The conference journey for the New Mexico Lobos begins Saturday afternoon when they visit the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels at Sam Boyd Stadium. You can catch the game on AT&T Sportsnet at 2 p.m. Mountain.
This game is the 24th time the Rebels and Lobos have tangled, and just the second time since 2014. UNLV holds a 12-11 edge in the series, with the road team winning the last three games. The game in Albuquerque last year was interesting to say the least; the Rebels came away winners by a 38-35 score in a game that saw the Lobos go for zero passing yards. The Rebels were led by Lexington Thomas at running back and quarterback Armani Rogers had a huge game, running for 193 yards and a score and also passing for over 200 yards. Thomas added 127 yards on the ground and a pair of scores.
UNLV comes into this game at 2-2 on the season, as do the Lobos. UNLV had insult to injury, sorry for the pun, two weeks ago against Arkansas State. Not only did the Rebels lose 27-20 to the Red Wolves, but Rogers was lost for six weeks with a foot injury. That would seem like bad news for the Rebels, but head coach Tony Sanchez says they are well prepared to continue the dominant rushing attack with backup Max Gilliam.
Gilliam did get into the UTEP game back on September 9th, but was asked to just hand the ball off. He did throw one pass, but considering the offense UNLV likes to run, they will definitely live up to their nickname of Runnin’ Rebels.
The Lobos are hoping for a continuation of what happened in the 2nd half against Liberty last week. The Lobos outscored Liberty 33-10 in the 2nd half, but still lost 52-43, thanks to an abysmal first half. UNM threw two interceptions, had a punt blocked, and turned it over on downs in the first half last week, that led to 21 points for Liberty, as the Flames raced out to a 42-10 halftime lead. Oh, and if that wasn’t enough, starting quarterback Tevaka Tuioti left with a shoulder injury. Sheriron Jones did come in and put in a valiant effort, throwing for 312 yards and four touchdowns.
This week Jones will get the start again. He won his last start, a win over New Mexico State, and he appears more ready this time around, especially following last week’s performance. So, don’t expect the Lobos to have to rely on just the running game this week like they had to against NMSU, especially with UNLV giving up 210.5 passing yards per game.
I said the key to last week’s game was to slow down Liberty’s pass attack, and that didn’t go so well thanks in large part to the aforementioned first half by the offense. This week the Lobos defense will have to line up to stop the run, and they do catch somewhat of a break not having to face Armani Rogers. Lexington Thomas is still in the backfield for the Rebels, and the Lobos have struggled on the road winning just four of there previous 13 true road games (they did get a neutral site win over Air Force in 2016).
UNLV is favored by 9 as I write this, but I think it’ll be a bit closer, and if the Lobos want to win Sheriron Jones must make big plays and take care of the ball at the same time. Getting an early conference win would be huge for the Lobos as their schedule doesn’t get any easier from here on out.