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UNLV Football Game Preview: Rebels return to action against Cowboys

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After having its game canceled against Colorado State last week, UNLV resumes its season with a post Thanksgiving game against Wyoming.

NCAA Football: UNLV at San Jose State Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

Game Information

Wyoming Cowboys (1-2) vs UNLV Rebels (0-4)

Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, NV

Friday, November 27, 2020, Kickoff: 1:05 pm PT

TV: Fox Sports 1 Radio: ESPN Las Vegas 1100 AM/100.9 FM

Series History: Wyoming has a slight advantage in the series history with a record of 13-11, but UNLV is 7-5 in Las Vegas. UNLV lost to Wyoming last year 53-17. The last time these two teams played in Las Vegas, the Rebels won a high-scoring thriller 69-66. Current UNLV head coach Marcus Arroyo was the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach with Wyoming from 2009-2010.

Significance of the Game

The Rebels return to the field after its game against Colorado State was canceled due to a rise of COVID-19 cases within the UNLV program. Marcus Arroyo said in his weekly press conference that there were about 49 guys that were out due to contact tracing, which has made practice look very scarce. Some of those guys will be out for a while because of contact tracing protocols from the Mountain West the players will have to sit out for at least two weeks and have to pass conditioning tests before they are allowed to come back. Fortunately for UNLV, one of the four positive tests came back negative, and all things are all set for their game against Wyoming today. The Cowboys have not played a game since Nov. 5 when Utah State had COVID-19 issues within their program.

UNLV was able to practice with the limited amount of guys they did have, but it is something new that UNLV has had to deal with. They have had a number of players who have been out due to COVID-19 issues, opt-outs or injuries, so they have had a lot of freshmen step up. It is not an ideal situation for Arroyo in his first year as a college head coach, but it is the situation at hand. He has made sure not to make excuses and soldier on with what they have. Last week against Colorado State was likely their best chance to win a game against a Rams team that is rebuilding with a new head coach as well. But, when you are rebuilding a program, you need tough times like these to learn and grow. With a young group of players and new staff that is implementing a new system, there are three weeks left in the season to get its first win, but to grow and build momentum for the future.

Quotables

Here are a few quotes from Arroyo and senior tight end Giovanni Fauolo from this week’s media availability:

“We got to control what we can control as a group. We had some good opportunities following that to get some walkthroughs and some work done together. The plan is to be ready whenever, with whoever is available...Now we prep for a good Wyoming team.”

“Just trying to be as creative as you can. We got a small group, it’s hard to practice against each other. You end up servicing each other, but it’s hard to do that because you minimize the reps...You just run short on reps.”

-Arroyo on how they spent the past few days once the Colorado State game was canceled and how they have had to adapt during the challenging time.

“It’s another opportunity to work, it’s another 45-50 walkthrough or mental reps that...we need. We got a lot of guys on the field that are playing different spots. Any opportunity to learn, we’re creating that culture and understanding that you can’t just show up, you got to make sure you take any opportunity you can and get a chance to learn mentally, physically, emotionally, and so those opportunities are valuable.”

-Arroyo on how they tried to put a positive outlook on the time when they would have been playing a game.

“That’s been the tricky thing of this season. You don’t know who’s going to be down, who’s going to be available, but that goes to “next man up”...That really takes place now with the coronavirus season going on. If you stay prepared, nothing should really phase you. You can’t flinch, if somebody goes down you just have to be willing to play.”

-Fauolo on the challenges the team has faced this season with guys not being available due to COVID-19 related issues.

“There’s nothing positive about losing a game, except that we get to work on ourselves more. This is a new system that we are all learning, so getting to learn more about what we have going on and certain things like little details, get to work on the little stuff. That aspect is definitely helping.”

-Fauolo on how the coaches have tried to put a positive spin on the game being canceled.

What To Watch For

One thing we will have to see is who is available for the Rebels. Due to HIPPA regulations, we do not know which players tested positive or which players are out due to contact tracing, but we will see on Friday which players are out there and suited up on the field for the game. Aside from that, it will be important to see the fight this Rebel team has. There are only three games remaining in the season, which is only three opportunities to get a win that all the players and coaches are hungry for. Wyoming is not as good as any of the four teams UNLV has faced this season. UNLV cannot beat itself with penalties and turnovers, which the Rebels have done a few times this year. UNLV has shown flashes of its potential, and if they can do it for a full 60, they might have a chance to win today.

Three Keys to a Rebel Victory

Success on First and Second Down

It has been a mixed bag for UNLV on offense, they have had big plays and long drives that lead to scores. On the other hand, they have had a lot of drives that are three and out, and lead to punts. Every game, it seems that the Rebels have far more third down opportunities than their opponent. Far too often UNLV is in third and long situations and needs a big play to keep the drive alive. UNLV needs to put less pressure on itself by getting positive plays on first and second down so they can move the chains and have third down and shorts when they do face third down situations. On drives where they have scored, the Rebels have had a nice mix of run and pass plays, they need to get Charles Williams more involved in the offense and getting runs from him on first down could help the Rebels stay in front of the chains.

Stay Disciplined

The Rebels committed far too many penalties against San Jose State, nearly all of them were silly and self-inflicted. As bad are the pass interference and personal fouls, the holdings are just as bad because they can kill momentum on drives. Williams had a nice run to pick up a first down, but it was negated by a holding call and that drive ended with a UNLV punt. It is challenging with a lot of young guys playing and learning a new system, but at this point, these guys are not freshmen any more. They have time in the program and have several Division I games under their belt, so the time is now to fix those penalties. They cannot give Wyoming free plays, but most importantly, they cannot shoot themselves in the foot with self-inflicted penalties.

Stay Physical/Get Pressure on Defense

Wyoming is typical Wyoming, they are a very physical team up front and UNLV will have to match their aggressiveness. The Rebels are going to need solid days from its offensive and defensive lines. On offense, they need to protect their quarterback and create running lanes for Williams. UNLV has four starters on the offensive line that have been in the program for at least three seasons and the time is now for that offensive line to show its full potential. And on defense, they need to create havoc and pressure plays. We saw some great plays against Fresno State when Adam Plant and Jacoby Windmon were able to force some sacks. UNLV will need to get off the field on third down and get the Cowboys behind the chains early but getting pressure in the backfield.

Prediction

Things have not gone the Rebels way so far this season, but I think the time after the Colorado State game was a moment UNLV needed to regroup. I think today is the day things change. I see a big game from the offense with Williams and Justin Rogers at quarterback and the defense will make enough plays to keep UNLV in the game. Call me an optimist, but November 27 will be a day Rebel fans will remember, but it will be the day Marcus Arroyo gets his first win at UNLV, my prediction is UNLV 33, Wyoming 28.