UNLV Rebels (2-4, 0-2 MWC) at Fresno State Bulldogs (2-3, 0-1 MWC), Bulldog Stadium, Fresno, California
Date and Kickoff: Friday, October 18th at 7:02 pm PT
Watch and Listen: CBS Sports Network and ESPN Las Vegas 1100AM/100.9FM
Series History: The Bulldogs lead the overall series 14-7. However, the Rebels have won three of the last five meetings, including that last time the two teams played at Fresno in 2017, 26-16.
Significance of the Game
In UNLV’s quest to get to a bowl game, and in Tony Sanchez’s quest to save his job, the Rebels won a game they had no business winning. Not many people, including me, gave the Rebels much of a chance to defeat Vanderbilt, but they did. It was one of the biggest wins in the Tony Sanchez era, and he’ll need a few more if he wants to keep his job.
Fresno State is not as dominate as they were last season. Their offensive production is down overall compared to last season, but they are still better than the Rebels. There are at least four more games where UNLV will be underdogs to their opponents. To go 4-2 the rest of the year, they will need to win more games where they are not the favorites, which has not happened a lot in program history. They have a chance against Fresno State to do so. It will take a miracle, but the Rebels have given themselves a chance to turn its season around.
Who’s In? Who’s Out?
Once again, Armani Rogers is not 100%, so that means Kenyon Oblad will remain the starter for the Rebels. Just like last week, Rogers will only be used in an emergency role. On the depth chart, Rogers is listed at the third quarterback behind Oblad and Max Gilliam.
Defensive lineman Nick Dehdashtian will not play for the Rebels Friday night. Tony Sanchez said during his Monday press conference that Dehdashtian violated team rules and will be suspended for two weeks. Filling Dehdashtian’s spot on the line is Dominion Ezinwa (who will be the lone starter at the position). Sophomores Jalen Graves and Chris Manoa move up on the depth chart to fill those spots.
Wide receiver Jacob Gasser, and offensive lineman Matt Brayton, who both missed last week’s game with concussion are both listed on the depth chart. They are both listed on the depth chart, Gasser at punt returner and a third string receiver, and Brayton is listed as a co-starter with Jaron Caldwell.
What to Watch For
As mentioned previously, UNLV played one of its best games in the Tony Sanchez era. The offense and defense played both played at an exceptional level to give UNLV a chance to win. Now, the Rebels will need both sides of the ball to be consistent to get to the six win mark, which has been a problem in the Tony Sanchez era. So, the question for UNLV is can its offense and defense play at a this level consistently through the remainder of the season.
Vanderbilt is the worst team in the SEC, but it was still an impressive performance by the Rebels. We have seen the Rebels play teams better than them this season and they got destroyed. It would be the greatest seven-game stretch in program history if UNLV could go 5-2 the remainder of the season to get to six wins. If Vanderbilt is not a flash in the pan, UNLV could be in store for more big performances the rest of the season.
Three Keys to a Rebel Victory
Feed Magyar and Williams
UNLV now has a solid combo in the backfield that can get them yards on the ground. Williams is the speedster, while Magyar will get those tough, hard earned yards. Sanchez said earlier this year that the two of them are interchangeable, he can plug one in for another at any time. That’s good for UNLV, because they will need to rely on its running backs a lot on Friday night.
UNLV ran the ball 53 times last week, which is around the mark the Rebels should be at. But, one thing UNLV needs to keep an eye on is rush yards per attempt. UNLV only averages 3.9 yards per carry against the Commodores. The Rebels, when its offense is clicking, usually averages six-plus yard per attempt. An opponent has not had more than 4.9 yard per carry this against Fresno State, and the Bulldogs have allowed more than 175 rushing yards per game only once this season. It will not be easy for UNLV’s backs, but the Rebels are at their best when the run game is going.
The Rebels has three turnovers in its first five games, and they had two in one game against Vanderbilt, almost doubling their season total. In UNLV’s last 18 games, the Rebels have 12 interceptions, senior linebacker Javin White has half of them. He, and Rayshad Jackson have been a two-man wrecking force on the Rebel defense. Gabe McCoy and Vic Viramontes have not made too great of an impact so far this season, but the defensive line and linebackers must step up for the Rebels
After having seven turnovers in its first two games, the Bulldogs have only had two turnovers in their last two games. So whatever problems plagued the Bulldogs in the first three games, have been resolved. Fresno State will do most of their damage through the air, so defensive backs Jericho Flowers and Greg Francis both need to put pressure on the Bulldog receivers. With the front seven not being as dominate as originally predicted, the secondary must make plays to keep the Rebel defense in the game. Turnovers can make or break you in a game. If UNLV can force some turnovers, they could be coasting to another victory.
Set the pace and tone early
UNLV will be on the road, their fourth road game in five days, and they will have a short week. There is usually a solid crowd at Fresno State games, so the Rebels will have a disadvantage before the game even starts. But, the Rebels were in a similar spot when entering its game against Vanderbilt. They had a four-game losing streak and were entering SEC country.
UNLV did not get startled when the Commodores scored first, they stayed focused and played their game. They need to keep the same mindset into this game. Kenyon Oblad will have another challenge by making another road start. So UNLV needs to make him comfortable, which will help him become more confident. If UNLV can get an early hold on this game, the Bulldogs could be in for a long night.
Am I overacting to a blowout win to a bad team? Maybe, but momentum is a crazy thing. UNLV will be riding the high of its victory in Nashville into the next game at Fresno State. The Bulldogs are not their dominate selves. Fresno State is coming off a 19-point loss at Air Force, so the Bulldogs will come out hungry. I think UNLV can continue to have production on both sides of the ball, and another upset will ensue this Friday. My prediction; UNLV 27, Fresno State 23.