UNLV Rebels (0-0) vs San Diego State Aztecs (0-0)
Saturday, October 24, 2020, Kickoff at 7:32 PM PT
Site: Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, CA
TV: CBS Sports Network, Radio: ESPN 1100 AM/100.9 FM
Series History: San Diego State holds an 19-10 advantage all-time in the series history between the two teams. Last year, the Aztecs won 20-17 after the Rebels missed a potential game-tying field goal. UNLV won the last time they played San Diego State on the road in 2018, 27-24.
Significance of the Game
This will mark the first game for UNLV under new coach Marcus Arroyo. There is so much excitement and anticipation around the UNLV football program this year. Not just with the new coach, but the new stadium, the first full season with the new practice facility, and a whole new style of play. Everyone understands that this year is and will be like none other, so there is not a lot of pressure on him to perform this year necessarily. However, this is the chance for Rebel fans to see how their team will look in the future.
Who’s In? Who’s Out?
UNLV announced last week that multiple players had tested positive for COVID-19. Even though they are not allowed to say who those players are, there are a few notable absences on the depth chart. At wide receiver, Randall Grimes, Brandon Pressley, and Mekhi Stevenson are all not listed on the depth chart. Also on offense, Chad Magyar is not listed at the running back position, Magyar was the number two back behind Williams last year.
On defense, there are a few key seniors who are not listed on the depth chart either. Senior linebacker Farrell Hester, senior defensive back Greg Francis, and junior defensive back Drew Tejchman are all not listed on the depth chart. Willie Ramirez of the Associated Press reported that Hester had been dealing with a knee injury. Also missing are highly touted freshman LeShaun Bell and Brennon Scott.
It is unclear if all of these players missing are not on the depth chart due to COVID concerns, and the program has not announced any injuries at this time. Even though they are not listed on the depth chart, that does not mean they will not play against the Aztecs. Time will tell if they suit up on Saturday night or are missing for a significant amount of time.
What To Watch For
Arroyo has yet to name a starting quarterback. On the depth chart, Justin Rogers, Kenyon Oblad and Max Gillaim are all listed at QB 1, so we know it will be one of those three. Gilliam started for UNLV the last time they beat San Diego State in 2018. Oblad started the final eight games of the season last year. While Arroyo has not named a starter or put one guy ahead of the rest of the pack, he said that it is a benefit that Oblad has seen some “live bullets” and reps in conference. So I would expect Oblad to take the first snap for the 2020 UNLV football season. In the long run, Rogers is the best option for UNLV at quarterback, but it would be silly to put him out there in the first game of this crazy season and risk anything given he has not played much college football. It would be best if Oblad takes most of the snaps this year, and Arroyo could ease Rogers into the position later in the year to get him ready for 2021.
Three Keys to a UNLV Victory
Win The Battle In The Trenches
One of the best positions, in terms of skill across the entire position, is their offensive line. On the depth chart for this game, four of the five projected starters have been in the program for at least three years. There is a lot of experience up front and the Rebels will need to use it to their advantage. San Diego State hangs its hat on its defense, so the Rebel offensive line will need to counter whatever attack the Aztecs bring. It will also be key to protect whoever is behind center for the Rebels.
Ride The Chuck Wagon
With all the talk around the program about spreading the ball and getting it into a lot of people’s hands, the Rebels cannot forget to put the ball in the hands of its best player, Charles Williams. With some of their top wide receivers not listed on the depth chart, that could change the game plan to force UNLV to put the ball in Williams’ hands more often. A lot of teams knew the Rebels were a run first/run heavy team last year, but with the new system, ideally that would change how defenses play against the Rebels. Regardless of how many times they throw it or who is out there in the passing game. The Rebels will need to continue to make Williams the focal point of the offense.
The past few games between these two teams have been low scoring and close, so every possession will matter. For the Rebels to win this game, they will have to steal a couple extra possessions, which means putting pressure on the defense to make big plays. Last year, there was a lot of hype around the front seven, but they underperformed as a unit. Now, this year, there the group is garnering a lot of attention again. This year could be different and it will need to be. UNLV must get pressure on the quarterback and cause havoc in the pocket. Transfer defensive end Adam Plant is expected to be an important piece on the Rebel defense. There is a lot of pressure on this group up front to force turnovers and get extra possessions for the offense.
The past few games between both teams have been close, and expect this one to go down the wire as well. The pandemic and lack of practice time will affect both teams, expect there to be rust and some miscues on both sides. San Diego State has a new coach as well, but they promoted defensive coordinator Brady Hoke to replace Rocky Long. So, the Aztecs should be in better sync than the Rebels. San Diego State is listed as two touchdown favorites and were the preseason pick to win the West division, so the overall advantage in this game goes to the Aztecs. My finals score prediction: San Diego State 26, UNLV 20.