference play, and fell short of those goals by also finishing second in division.
Yes, I also used this graphic for my Troy/Buffalo preview
Statistically, Nevada and Arkansas State intersect in a variety of areas. Both offenses are supercharged by the pass. Both play better-than-respectable defense. Both starting QBs have tossed for more than 3,000 yards, and both defensive squads have recorded exactly 32 sacks on the season.
|Wolf Pack||Red Wolves|
|3rd Down Conv.||34%||43%|
|Red Zone D||14th||34th|
I bolded the “Last 4” category to underscore a simplistic point of view: the Red Wolves appear to be peaking at season’s end while the Wolf Pack seem to be running out of steam, perhaps even better underscored by Nevada’s surprise, season-ending loss to UNLV.
The Red Raiders raided the Wolf Pack’s leading receiver
Nevada was hit with four transfer announcements following the season-ending loss to UNLV. The most noteworthy defections were starting safety Nephi Sewell (gone to BYU) and the program’s leading receiver and former freshman All-American, sophomore McLane Mannix, who takes his 1653 yards and 13 TDs to Texas Tech.
This puts the pass catching duties in the hands of junior Kaleb Fossum (725 yards, 1 TD) and sophomore Elijah Cooks (348 yards, 6 TDs). Nevada still has plenty of depth at wide receiver, but Mannix accounted for 30% of the Wolf Pack’s passing TDs in 2018. That will be felt on Saturday.
We’ll get double the Freshman Players of the Year on Saturday
The only thing better than having one Freshman POY on the field is having two Freshman POYs. Nevada RB Toa Taua earned the Mountain West distinction by leading the Wolf Pack with 816 rushing yards and six touchdowns. Arkansas State RB Marcel Murray grabbed the Sun Belt honor by chipping in 793 yards and seven touchdowns. Both should see the bulk of carries for their respective teams (although senior RB Warren Wand will be starting for the Red Wolves on Saturday).
Coach Blake Anderson has a sweet swing
The Nova Arizona Bowl should be well attended
According to Tucson.com, 34,000 tickets have been sold for the NOVA Arizona Bowl. That would be pretty cool, considering that a bit over 20,000 showed up for last year’s Raycom Media Camellia Bowl between Arkansas State and Middle Tennessee.
The Mountain West kinda needs this bowl win
The MWC will enter the Nova Arizona Bowl 2-2 in the post season (with Boise State’s slate against Boston College cancelled). The Sun Belt, meanwhile, is a healthy 3-1.
Wolf Pack Player to Watch: Malik Reed
All-Mountain West 1st Team defensive end Korey Rush (six sacks) broke his foot against San Diego State, but he is expected to make a return against Arkansas State on Saturday. However, the guy to watch is All-Mountain West 1st Team senior linebacker Malik Reed and his eight sacks who is readily available to menace and harass the Red Wolves offensive line.
Red Wolf to Watch: Warren Wand
Running back Warren “Human Mario Kart” Wand has lost touches to freshman wunderkind Marcel Murray, but the diminutive senior reminded us why Wand is magic during his last regular season game as a Red Wolf, compiling 172 total yards and a touchdown against Texas State.
QB Apples to Apples
Nevada quarterback Ty Gangi threw for 3,131 yards – and that was good for only fifth in the Mountain West. He tossed 23 touchdowns, and that was fifth-most, too. Compare that to Arkansas State’s Justice Hansen, whose 3,172 yards and 27 TDs led the Sun Belt in 2018. QB talent is crazy in the Mountain West.
The edge skews slightly in Hansen’s favor. Hansen’s QB rating is slightly better than Gangi’s (156 to 138). He’s thrown fewer interceptions and his completion rate is better. Hansen is even two inches taller (6-4 to 6-2).
But what might give Hansen the edge is that he is human lava at season’s end, completing 78.3% of his passes and throwing 12 touchdowns his last four games. Gangi hasn’t been shabby in that span (63%, 9 TDs), but Hansen has simply been otherworldly.
This is nice
What’s Gonna Hap’n, Cap’n?
The Red Wolves appear to be the alpha wolf heading into the Arizona Bowl, and that’s before the Wolf Pack lost two key players to transfer. Buuuuuuuuut the Red Wolves are 1-3 in bowl games under head coach Blake Anderson, and Nevada is a quality opponent.
Who am I kidding? Arkansas State holds all the cards. Vegas gives the Red Wolves a 1.5 point edge, but I think Arkansas State wins this handedly. (Don’t @ me)
Arkansas State meets Nevada at Arizona Stadium on Saturday, 12:15 PM CST for the Nova Arizona Bowl. The game can be viewed on CBS Sports Network, which isn’t ESPN.
A former notary public, Jeremy Harper is a professional writer and Chief Instigator for Storm the Castle Creative. He spends much of his free time staring blankly into space.