If the underdog Spartans score first, it will be the first time the Wolf Pack has trailed all season.
More reasons for San Jose State to be nervous: Unbeaten Nevada is favored by more than five touchdowns, is riding its first national ranking since 1948 and has a chance to go 6-0 for the first time since coach Chris Ault's 1991 team finished 12-1 and won the Big Sky Conference championship.
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick, a 6-foot-6 senior whose stock with NFL scouts keeps going up, is averaging 210 yards passing and 110 yards running per game. Senior running back Vai Taua's 128-yard average ranks eighth in the NCAA and the offense fifth overall with 536 yards per outing.
All in all, a less-than-ideal matchup for a Spartan team that fell to Nevada 62-7 last year, has lost 10 straight on the road and already has seen nine starters go down to injury since the start of the season.
“Nevada is an excellent football team. They are dominating people each week,” first-year SJS coach Mike MacIntyre said.
“For the past two years no one has been able to contain Kaepernick. With the possible exception of Michigan, there's no one else who has a quarterback who can run like that,” he said.
“He makes people miss. He runs by people ... He's another running back nobody can tackle,” MacIntyre said. “It is going to be a great challenge for us.”
Still, Ault said his team won't take the Spartans lightly, even though they've lost to three ranked teams on the road this season — Alabama (48-3), Wisconsin (27-14) and Utah (56-3).
“They've played one heck of a schedule, my God,” Ault said. “And they've played well. At Wisconsin, they played really, really well.”
“We aren't good enough to overlook anybody. We've got to practice hard and prepare ourselves for a four-quarter game,” he said.
If the Spartans can get inside Nevada's 20, there's a good chance they'll score. They've done it every time they've been in the red zone this year, albeit only nine compared to Nevada's 24-of-26.
Another stat of note: Nevada is first in the nation in third-down conversions (62.3 percent) and San Jose State last (19.4 percent).
Kaepernick earlier this year became just the ninth player in the NCAA to rush for 3,000 yards and throw for 3,000 yards in his career. His 3,454 yards rushing are seventh all-time for a quarterback.
Taua is riding a four-game streak of 100 yards running or more. He's done that 21 times in his career, the most of any active player in the NCAA.
San Jose State's defense is led by linebacker Vince Buhagiar, a true freshman averaging 7.8 tackles per game — one of only eight freshmen in the FBS with at least 6.5.
SJS's running attack has managed only 82 yards a game but Lamon Muldrow picked up 137 yards on 22 attempts last week and is averaging 5.2 yards a carry. A talented batch of receivers is led by Jalal Beauchman, one of only 20 in school history with 100 career receptions.
“We have played against some of the best players in the country. We're not going to be shocked by how talented they are,” Beauchman said.
“They can put up a lot of points. We'd like to be able to put some points on the boards and make it a shootout,” he said. “Personally, I want to get them after they came in here last year and embarrassed us. I'd at least like to put up a better fight.”
Quarterback Jordan La Secla threw for 226 yards against Nevada last year, but isn't sure if he'll play Saturday due to a rib injury. The nine starters already lost this year include seven seniors. Saturday's tentative starting lineup includes three sophomore and five freshmen.
“I have never seen or heard anything like this,” MacIntyre said. “It is very disheartening. When you walk down our hallway we have all our senior's pictures up and all of them are on crutches or out.”
Nevertheless, MacIntyre said team morale appears to be good.
“They practice hard, they work hard, they play hard. If you do that, eventually success will come,” he said. “We just have to keep pushing along. We're throwing in freshmen and playing ball.”