UNLV will open up their Mountain West Conference schedule on Saturday against Wyoming at War Memorial Stadium. The Rebels enter the game with a 2-1 record while the Cowboys are 1-2 with two straight losses to Big 12 opponents.
The battle between the Rebels and Cowboys has been fairly even throughout the teams’ rivalry. UNLV leads the series 9-8, but Wyoming has won four of the last five meetings against the Rebels. Only one of those five has been won by more than an eight point separation.
UNLV travels to Laramie, Wyo. and looks to start the conference season right, but also wants to snap a 19-game road losing streak against conference opponents. UNLV’s last road conference win was against BYU in 2004.
Head coach Mike Sanford stresses the importance of not only winning this first conference game but winning on the road.
"This game… is huge [for UNLV,]" Sanford said. "In order to show that we are a legitimate football team, we need to win on the road. If we want to win at the level we want to compete at, we need to win on the road."
Go-to receiver Ryan Wolfe echoed coach Sanford.
"We are totally focused on Wyoming this week and getting that win on the road," Wolfe said.
As for last week’s come from behind win, the Rebels must put it behind them and move toward becoming a better team.
"We have to put it all together," Wolfe said. "We have shown sides on both sides of the ball of successful play, but we still haven’t put four quarters together in a total game."
Last week against Hawaii, the Rebels defense were exploited, particularly the secondary – resulting in Hawaii throwing for nearly 500 yards.
One part that is finally going well for the Rebels is the quarterback position. Omar Clayton struggled in the first half of last week’s win but was able to lead the team to victory, eventually being named the Mountain West Offensive Player of the Week.
As for Wyoming, head coach Dave Christensen will be starting true freshman Austyn Carta-Samuels, the first true freshman to start for the Cowboys since 1974. Carta-Samuels was at the helm in last weeks loss to Colorado but still was very efficient. He also came in for relief in the Texas game.
The Cowboys are led on defense by sophomore linebacker Brian Hendrick, who ranks fourth in the nation in tackles. Hendrick had 10 solo tackles against the Buffalo last week and was a part of 18 total tackles.
The Rebels cannot afford to let another team throw all over the field again. The team is ranked 99th in pass defense and it could end up the Achilles heel of the team.
But Wyoming will look to do just that. They run a very similar offense to UNLV. Their only weakness is that their head coach is in his first year and hasn’t been able to recruit the type of players to fit into his system.
The more the Wyoming offense stays on the field, the greater the chance the defense will wear down and allow a big play so the Rebels need to force fourth downs on defense.
Laramie will host the Rebels Saturday at noon. The game is not televised but will air on ESPN Radio at 11 a.m.