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story.lead_photo.caption Arkansas State wide receiver Justin McInnis, who has caught 56 passes for 694 yards and 5 touchdowns, is among a group of seniors who will be playing in their final game for the Red Wolves today as they take on Nevada in the Arizona Bowl. - Photo by Mitchell PE Masilun

TUCSON, Ariz. -- The shirt's baby blue color has faded. It's a little dirty and looks worn. This was a workman's shirt, one found in any auto shop. On the left side, a bulky white patch reads "Jay Norvell." On the right, scripted in blue, is "Nevada Football."

This mechanic's shirt did not belong to an actual mechanic.

No, this was Norvell's, the head coach of the Nevada Wolf Pack, today's final opponent of the season for Arkansas State University. This shirt is worn to define Nevada -- a gritty, workmanlike bunch from Reno, Nev., and the Mountain West Conference.

"This is a blue-collar shirt," said Norvell, who's outfitted in the shirt for every practice. "We made a commitment as a team that we wanted to be a team of action, not words. ... I'm just an employee for the University of Nevada football program. We have a bunch of guys that punch their cards every day and put in a good, hard day's work.

Gallery: ASU Arizona Bowl Week

"This is a fun trip, but it's a business trip," Norvell said. "And we came here to play the game."

ASU will meet Nevada for the sixth time at 12:15 p.m. today in the Arizona Bowl at Arizona Stadium in Tucson in a game that will be televised on CBS Sports Network. Nevada leads the series 3-2 with the last meeting in 1999, a game won by ASU 44-28 in Jonesboro.

The current teams did have a connection in 2014 when Norvell and ASU's senior quarterback Justice Hansen were part of the Oklahoma Sooners. Hansen was redshirting as a true freshman quarterback from Edmond, Okla., and Norvell was OU's wide receivers coach, a role he served from 2008-14. The two have a trusted relationship that's been quiet for several years with Hansen having a storied career at ASU and Norvell taking over a Nevada program in 2017 and making its first bowl appearance since the 2015 Arizona Bowl.

"He's a great dude," Hansen said. "He's somebody that if I got in a bind, I could reach out to him. He's just a great dude. I kind of started my college career with where he was at. And I'm going to end my career on the same field with him, going against each other."

The Arizona Bowl is the endpoint for many ASU seniors who have helped the Red Wolves build what's become the longest consecutive bowl streak in the Sun Belt Conference from 2011-18.

ASU's eight-game stretch of consecutive bowl appearances is the third-longest streak among all Group of 5 teams and the 15th-longest among all Football Bowl Subdivision programs.

The Arizona Bowl is a culmination of several senior careers, including Hansen, Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year Ronheen Bingham, offensive tackle Lanard Bonner, wide receiver Justin McInnis, nickel back Justin Clifton and safety Darreon Jackson.

"I've been in the moment with these guys and knowing it's coming to an end kind of gives me that feeling of wanting to hug them a few more times, have a few more hours with them," Clifton said. "So it's definitely bittersweet."

There are plenty of similarities between the two teams. The Red Wolves (8-4) are averaging 31.8 points per game in 2018. Nevada is at 32.3.

The Wolf Pack (7-5) have thrown for 285.3 yards per game; ASU posted 283.3 passing yards in 12 games. ASU has rushed for 183.2 yards per game. Nevada is rushing at a 157.6 per-game clip.

Five weeks ago, when their regular seasons ended Nov. 24, both teams were red-hot.

The Red Wolves won their final four games, outscoring those four opponents 146-54. Nevada ended 2018 on a 4-1 tear and finished tied for second in the Mountain West Conference's West Division.

"When I saw the matchup, I was really pleased," Norvell said. "I just thought that this is one of the really great matchups in the bowl season."

To ASU Coach Blake Anderson, nine victories per season is the benchmark. A ninth today would tie Anderson's winningest season at Arkansas State since his hiring in December 2013.

At one point this season, the Red Wolves had 19 heavily used players injured and unavailable.

A ninth victory would be the cherry on this season.

"There may be 30, 35 teams in all of Division I football that are able to do that this year," Anderson said. "We'd like to be in that group ... These guys know what we're up against and could have very easily made excuses and thrown in the towel. They didn't. They found a way to rally the troops and find wins and No. 9 will be big for us."

Photo by Mitchell PE Masilun
Nevada Coach Jay Norvell (shown) and Arkansas State quarterback Justice Hansen both were Oklahoma Sooners four years ago when Hansen was redshirting as a true freshman quarterback and Norvell was wide receivers coach. The two have a trusted relationship that’s been quiet for several years while Hansen built a storied career at ASU and Norvell took over a Nevada program in 2017 that’s making its first bowl appearance since the 2015 Arizona Bowl.
Photo by Thomas Metthe
Nevada Coach Jay Norvell and Arkansas State quarterback Justice Hansen (shown) both were Oklahoma Sooners four years ago when Hansen was redshirting as a true freshman quarterback and Norvell was wide receivers coach. The two have a trusted relationship that’s been quiet for several years while Hansen built a storied career at ASU and Norvell took over a Nevada program in 2017 that’s making its first bowl appearance since the 2015 Arizona Bowl.

Sports on 12/29/2018

Print Headline: Who howls loudest? Wolves, Wolf Pack get down to business for Arizona Bowl

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