There's a buzz surrounding this year's UNLV Rebels and Nevada Wolf Pack rivalry game that's been absent for quite some time. A buzz generated largely by the start of the Tony Sanchez era in Las Vegas.
The Rebels enter Reno on Saturday attempting to do what just one Scarlet and Gray squad has done in the last 10 years, bring the Fremont Cannon to UNLV. Nevada won last year's matchup 49-27, and holds a 24-16 all time advantage in the rivalry.
This is a different UNLV team, though. A UNLV team that navigated the waters of a treacherous non-conference schedule that included Northern Illinois, UCLA, and Michigan, before capturing their first victory of the season last week, an eye-popping 80-8 win over the Idaho State Bengals. The win marked the largest margin of victory in school history, and the 11 touchdowns also established a new school record.
Through four games this season, UNLV has seen a transition from an offense that relied on the pass to one more focused on the ground game. Utilizing a dual quarterback scheme with Blake Decker and Kurt Palandech, the Rebels attempted 40 passes in the season opening loss to Northern Illinois, 23 against UCLA, 26 against Michigan, and just 15 in the win over Idaho State. Against the Bengals freshmen running backs Xzaviar Campbell and Lexington Thomas both topped 100 yards rushing, while Keith Whitely tallied 95 yards on 12 carries.
The Rebels will run into a Nevada team that has faced am impressive out of conference schedule of its own. The Wolf Pack scored a season opening home win over UC Davis, before dropping consecutive contests to ranked teams in Arizona and Texas A&M. Last week Nevada won a road matchup with the Buffalo Bulls, 24-21.
As of Thursday the over/under is 58.5 and Nevada is about a touchdown favorite. Expect a high scoring affair with this one. UNLV has the firepower to score a ton of points, and Nevada likes to give them up. Both Arizona and Texas A&M hung 44 on the Wolf Pack. Granted, both are ranked teams. But even in last week's win over Buffalo, Bulls quarterback Joe Licata threw for 338 yards and Nevada yielded nearly 500 yards of total offense. The Wolf Pack give up 479 yards per game, more than any other team in the Mountain West Conference. With known assets in Devonte Boyd and Kendal Keys at wide receiver, and a backfield that seems to have come to life, expect the Rebels to be within striking distance entering the fourth quarter this weekend.
In the conference opener for both teams, UNLV and Nevada battle for the Fremont Cannon on Saturday at Mackay Stadium in Reno, Nevada. Kickoff is scheduled for 4 pm PT.