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Keys to an UNLV victory over Colorado State

Rebels looking for first home win vs. Rams since 2011

NCAA Football: UNLV at San Diego State Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

UNLV football finished 3-9 last season.

Now, after a 1-4 start under second-year head coach Tony Sanchez, the Rebels (3-4,1-2) not only have the chance to finish above .500 but getting to a bowl game is starting to look more realistic after a solidifying win against Hawaii. Saturday is going to be a big game as UNLV and Colorado State (3-4,1-2) are both fighting to keep their postseason hopes alive with five games left in the regular season. If the Rebels beat the Rams on Saturday, UNLV could realistically finish their season 6-6. Key word: could.

Special teams

Sophomore JC transfer Evan Pantels was initially recruited as a punter for the Rebels, but also gets all the kicking duties done as he’s perfect on the season in both field goals (6-for-6) and extra points (30-for-30). Pantels kicked the game-winning 28-yard FG in UNLV's 41-38 win over Hawaii on Saturday, giving UNLV a much-needed confidence boost. Pantels’ 42.3 yards ranks 44th in the nation in punting average while senior All-American Hayden Hunt averages 44.5 yards per punt for CSU and statistically CSU has the edge on special teams.

Kickoff coverage is going to be important for any late-game situations the Rebels may put themselves in. Pantels has put seven inside the 20-yard line along with two touchbacks for the season. Whether its kickoffs, PAT or punting, look for Pantels to do a little bit of everything for the UNLV.

Boyd vs. Gallup

Junior wide receivers Devonte Boyd (UNLV) and Michael Gallup (CSU) both share a very similar stat line. Boyd, a Biletnikoff Award candidate, has started in all seven games, recording 26 catches for 421 yards and four touchdowns. Rams leading receiver Gallup also has four TDs but recorded more catches (29) and yards (479) than Boyd in a seven game span. UNLV’s game has been run-dominated with the abundance of receiver injuries but Boyd looked more like himself after a six catch, 83-yard performance against Hawaii, including a 2-yard TD.

Boyd should make a few big plays in Saturday’s game to spark an unpredictable Rebels’ offense after being limited in yards in UNLV’s last four games.

Defense

UNLV senior linebacker Tau Lotulelei was awarded Mountain West Defensive Player of the Week after his forced fumble set up the game-winning FG for the Rebels against Hawaii. Lotulelei also had seven tackles and has 61 tallied tackles through seven games, leading all Rebels. UNLV has scored three defensive touchdowns this season and have six fumble recoveries which ranks third in the Mountain West and 26th in the nation. Yes, UNLV’s defense has lacked in some big-game situations. No, UNLV isn’t at all a defensive powerhouse, but in the games where the Rebels’ front seven have played well, they’ve put pressure on the quarterback and the offensive line forcing more errors.

On the other hand, CSU has given a solid defensive performance in their last two games, shutting their opponents out on 13 consecutive drives. If the Rams continue their dominance into Saturday, the Rebels already inconsistent offense could be facing even more problems.