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WSU at Nevada: Three things to watch

The Spokesman-Review

1 Hines 500

With Nevada switching to a 3-4 defensive front this season, the nose tackle takes on a huge responsibility. Most 3-4 defenses collapse if the player occupying that spot can’t get any push, and sophomore Matt Hines is the man in the middle for the Wolf Pack.

As a freshman Hines played in eight games and started twice, recording just eight tackles. But over the summer he became the first player in school history to bench press more than 500 pounds, and the 6-foot, 285-pounder will need every bit of that strength as Washington State center Nick Mihlhauser and the interior offensive line try to clear him out. Simple formula tonight: If Hines is moving forward, that’s bad news for the Cougars. If he’s moving backward, then WSU – especially running back Jerome Harrison – should have a field day.

2 Standing Patterson

The Cougars aren’t about to change their defensive scheme just for one week, and that means that both starting safeties should remain on the field even if Nevada uses four wide receivers for much of the game. That means Eric Frampton and DeWayne Patterson will be responsible for plenty of pass coverage, no matter if the Wolf Pack is throwing quick screens or deep strikes.

Frampton is more of a known quantity, having helped WSU in a reserve role last season. But Patterson, a junior college transfer who’s starting in place of an injured Husain Abdullah, has just last week’s game under his belt. How he responds to Nevada’s passing game could be key for the Cougars on defense. Last year, weak play at the safety spot really damaged the team’s bowl chances. Beginning with this game, we may find out if Patterson is part of the answer to that problem.

3 What run is this?

Much has been made this week of the Wolf Pack’s new pistol offense, putting the quarterback in a shortened shotgun alignment. While some, including head coach Bill Doba, have surmised that the Nevada offense will look like the Urban Meyer spread option offense, the guess here is that the pistol is primarily a way to protect quarterback Jeff Rowe behind a weak and inexperienced offensive line.

Instead of option pitches, running back B.J. Mitchell could line up behind Rowe in an I-back spot, running north and south between the tackles. More than likely, the pistol isn’t so much about getting the ball to the edge as it is about getting Mitchell a head of steam to power through the middle of the Cougar defense. How Nevada uses this new formation in the running game will dramatically alter the WSU game plan as evening turns to night in Reno.

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