The 1-3 (1-0) UNLV Rebels roll into Logan, UT on Saturday to play their first road game of the season after coming off of a 38-35 upset of Air Force at home. They face a Utah State squad that has looked very good on the season so far, with their only loss coming in close fashion on the road at Wisconsin, 16-14. The Aggies have also had a big victory, which came at home in overtime over Pac-12 opponent Utah. I can guarantee you that this Utah State team is not like Utah State teams of the past, as this one looks like it could be almost anybody.
USU's strength so far this season hasn't mainly come from its offense, although that is vastly improved, it has come from its defense, where it has only allowed 14 points per game this season - good enough for 20th in the country. The Aggies have been holding their opponents to minimal points and grinding the clock out with a running game that has been very effective, with the Aggies gaining over 200 yards on the ground per game.
This has been coming from the dual-threat attack of running back Kerwynn Williams and quarterback Chuckie Keeton. Both players have used option plays in the playbook to their advantage and been able to gain plenty of yardage on the ground. As for balance, that is one thing Utah State is missing. Chuckie Keeton is only throwing for about 220 yards per game and, in contrast to the amount of yardage this team is racking up on the ground, that isn't much.
The good news for UNLV is that this could play into their hands perfectly. Throughout the season, the Rebels have had trouble stopping the passing attack of their opponents, but have had a good amount of success at stopping the run (As was evident in the second half of the Rebels victory over Air Force last week). If UNLV is able to show up in their rushing defense the way they did last week, that could force the Aggies to throw the ball much more than they are accustomed to. At the point it will simply come down to which side steps up - the USU passing offense or the UNLV passing defense.
On the other side of the ball for the Rebels, this game might be a struggle to score points if Nick Sherry doesn't show the resolve he did in the second half last week. The strength of the Rebels' offense has been their ground game with Tim Cornett, and if previous games are any indication, then the passing game is going to have to open up some running lanes for Cornett, not the other way around.
In USU's previous four games, they haven't allowed over 3.8 yards per carry, and that was to Wisconsin star Montee Ball. The Utah State run defense has been pretty stout, and that should be very apparent on Saturday - unless the Rebels are bale to get the passing game going. In all four of Utah State's games, the quarterback struggled with inaccuracy and bad decision making, making it difficult for the passing game to get going at all. If Nick Sherry is able to convert on third down with his arm and is simply able to be effective throwing the football, then that should soften up the box for Tim Cornett.
The keys for this game are going to come down to how well Nick Sherry is able to move the ball with his arm and who is going to win the battle between the UNLV rush defense and the USU rush offense. Whoever gains the greater edge from those two key battles most likely will win the game.
As for any sort of prediction, I'm going to say that the winner will be based on which UNLV team shows up on Saturday. If the Rebels show up with the same force and tenacity that they showed last week against Air Force, then it will be at the very least a close game. If the Rebels, especially the defense, reverts to the way the played against Washington State, then it will be a long night for UNLV.