UNLV vs. Fresno State: Game Preview

Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sp

The Bulldogs, fresh off a bye week, will play host to the red-hot Running Rebels on Saturday, October 19. Can UNLV pull off an upset that seemed unthinkable a month ago?

WEEK 6: #19 Fresno State Bulldogs vs. UNLV Rebels

WHEN: Saturday, October 19 -- 7:00 PM, PST.

WHERE: Bulldog Stadium; Fresno, CA (41,031)

2013 SEASON:  Fresno State 5-0 (2-0), UNLV 4-2 (2-0)

TV: The game will be broadcast on the Mountain West Network, but Campus Insiders has made it easy for fans to catch the game here on Mountain West Connection.  Click here for details.

RADIO: Fresno's two ESPN affiliates, 940 and 1600 AM, will broadcast the game in English and Spanish, respectively.  The Las Vegas broadcast can be heard on 1100 AM and 98.9 FM.

SERIES RECORD:  The Bulldogs lead the all-time series 11-4, though the two teams have not met since 1997, when both were members of the WAC.

WEB SITES:  GoBulldogs.com, Fresno State's official athletics site | UNLVRebels.com, UNLV's official athletics site

It is no surprise that the Fresno State Bulldogs have established themselves as the best team in the West division early in conference play,  not to mention the current odds-on favorite to be the last BCS buster.  It is a surprise that Las Vegas (Las Vegas!) has emerged as the team right on Fresno's heels.  Following two disastrous non-conference losses to start 2013, the Rebels have ripped off four wins in a row and, amazingly, looked pretty good doing it.

However, the 'Dogs will represent the stiffest test that Vegas will face all season.  For Fresno, the Rebels simply cannot be overlooked. Bobby Hauck may have already saved his job, but an upset against a ranked opponent would do wonders for the program's reputation.

What to watch - UNLV: Much of the credit for the Rebels' turnaround has been given to Caleb Herring, who has helped Vegas outscore its opponents 164-109 from the second half of their Central Michigan game onward.  Its opponents, it must be noted, are a middling mid-major, an FCS squad and two of the ten worst FBS defenses in the nation; in other words, no great shakes.

Teams have been able to stay with the Bulldogs by staying committed to their running game, so Tim Cornett is likely to play a big role in how this game is decided.  He has averaged 5.9 yards per carry during Vegas' four-game win streak, but was held to 4.1 in their blowout losses.  Fresno is well above average in rushing defense and tackles for loss, so the offensive line will need to win the battle at the line of scrimmage and give Cornett a chance.  Moving the chains early will be important as well, as the 'Dogs are also among the nation's best in third-down defense.

If the Rebels do fall behind, pass protection will be critical against a Fresno pass rush that has come to life.  Eleven different Bulldogs have recorded a sack in the last three games and they haven't been shy about coming from every direction.  Herring and center Robert Waterman will need to make the correct calls to keep the game from getting out of hand.

Another critical area of note is what could happen on field goals. Nolan Kohorst is widely considered the best kicker in the conference and he is 7-of-9 on the year so far, but he has missed an extra point and had two kicks blocked.  Fresno, of course, is consistently among the nation's best in that category.  The game could turn quickly on special teams if the Rebels are not sound.

What to watch - Fresno State: An optimist would argue that the defense played its best all around game of the season against Idaho, while a pessimist would point out that the Vandals are among the worst teams in the nation.  The optimist would make note of the secondary's rediscovery of its ballhawking capabilities -- seven interceptions in the last three games -- while the pessimist might fret about the Bulldogs' ability to hold a lead.  The truth, as with most things, is probably somewhere between the two.

Derron Smith appears to be rounding into the form that earned him preseason accolades, but he and L.J. Jones will have their hands full against Devante Davis, who has played at an all-conference level in averaging 17 yards per catch.  To some extent, the overall yards per game allowed is misleading because it is based on a high volume of passes; the 'Dogs are otherwise average and trending upward.  If the offense gets a lead, Nick Toth's unit should be able to protect it.

On offense, one question is whether Marteze Waller will get an opportunity to establish himself as the feature back for good.  He had his best game of the year against Idaho, but Josh Quezada's involvement in the game plan has been fairly consistent for the last month.  Both have had mixed results at the goal line and in power situations, but that appears to be more of a team issue than any individual concern.  If one or the other shows that they can get that one yard on third-and-short early in the game, though, they're likely to get the lion's share of responsibility.

Derek Carr and company will also have plenty of opportunity to test the Vegas secondary.  The Rebels currently rank seventh nationally in pass defense, but this is another misleading statistic.  Among other things, Minnesota and Arizona hardly had a need to throw the ball, while New Mexico runs the triple option.  Fresno has the 4th-ranked passing offense with #4 behind center, and the talented trio of receivers -- Davante Adams, Isaiah Burse and Josh Harper -- will give the Rebels all they can handle.

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