As we continue our march toward New Year’s Day and a huge week for college football, we find an appetizing matchup between the Nevada Wolfpack (7-5) and the Arkansas State Red Wolves (8-4). In what has been affectionately referred to as the “Dances with Wolves Bowl”, we will take a look at the 2018 Arizona Bowl Preview.
This bowl matchup pits two hot teams against one another. Each has won four of their last five games and look to stay hot behind their senior leaders at quarterback. Fittingly, the experts in Vegas have this pegged as a close, high scoring affair. Nevada is favored by one point, and the over-under is set at 55.5.
2018 Arizona Bowl Preview: Arkansas State vs Nevada
What: 2018 Arizona Bowl
Who: Nevada Wolfpack vs Arkansas State Red Wolves
Where: Arizona Stadium, Tucson, AZ (CBS)
When: Saturday, December 29, 2018, 11:15 am MST
Nevada as a program has seemed to regress over the past several seasons. The Wolfpack peaked in 2010 with Colin Kaepernick under center. Since that time, they have struggled to find consistent success. In year two under Jay Norvell, the offense has shown some promising improvement. The defense still has room to grow but is anchored by a solid core of seniors. Still, the high octane, pass-first approach has improved their win total from three to seven wins.
The Wolfpack will look to air it out with senior quarterback Ty Gangi. Although he struggled in their last game against UNLV, he has been the unquestioned leader of the offense this season. He has accounted for 3,131 yards and 23 touchdowns on the year. Interceptions have been a bit of a problem for Gangi. He has thrown for 11 so far this season, including three in the loss to UNLV. Still, the veteran gunslinger provides a matchup problem in this game. Arkansas State’s secondary has not been seriously tested often this season. Look for the senior leader to try to take advantage of an unproven secondary while limiting mistakes.
Our guy Ty made his mark on the record books this year!
-Fifth in single-season pass completions (250)
-Eighth in single-season passing yards (3,131)
-Eighth in career total offense (7,724)
-Ninth in career passing touchdowns (56)
-Seventh in career passing completions (577) pic.twitter.com/BLGeoIAtgx
— Nevada Football (@NevadaFootball) December 5, 2018
Arkansas State has been a perineal bowl competitor since the turn of the century. Current head coach Blake Anderson has brought some much-needed stability to a program that had a revolving door at the head coaching position for years. Since 2014, he has been able to secure five consecutive bowl berths and maintain the high baseline for this program. With a win in the Arizona Bowl, he would be able to match his highest win total in his tenure (nine wins).
The Red Wolves offense goes through senior quarterback Justice Hansen. In his final season in Jonesboro, he has accounted for 27 touchdowns passing along with another six on the ground. Ball security has also been a high focus for the senior. He has only thrown six interceptions, good enough for a TD/INT ratio of 4.5. In his last outing, Hansen threw for 276 yards and two touchdowns. His go-to target on the outside, Kirk Merritt, accounted for 153 yards and two touchdowns receiving. On the season, the two have connected for seven touchdowns and 939 yards. The one-time Oregon Ducks transfer has emerged as a dangerous target for Hansen. The two will look to remain hot against a susceptible Nevada defense.
Expect plenty of points in this game, as both offenses look much stronger than the defenses they will face. Look for a couple of key turnovers or other big plays to sway this game for one team.
Arkansas State is riding the hot hand at the moment. Nevada may still be hungover from the tough loss to UNLV. I expect the Red Wolves to be the ones dancing at midfield when all is said and done. In a shootout, we take Arkansas State 45-42.