Since neither UNLV or Nevada will be heading to a bowl game this postseason, fans should expect a battle between these two teams on Saturday.
UNLV is coming off a 42-25 road loss to now No. 20 Boise State while UNR ended a four-game losing streak with a 38-37 comeback win against Utah State on Nov. 19. The last time Nevada played in Las Vegas, in 2014, the Wolf Pack returned home with the cannon. In 2015, the Rebels traveled to Reno and with some help from the defense and Kurt Palandech under center, UNLV now holds the edge on the Fremont Cannon as the rivalry is set to kick off at 1 p.m. at Sam Boyd Stadium.
Keys to the game:
- Utilize run game
With an one-sided offense for the Rebels, you can count on UNLV running the ball the majority of the game, unless they start to fall behind. The Rebels will have one of its leading rushers back, as Lexington Thomas has been nursing an ankle injury that left him sidelined the past two games. Palandech led the team in rushing with 64 yards and two touchdowns against Boise State on Nov. 18., and will continue to be a threat alongside RB Charles Williams (715 yards, 3 TDs) against a Nevada rush defense that ranks last in the nation. Even with Thomas’ injury, the Rebels have depth in the backfield and should get some solid contributions from David Greene and Xzaviar Campbell, as well. On the other hand, UNLV’s defensive line will have their hands full with Nevada’s star RB James Butler. The junior has rushed for 1,140 yards and nine touchdowns this season and is a key piece to the Wolf Pack offense.
- Rebel’s offensive line
The Rebels’ o-line paved the way to have one of the best rushing attacks in college football, ranking 15th in the nation. Center Will Kreitler is one of 16 seniors that will be honored and introduced during UNLV’s pregame ceremonies. Kreitler is on the Rimington Trophy Watch List, and has been excellent in the middle allowing just nine quarterback sacks this season. This veteran line has also helped lead five different players (3 QBs, 2 RBs) combine for at least 100 yards a game. UNLV ultimately has the edge and the line’s production in combination with the backfield will set the tone for the outcome of the game.
The nucleus of UNLV’s defense has to be its linebackers. Seniors Ryan McAleenan and Tau Lotulelei are the strength of this team and both players have been putting up impressive numbers this season. In the Reno game last year, McAleenan had a critical pick-six that allowed UNLV to distance themselves during the second half of the game and has posted 234 tackles in his three seasons with UNLV. Lotulelei is averaging 9.7 tackles per game, ranking third in the Mountain West and tied for 13th in the nation. Lotulelei also leads the MW in tackles for loss with 15.5. If the Rebel defense can provide both strong run and pass coverage, UNLV should have a good chance to come out with another W and keep the Cannon red.