UNLV Rebels vs Southern Utah Thunderbirds at Sam Boyd Stadium
Date and Kickoff: Saturday, August 31 at 7:06 PM PST
How To Watch and Listen: UNLVRebels.com (Stream) and ESPN 1100 AM/100.9 FM (Radio)
Series History: UNLV leads the series against Southern Utah, 3-1. However, the Thunderbirds defeated UNLV in the most recent matchup in 2011, 41-16.
Significance Of The Game
The talk among many in Las Vegas is how important this season is for UNLV. This is a can’t lose game for UNLV. The Rebels cannot afford to have this critical season start off with an embarrassing loss to Southern Utah. UNLV faces a challenging schedule. Most of their games are either coin-flips, or games where UNLV will be underdogs. The Thunderbirds were 1-10 last year and finished in 12th place, out of 13 teams, in the Big Sky. It is all about developing momentum heading into next week. A devastating loss to Southern Utah could affect the team’s psyche through the rest of the year. On the flip side, if the Rebels can dominate and put up a lot of points, UNLV will be in the right frame of mind and confident heading to the next game.
Who’s In? Who’s Out?
There are a few key Rebels who will not suit up for Saturday Night’s game against Southern Utah. One is senior defensive linemen Gabe McCoy. McCoy has been deemed ineligible by the NCAA due to playing during his redshirt season. When McCoy was redshirting in his freshman year (2015), he played a few snaps against UCLA. Fortunately for UNLV, McCoy is only ineligible for the first game, and he will be able to play the rest of the season.
Biaggio Ali Walsh was originally denied a waiver for immediate eligibility when he transferred from California-Berkeley to UNLV. He later filed an appeal, and the NCAA ruled in his favor, so Ali-Walsh is eligible to play this year. However, he will not suit up against Southern Utah. Tony Sanchez said that Ali-Walsh has been dealing with a back issue, and Sanchez hopes to have him back in the next few games.
UNLV will also be without backup quarterback Max Gilliam and defensive back Alex Perry. Gilliam suffered a foot injury during the offseason, and is expected to miss the first four games. Perry is suffering from a shoulder injury, which will require surgery, and will likely miss the entire season.
What To Watch For
One thing to watch for is how UNLV will handle running back situation. What we do know is Charles Williams will be the starter, and will get a majority of the carries, as long as he is healthy and is able to produce. Williams has shown in the past, when healthy, he can handle the full responsibilities of a starting running back. The bigger question is on the running backs behind Williams.
Three of UNLV’s top four rushers graduated last year. Now, UNLV will have several inexperienced and unproved back behind Williams. On the depth chart for Southern Utah, sophomore Chad Magyar and incoming transfer Darren Williams will backup Charles Williams. The Rebels also have Ali-Walsh, once healthy, and freshman Courtney Reese who could both be contributors to the team this season.
Best case scenario for UNLV on Saturday night is they have a big enough lead to pull the starters in the second half. If that happens, we will see the backs behind Charles Williams get a fair amount of carries. Sanchez and his staff will examine closely to get a good read on who is worthy and able to help out Charles Williams in the backfield.
Three Keys To A UNLV Victory
Don’t Give Up Big Plays
When there is a significant underdog in a game, an equalizer to give said underdog a chance in the game is big plays. If Southern Utah can break off a few big runs, or throw it deep against UNLV’s secondary, the Thunderbirds could make this game a whole lot closer than it should. UNLV’s weakest link is the secondary, and Southern Utah will try to exploit any holes in the Rebels defense. A big 40 or 50 yard pass can be a huge momentum swing in the game. UNLV will also need to eliminate the opportunity of a big run or special teams play that could lead to points for Southern Utah. The Thunderbirds will likely go deep in the playbook to try something different against UNLV. If the Rebels can stop big plays from happening, UNLV should be sailing smoothly to a victory.
Get Armani’s Arm In Rhythm
Armani Rogers is known for his dynamic skills as a rusher. The biggest issue for him in the past has been his throwing. One issue with Rogers’ passing are his mechanics. During UNLV’s first scrimmage, Sanchez said Rogers’ mechanics were off, but he said they improved in the second scrimmage. UNLV has an inexperienced and unproven group of wide receivers. In this first game, UNLV need to call easy pass plays to get Rogers confidence with his connection with the receivers. A reason for this is so Rogers can keep that confidence throughout the entire year so he can use his arm to help the Rebels win games. With UNLV being such an efficient rushing team, there is an opportunity to be an effective passing team.
Keep It Simple
Southern Utah is not Alabama, that doesn’t mean UNLV should overlook the Thunderbirds, but they do not need to do anything spectacular to get a win. On offense, UNLV needs to stick with what they do best, running the ball. Simple running plays will result in the option to open up play action. Which then turns into easier pass opportunities for Rogers. Defensively, UNLV must utilize their depth on the front seven to get pressure on the offensive line and quarterback. Part of “Keeping It Simple,” is to minimize the mistakes. UNLV has 18 juniors or seniors, who played with the program last year, that are listed as starters on the depth chart. UNLV cannot have silly mistakes like penalties or fumbles that can give Southern Utah life in the game.
The last time UNLV played an FCS opponent, they lost. And the last time they wore throwback helmets (which they are doing Saturday night to honor the first UNLV team to play at Sam Boyd Stadium), they lost. Those two times were the same game, Howard, which UNLV lost 43-40. Like I mentioned earlier, UNLV cannot afford to lose this game. There is a very small margin of error on this difficult schedule to lose these easier games. UNLV will not have another Howard performance, they should take and keep control of the game. This should be an easy victory for UNLV, and even though they have had trouble with FCS teams in the past, they will win comfortably. My prediction is UNLV 52 Southern Utah 24.