Arizona Bowl

Capsulized Preview of NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl: Arkansas State vs. Nevada

The fourth annual NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl pitting the Arkansas State Red Wolves and the Nevada Wolf Pack will take place this Saturday. Yesterday, we updated you on the festivities in Tucson surrounding the bowl game. For ticket information visit the NOVA Home Loans Web site. Here is a capsulized look at the matchup:

NOVA HOME LOANS ARIZONA BOWL

Arkansas State (8-4) vs. Nevada (7-5)

Line: Arkansas State by 1.5.
Time and place: Saturday, 11:15 a.m. (CBS Sports Network), Arizona Stadium.
Series record: Nevada leads 3-2.

PLOTLINES
The Arizona Bowl makes eight bowl appearances in a row for Arkansas State under four different coaches: Hugh Freeze, Gus Malzahn, Bryan Harsin and now Blake Anderson. This is the fifth straight bowl for Anderson with Arkansas State after Freeze, Malzahn and Harsin left the program after only one year. The Wolf Pack are in a bowl for the first time in three years, since they played in the inaugural Arizona Bowl. They were in a bowl in 10 of 11 years between 2005 and 2015. Nevada coach Jay Norvell will return to the site of a former archrival — the University of Arizona — after serving as an Arizona State assistant coach in 2016.

KEY MATCHUP
Nevada senior QB Ty Gangi vs. Arkansas State DE Ronheen Bingham, the Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year. Gangi led an offense that scored 40 points or more four times season with 3,131 passing yards and 23 touchdowns. But he also has 11 interceptions. Bingham totaled nine sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss, leading a unit that ranks No. 12 nationally in pass defense allowing only 175.9 passing yards a game.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Arkansas State: QB Justice Hansen and WR Kirk Merritt. Hansen, a fifth-year senior, was selected the Sun Belt Player of the Year leading the league in total offense per game (297.3), passing yards per game (264.3), passing touchdowns (27) and points responsible for (202). Merritt, a quality junior college recruit, led the Sun Belt in receptions per game (6.3), which is tied for 20th nationally. He also leads the league in receptions (75) and receiving yards (939).

Nevada: RB Toa Taua and LB Malik Reed. Taua was selected the Mountain West Freshman of the Year after leading the Wolf Pack with 816 rushing yards and six touchdowns. The 816 rushing yards are 10th-most among freshmen running backs nationally. Reed, from Dothan, Ala., was a first-team All-Mountain West selection after totaling eight sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss this season.

NUMBERS GAME
Nevada has 19 players remaining from when the Wolf Pack played in the 2015 Arizona Bowl, their last bowl appearance. They beat Colorado State 28-23 in that game. … Arkansas State has recorded at least 30 sacks in five consecutive seasons, a school-record streak. … Nevada is No. 14 nationally in sacks-against average at 1.17 per game. … Arkansas State has recorded 100 or more rushing yards in 12 straight games for the first time since 2012.

PREDICTION
This game pits two prolific offenses and it appears Arkansas State has a more accomplished defense. That should be enough to put the Red Wolves over the Wolf Pack in what is being dubbed the “The Dances with Wolves Bowl.”
Arkansas State 37, Nevada 31.

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