After what looked like a promising season-opening win against Jackson State, UNLV football did UNLV football things and lost their following three games, two of which they had no business losing. Starting out the season 1-3 consecutively, the talks of Rebel football moving in a forward direction began to get questioned once again.
In their conference opener last weekend against Fresno State, UNLV managed an impressive 45-20 win with freshman quarterback Dalton Sneed under center and a solid running back group giving their maximum effort. Another win for UNLV came at the right time but the Rebels have a tough challenge ahead of them as they travel to San Diego on Saturday. UNLV has a 3-10 record on the road against SDSU and the Aztecs had their largest win against the Rebels this time last year, with a 38-point win at Sam Boyd Stadium.
Let’s look at what UNLV needs to capitalize on to grab their third win of the season:
1. Stop the run
More so than stopping the run, the Rebels need to stop senior running back Donnel Pumphrey. The kid is an absolute workhorse and he’s had quite the showing against the Rebels during their previous match-ups. Pumphrey rushed for 393 yards and seven touchdowns on 49 attempts (8.0 avg.)
In three games for SDSU. The last time they met, Pumphrey exploded for 135 yards and two touchdowns. While the Aztecs will get the usual support from their star player, look for junior running back/kick returner Rashaad Penny to take some of the load off Pumphrey in the backfield.
2. Maximize WR potential
It’s been a series of unfortunate events for UNLV’s wide receiver core this season. The Rebels were supposed to have one of the best WR duos in the Mountain West between juniors Devonte Boyd and Kendal Keys before Keys had season-ending knee surgery during preseason. Keys’ replacement, sophomore Brandon Presley, suffered a foot injury against Jackson State on Sept. 1 and freshman Darren Woods Jr. went down last Saturday against Fresno State with a prominent knee injury. Against SDSU, Boyd will be paired with true freshmen wideouts in Mekhi Stevenson and Elijah Trosclair.
The pass defense will be more focused on Boyd knowing how much of a threat he is to the secondary so the freshman will have to step up in their one-on-one battles and make some big plays to put the Rebels in the end zone.
3. QB pressure
In SDSU’s first loss of the season against South Alabama, sophomore quarterback Christian Chapman was sacked four times and totaled -17 rushing yards. On the other end, with just two QB sacks allowed this season, puts UNLV second in the nation.
Chapman has a quick release and an accurate arm, so more importantly, alongside senior linebackers Ryan McAleenan and Tau Lotulelei, the defense needs to pressure Chapman and collapse the pocket. A late fumble cost any chance for SDSU to rally a comeback and beat South Alabama, and the Rebels defense could take some notes. Even if the Rebels get just one defensive touchdown, it’ll help pace their offense and get some momentum knowing that SDSU has the all around edge in this match-up.