Here’s everything you need to know about the upcoming Big 12 vs. Mountain West showdown in our Kansas State vs. Nevada preview and prediction.
1:05 p.m. CST, Saturday, September 18, 2021; Bill Snyder Family Stadium, Manhattan, Kansas
TV: Big 12 Now/ESPN+ (Shawn Kelly, Barrett Brooks, Shane Sparks)
Radio: K-State Sports Network (Wyatt Thomson, Stan Weber); Wolf Pack Radio Network (John Ramey, Mike Edwards)
Spread: Nevada -2
Fun Fact: Nevada last played a Big 12 opponent on September 24, 2011, losing to Texas Tech in Lubbock, 35-34.
QB Carson Strong
Strong is receiving considerable draft buzz as CBS Sports’ mock NFL draft has him as the number one pick overall. Strong has thrown for 693 yards and six touchdowns and one interception in two games this season while completing 69.4% of his passes and posting an NFL passer rating of 113.5.
Of Strong’s 82 passing attempts this season, 37 (45%) have either gone for a first down or a touchdown. He’s a pocket passer who does not run the ball by design. Nevada doesn’t use a lot of play-action or screens as Strong likes to drop back and distribute the ball all over the field. Nearly 20% of Strong’s passes this season have been targeted 20+ yards downfield, but his completion rate in that range drops to 31.3%. He is most effective short to medium range passes where he completes over 72%.
Strong will want to get in a rhythm and stay on schedule to push the Wildcats into a shootout type of game.
WR Romeo Doubs
Doubs is also considered a draft prospect and is Strong’s favorite target out wide. He has 138 yards and a TD on 10 receptions. With receptions of 43 and 26 yards so far this season, he’s a deep threat as well as a possession receiver who averages 13.8 yards a catch.
Doubs will likely line-up against KSU’s CB Julius Brents or CB Ekow -Boye-Doe and will have to work to be a factor.
DE Sam Hammond
Hammond is a tall edge-rusher whom the Wolfpack will call upon to create havoc in the backfield to slow KSU’s run game and apply pressure on passing downs. Hammond came up with a huge sack for a 13-yard loss in Nevada’s 22-17 win over Cal to open the season.
K-State’s pass-blocking has been suspect at times this season, and Hammond will need to capitalize on opportunities as they arise.
Kansas State Wildcats
QB Will Howard
Howard will make his eighth career start in place of Skylar Thompson who went down with a noncontact injury in the first quarter against Southern Illinois.
Howard struggled last season as a true freshman, but it was believed that he had improved a great deal over the course of the offseason. That improvement was not evident against SIU, however, as he threw a pick-six and fumbled the ball away on a sack.
Howard did complete a couple of big passes against SIU, however, that lead to touchdowns, and the Cats were able to pull out a stressful win, 31-23. Now, with a full week of practice with the first-team, Howard will have to take a decisive step forward to give K-State a chance against a Nevada team with potentially electric offense.
RB Deuce Vaughn
With Thompson out at quarterback, the Cats will need to lean heavily on the run and Vaughn’s game-breaking speed. Vaughn has rushed for 249 yards and four touchdowns so far this season, and his current average of 6.6 yards per carry is outpacing his 2020 pace of 5.6 yards per carry.
Vaughn fumbled the ball for the first time in Wildcat jersey against SIU, and the Cats will need him to return to his usual reliable form to help steady the offense and control the ball to keep Carson Strong and the pass-happy Nevada offense on the sideline. KSU would also like to see a return of Vaughn’s ability to contribute in the passing game.
In 2020, Vaughn caught 25 passes for 434 yards and two touchdowns. So far this season, he has only caught four passes for 13 yards.
DE Felix Anudike
Anudike currently leads the Big 12 with three sacks, and his pass rush abilities will be critical against Nevada QB Carson Strong. The entire K-State defense is going to need to play their best game of the season to overcome what will probably be a tough game for the K-State offense, and that will need to start up front with Aundike.
When Anudike is on the field with DE Khalid Duke, the Cats have been able to apply substantial pressure with just a three-man front. This will need to continue in order to give K-State an extra man in coverage against a Wolfpack offense that passes on over 72% of their offensive snaps.
Nevada’s offensive line has allowed pressure on 27 of 91 (29.6%) passing plays this season, so Anudike and the Cats’ defense will have plenty of opportunities to turn up the heat.
Nevada’s 22-17 win over Cal in Week 1 was the program’s first win over a Power 5 program since beating Cal 31-24 on September 1, 2012. In Week 2, Nevada dispatched with FCS Idaho State 49-10. Nevada is receiving votes in the Top 25 and will hope to make a national statement against the Wildcats. With a wide array of weapons on offense and an improving defense, Nevada should contend for the Mountain West title this season and New Year’s Six bowl is not out of the question. A win against K-State won’t help the Wolfpack in the Mountain West standings, but it would notch the team a second win over a Power 5 school in three weeks.
Kansas State Wildcats
For K-State this game is all about trying to survive and get the offense going under back-up quarterback Will Howard. It will be critical to get Howard comfortable early with some easy completions, establish the ground game, and get a lights-out performance from the defense. The Cats’ defense has been nearly perfect in seven out of eight quarters in this young season, but it needs to put together its best performance of the season against one of the best quarterbacks in the country.
Prediction: Kansas State 24, Nevada 21
This may be very optimistic, but I’m going to give the K-State coaching staff that praised Howard all offseason the benefit of the doubt and assume that Howard’s rough night against SIU was due to a bit of shellshock. The defense has the ability to keep Nevada’s offense from going crazy, and though Nevada will likely hit a couple of big pass plays, I expect K-State’s defensive line to take over the game in the second half. If Howard can just distribute the ball to K-State’s playmakers, like Vaughn and WR Malik Knowles, and avoid turnovers, Kansas State should win the game. That’s a big if, however.
Despite doubts about the offense, K-State’s defense is a considerable factor. As noted above, Nevada has allowed pressure on 29.6% of their passing snaps this season; however, that number was 43.4% (20 of 46) against Cal, the only defense with a pulse that Nevada has faced this season.