You saw the preview and prediction. Now here are three keys for Nevada and Southern Miss heading into the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl on Saturday night at 8 p.m. on ESPN.
1. Block Jamie Collins and Cordarro Law. For the Wolf Pack to have any success with their Pistol offense, they are going to have to take stock of these two players, who have been terrific at making plays behind the line of scrimmage. Southern Miss ranks No. 20 in rush defense, and Collins and Law are a big reason for that. Collins, who plays the hybrid end/linebacker role, really does a nice job shutting down the perimeter. He has 94 tackles this season, with a team-leading 19.5 tackles for loss (tied for No. 10 nationally) and 6.5 sacks. Law has 7.5 sacks, 17.5 tackles for loss and four forced fumbles.
2. Consistent defense. One of the biggest reasons Nevada struggled late in the season was because of inconsistent play on defense, especially in the secondary. This group will be facing one of the most balanced teams it has played this season, so it has to be ready for equal doses of runs and passes, and has to be on the lookout for Austin Davis scrambling out of the pocket, too. It is a cliche to say Nevada has to play assignment-sound, but it totally fits the bill here.
3. Rishard Matthews advantage. Matthews is the best, most consistent player the Wolf Pack have on offense, so it will be critical to get the ball to him in what appears to be a huge matchup advantage. Matthews leads the team with 91 receptions for 1,364 yards and eight touchdowns. He most likely will be paired against Deron Wilson, and has a huge size advantage on the cornerback (4 inches, 40 pounds).
Southern Miss (10-2)
1. Big plays in the pass game. Davis has been terrific this season in leading Southern Miss, and he will have an opportunity to take advantage of the biggest area of weakness Nevada has on defense -- the secondary. Ryan Balentine and Kelvin Bolden each have more than 600 yards receiving and have been the most consistent threats in the pass game. The Golden Eagles also are effective at getting the ball to Tracy Lampley out of the backfield.
2. Block Brett Roy. No question Nevada will try to get Davis off his rhythm by getting after him. Roy, a first-team WAC defensive tackle, had 10 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss, and is the best player on the Wolf Pack front. Nevada has been solid at generating a pass rush this season, but the big problem facing Nevada is Davis' escapability and a solid offensive line that has only allowed 15 sacks all season.
3. Make Cody Fajardo win it. Fajardo has shown flashes this season, but this defense has been excellent at putting major pressure on quarterbacks and forcing mistakes. Just ask Case Keenum, who had his worst game of the season against Southern Miss. Dan Disch has done a great job installing his 4-2-5 scheme, and Southern Miss has set a new FBS record with eight interception returns for touchdowns. You can bet this group will be hoping for a few more against the redshirt freshman quarterback.