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UNLV Football Game Preview: Rebels in desperate need of another upset victory

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At 2-5, UNLV is in a must-win situation if they hope to salvage its season and get to a bowl game. 

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 10 UNLV at San Diego State Photo by Justin Fine/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Game Information

San Diego State Aztecs (6-1, 3-1 MWC) vs UNLV Rebels (2-5, 0-3 MWC)

Date and Kickoff: Saturday October 26th, 7:30pm PT at Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas, Nevada

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

Series History: UNLV’s win last year snapped a four-game losing streak against the Aztecs. Overall, since both teams have been in the Mountain West Conference, San Diego State leads the overall series at 18-10.

Significance of the Game

This game has a feeling of Déjà vu. Last season, UNLV came into its game against San Diego State on a losing streak of six games. The Rebels were heavy underdogs against the Aztecs and UNLV came out of San Diego State with a 27-24 win. The Aztecs were 7-2 entering that game, and the loss to UNLV began a four-game losing streak for San Diego State. The Rebels, on the other hand, won two of its last three games, and probably should have won all three of those games.

This year, there is much more on the line for UNLV. They are 2-5 and cannot afford to lose another game if they want to stay bowl eligible. They are nearing the end of the most difficult portion of their schedule and have three easier games to close out the season. But those “easier games” will not matter if UNLV is already at six or more losses. We have seen times where UNLV has surprised us, and the Rebels will have to pull out another upset against the Aztecs if they want something to play for late in November.

Who’s In? Who’s Out?

Kenyon Oblad will remain the starter for UNLV. During practice, Max Gilliam was taking the snaps with the second unit. At his Monday press conference, Tony Sanchez said that Armani Rogers will be the third string option and come in only in an emergency situation. Nick Dehdashtian, who violated team rules, is still out for the Rebels.

What to Watch for

In the three games Kenyon Oblad has started, Charles Williams has not been his old self. Williams was in the Top-10 leading rushers in the country heading into the Wyoming game. Then, both he and quarterback Armani Rogers got injured. Since that loss at Wyoming, Williams has averaged 69 yard per game and only has one touchdown. In his first three games of the season he was averaging 152 yards per game with six total touchdowns.

With the type of quarterback Keyon Oblad is, a passer, defenses know Oblad is not going to run. When there is a read-option or play action, the defense knows Oblad is going to hand the ball off. The defense can then keep their eye on and follow Williams because they know he is going to have the ball. UNLV’s coaches must help out Williams and run more run-pass option plays to keep the defense honest. Williams has been UNLV’s most productive offensive player, and they need him to play his best when the most is on the line.

Three Keys to a Rebel Victory

Win the battle in the trenches

UNLV’s offensive line has struggled at many points throughout this season, which has been very uncharacteristic of a typical Tony Sanchez led UNLV team. UNLV has already allowed 18 sacks on the season. Part of their struggles this season has been offensive line coach Garin Justice now having to call the offense as he replaced Barney Cotton. So much of what UNLV does on offense, mainly the running game, is dependent on the offensive line playing well.

Seven different Aztecs have at least one sack, which totals to 14 sacks among those seven players, so the love to get after the quarterback. Despite throwing three interceptions, Oblad was not sacked in the loss to Fresno State. The Aztec defensive line will be coming full throttle at the redshirt freshman Oblad, so the Rebel offensive line must do everything in their power to keep him up right.

Make big plays

I have said it before, and I will say it again, big plays are the difference maker. That stats with Oblad and the receivers. Oblad will need to have an efficient game and connect on the big plays when the opportunity presents itself. UNLV’s receivers have been quite most of the season. Only Randal Grimes has more than 16 receptions on the season and he has four touchdowns. Midway through the season, the wide receivers have been a bit of a disappointment for UNLV’s offense. They will need all hands-on deck to get the offense back going.

As mentioned earlier, Williams needs to get back to his old self. One aspect of his game was making big plays. He has not been his usual explosive self since the injury, and since Rogers was injured as well. But this is the type of game you will learn a lot about yourself. Can Williams come through and help save the Rebels season, even though he is not playing his best? Williams does have the talent and he needs to have it on full display Saturday night.

Don’t turn the ball over

It sounds pretty simple, and something UNLV has drilled into the heads of its players after last week’s performance against Fresno State. UNLV committed five turnovers in its loss to Fresno State, two fumbles and three interceptions. When you saw the stat sheet from after the game, the two teams were similar in many categories, except for the turnover margin. The turnovers resulted in 28 Bulldog points, which was the difference of the game.

The Aztec offense does not turn the ball over. They average 0.4 total turnovers during seven games this season. The defense forces two turnovers per game. UNLV must stay calm when facing San Diego State’s defense. The coaches must do a good job game planning to expose weaknesses in the Aztec defense, and give the offense plays they can execute and lead to points.

Prediction

A UNLV loss will officially finish their season. Even at 6-6, it is likely that a 6-6 UNLV team would not get in over multiple 6-6 Power 5 Conference teams. UNLV’s offense has struggled at many points this season, and this Rocky Long defense will give the Rebels a lot of problems. Last season’s upset will way heavy on the minds of the Aztecs, so expect them to come out aggressively. While I feel this game will be close, I see the Aztecs controlling the entire game and defeating the Rebels. My prediction: San Diego State 24, UNLV 16.