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UNLV Football Game Preview: Rebels in need of strong showing against Vanderbilt

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UNLV makes its first trip to Nashville to face off against Vanderbilt. Upset will be on the Rebels mind as they look to end their four-game losing streak. 

Boise State v UNLV Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Game Information

UNLV Rebels (1-4, 0-2 MWC) at Vanderbilt Commodores (1-4, 0-3 SEC) at Vanderbilt Stadium in Nashville, Tennessee

Date and Kickoff: Saturday, October 12th, at 1:01 pm PT

Watch and Listen: SEC Network and ESPN Las Vegas 1100AM/100.9FM

Series History: This is the first matchup between UNLV and Vanderbilt, this is part of a home-and-home where the Commodores will come to Las Vegas in 2023

Significance of the Game

UNLV is in the midst of a four-game losing streak, and they are in the middle of the toughest portion of their schedule. At the beginning of the season, it looked like this game would be an automatic loss for the Rebels. Given UNLV would face an SEC team on the road, the odds were stacked for UNLV. However, looking at it now, this might be UNLV’s best chance to win a game in the month of October.

The Commodores are 1-4, with three of their loses in league play, and two of those SEC loses were to Georgia and LSU. Their only win was against Northern Illinois, 24-18. While their schedule has been much tougher compared to UNLV’s Vanderbilt is not a very good team. A bad SEC team is likely to beat a bad Mountain West team, but the Rebels have a real chance to win this game. They will need a lot of things to go right. A loss drops them to 1-5, and they’ll only have one more loss to afford before they are in must win mode to get to six wins.

Who’s In? Who’s Out?

Armani Rogers is still not 100%, so that means Kenyon Oblad will remain the starter. Tony Sanchez said that Rogers will be the emergency quarterback, and he his in a knee brace. Both offensive lineman Matt Brayton and wide receiver Jacob Gasser have concussions will not play for UNLV, (reported by Mark Anderson of the Las Vegas Review-Journal). Jaron Caldwell will start in place of Brayton.

What to Watch for

UNLV’s offense has been decent, as far as points per game, under Sanchez. Usually, they average around 28-31 points per game, but so fat this season, they are only averaging 23. In their last four games, the Rebels have been held under 20 points. Which comes to an average of 15.3 points per game, which will not win you many games.

The Rebels will not make any changes to who will call the plays. But this game will be an important sign to see if UNLV’s can work the rest of the season. UNLV has already had to make some changes due to Roger’s injury, to appease the skills of Oblad. If UNLV struggles again on offense, Sanchez will have to make a drastic change to the offense. Whether it be who calls the plays, the types of plays, or who plays, Sanchez must take drastic measures to fix the offense and save his job.

Three Keys to a Rebel victory

Run early, and often

After their loss to Boise State, Sanchez came out and said that he wished they had run the ball earlier on in the game. Running the ball is UNLV’s calling card, the one thing they have done well under Tony Sanchez. However, so far this season, UNLV is not running the ball as much as they did last year. In a story in the Las Vegas Sun, the Rebels are running the ball 35.5 times a game. Which is a drop off from the 43.5 times they averaged running the ball all of last season.

With Chad Magyar back, there appears to be a nice one-two punch developing with him and Williams. Charles Williams still needs to get around 20-25 carries each game. The good news for UNLV is that Vanderbilt allows 211.8 rush yards per game. So, UNLV needs to set the tone early with their run game and continue to attack the Commodores’ defense to try and break through for a few big runs.

Limit big plays

UNLV’s defense had a respectable showing through the first half against the Broncos. The only mark against the defense in the first half were the big plays they gave up. There were two big runs that helped set up a touchdown, and a 76-yard touchdown pass. What is in UNLV’s favor is Vanderbilt only averages 19.6 points per game.

Big plays are a momentum swinger, and the Rebels must do everything possible on defense to not give up any big plays. The front seven needs to apply pressure and finish tackles, as UNLV still had a problem against Boise State with missed tackles. The secondary has played well and has done a great job with tackling. They’ll need a whole team effort defensively if they want to give themselves a chance to win the game.

No special teams miscues

Gasser is UNLV’s regular punt returner. With him out, that means we will see someone new back there returning punts. On the depth chart there is no one listed behind Gasser as the punt returner. One option is Tyree Jackson, who took a knee on a kickoff in the endzone after fielding the ball at the two-yard line, which resulted in a safety.

Those are the mistakes UNLV has been trying to eliminate. They cannot afford to have a muffed punt in their game. It could drastically shift momentum and give Vanderbilt an opportunity to score. UNLV has had several instances of special teams’ miscues during the Sanchez era, any miscue in Nashville could be a nail in the coffin for UNLV’s chances to win the game, and maybe their season.

Prediction

This is a difficult stretch of games for the Rebels. They will come out and play better on offense with Oblad having another week of reps. The defense will also play a respectable game and help keep this game closer than most would think. At the end of the day, UNLV will be outmatched by Vanderbilt’s depth and talent. My Prediction; Vanderbilt 33, UNLV 23.