The UNLV Rebels are coming off of a bye week following their terrible performance against Southern Utah two weeks ago. Head Coach Bobby Hauck said that this was "The worst loss in the history of the football program," and I can't say I don't disagree with him. Southern Utah plays in the FCS, and for that matter, aren't all that good in the FCS either. A 41-16 loss at home in which you were outscored 31-6 in the second half certainly isn't a good outcome when you play any team, but to do that against an FCS foe means that this loss probably was one of the worst losses in school history.
As for Nevada's past couple of week's, they haven't been nearly as bad. Granted, two back-to-back losses doesn't exactly sit right, but Nevada came close to pulling off the upset against Texas Tech two weeks ago and had to face a Boise State squad who was probably still holding a grudge from last season. Nevada could pull some positives from both of those games, even though the final result wasn't what they wanted. Nevada forced Texas Tech to make a game-winning drive in the final seconds in order to beat them and the Wolfpack offense held Kellen Moore to 157 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.
With the way both teams have played so far this season, it wouldn't be too hard to write off the UNLV Rebels and predict a seventh straight victory for the Wolfpack in the Battle for Nevada. I'm here to show you why that probably will happen... and to also show you how it's possible that UNLV pulls the stunner.
If you don't have faith in the Rebels, I don't blame you. UNLV's starting quarterback Caleb Herring threw three interceptions, all returned for touchdowns. The rushing game averaged 2.8 yards per carry. The only touchdown came off of a fake field goal. The list could go on as to the struggles of this team from the Southern Utah game, yet in all the bad, some good points still remain. UNLV's defense held the Southern Utah offense to only 20 points (Not exactly an accomplishment, but it shows that the defense wasn't exactly destroyed as the final score suggests). Phillip Payne had a monster game, catching 13 balls for 175 yards and a touchdown.
UNLV also had quite a game the week before against Hawaii, demolishing them using a surprisingly dominant defense. The running game looked great in that game and there was constant pressure from a four man rush. That game was pretty much the exact opposite of how the Rebels played the following week. The question is whether UNLV, specifically their defense, can get the physicality that they played with against Hawaii back for their game against Nevada. If they are able to bring back that tenacity for the rivalry game against Nevada, then they may just have a shot at beating this team.
The Wolfpack, on the other hand, haven't had much issues with defense so far this season as much as they have had trouble keeping their offense consistent so far this season. The offense has only looked good in the Texas Tech game, and even then Nevada was switching between two quarterbacks during the game. Last week against Boise State, The offense struggled to score and Coach Ault waffled between senior Tyler Lantrip and freshman Cody Fajarado.
Luckily for them, UNLV doesn't have quite the defensive talent that Boise State has, so they shouldn't have quite as much trouble getting pass protection or running the football. The bad news is that in the past two games, UNLV's defense has forced tons of pressure and they aren't a walk in the park to keep out of the backfield like they have been in years past. The Wolfpack are going to have to take this line seriously or they could wreak havoc all game long.
The key for Nevada's defense to stopping the Rebel offensive attack is simple, get into the backfield early and often. UNLV's offense so far this season has keyed off of power running out of the pistol formation and getting protection for Caleb Herring in the passing game. Getting any sort of penetration would blow up either of those strategies and could easily disrupt the Rebel offense for the rest of the game.
When all is said and done, I expect this to be a closer game than most expect. Nevada's offense hasn't looked particularly well and UNLV's defense has. That combination should create some low numbers for the Nevada offense. Unfortunately for UNLV, the Rebel offense isn't all that good either. I'm expecting a low scoring game and a Nevada win.