Who: San Diego State Aztecs (7-3, 6-0 MW) vs UNLV Rebels (3-7, 2-4 MW)
When: Saturday, November 21, 2015, 7:30 PM PST
Where: Sam Boyd Stadium, Las Vegas, NV
There's plenty left to play for this season for the 2015 UNLV Rebels. If you're a bettor, you know the Rebels have already hit the over on their win total this year. Head coach Tony Sanchez has delivered on his promise to return the Fremont Cannon to Las Vegas, and with a win this week he'll have the most wins for a first year Rebels coach since Jeff Horton won seven in 1994. For the home finale, UNLV gets the Mountain West Conference's top team, San Diego State. Here's what they have to do to pull the upset.
1. Contain Maxwell Smith
It's probably more popular to argue focusing on Donnel Pumphrey is the priority. Perhaps. Last season Pumphrey put together an eye-popping game against UNLV, 22 carries, 167 yards, and he found pay dirt 4 times. That said, since October 10th there has been no MWC quarterback better than Maxwell Smith. Looking at his season statistics doesn't doesn't do justice to the hot streak this guy is on. Starting with that win over Hawaii in the second week of October, the San Diego State signal caller has completed nearly 70 percent of his passes, and tossed 7 touchdowns versus 0 interceptions. In fact, Smith hasn't thrown a pick since conference play started. Pumphrey is a superb talent, but ignore Smith, and he will torch the Rebels.
2. Give it to Lex
A number of UNLV running backs have had the opportunity to carry the ball in the crowded Rebels backfield in 2015. Lately, the best of the bunch has been freshman Lexington Thomas, and he may be UNLV's best shot at pulling the upset on Saturday. With quarterback Blake Decker doubtful, and the underwhelming Kurt Palandech likely starting under center, the running game will be the focus of the Rebels offense. Thomas has topped the century mark the last two games, rushing for 120 yards against Hawaii and 118 yards against Colorado State last week. Palandech won't beat San Diego State with his arm, and the Aztecs have the number two ranked rushing defense in the MWC. So give it to Lex, mix in some Keith Whitely, and pray.
3. Avoid the late letdown
It's been an emotional season for UNLV. They've exceeded expectations, but also endured some heartbreakers, including an OT loss to San Jose State in Las Vegas, and a fourth quarter meltdown with Boise State in what was a one score game late. If the Rebels are fortunate enough to be in striking range of an upset late in the game against the Aztecs, it's time to exorcise those demons and put together a complete game. Last week against Colorado State the Rebels were down just a touchdown entering the fourth. A one score deficit turned into two, two to three, before the Rebs tacked on a meaningless touchdown in the final minute. A complete effort on Saturday would go a long way to show that Tony Sanchez has truly introduced a new culture to UNLV football, and the Rebels are not far from being major players in the Mountain West Conference.