Fresno State Bulldogs (1-1) vs UNLV Rebels (0-2)
Saturday, November 7, 2020, Kickoff at 12:20 PM PT
Site: Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, NV
TV: CBS Sports Network, Radio: ESPN Las Vegas 1100 AM/100.9 FM
Series History: Fresno State holds the overall series lead at 15-7, but they have split the last six meetings. The Rebels lost to the Bulldogs last year in Fresno 56-27.
Significance of the Game
It’s been a tough start out of the gate for the Rebels. They are 0-2 after facing San Diego State, with one of the best defenses in the conference, and UNR, with one of the best quarterbacks in the conference. And it will not get any easier this week when they play a Fresno State team that looks to be hitting its stride. We knew it would be a tough year for the Rebels with a new head coach and its initial tough 2020 schedule. And know with the shortened offseason training, it has added another obstacle in the way of the Rebels. What is important in this game is that UNLV must show its competitiveness, they need to be in this game, not just a few scores away or making the scoreboard look pretty but be in the game late with a chance to win a game. This year has been a combination of a long year that has gone by fast and UNLV needs to show even more fight and that they can be able to play well late in games to win.
Who’s In? Who’s Out?
It was reported earlier in the week that UNLV wide receiver Randal Grimes had been suspended for the year due to a violation of “team or school rules.” Grimes had not been listed on the depth chart for the first two games this season. This is a devastating blow to the Rebels, as Grimes led the team last year with 44 catches and 696 receiving yards.
Arroyo announced at his weekly press conference that defensive backs Greg Francis, Drew Tejchman, wide receiver Mekhi Stevenson, and fullback Jamal Neal have all opted out of the season due to the pandemic. Also, on the depth chart, freshman defensive end LeShaun Bell is listed at second-string defensive end.
What To Watch For
This could be another challenging game for the young Rebel secondary. They gave up a lot of big runs to the Aztecs and a lot of big passing plays against the Wolf Pack. It does not get easier against the Bulldogs and the defensive backs could be in for a long day. It will be key that they can string together several stops in a row to give its offense a chance to be in the game and have drives that lead to scores. The Rebels have to get pressure at the line and be physical against the Bulldog receivers. We will see what adjustments UNLV makes on defense to try and contain the Fresno State offense.
Three Keys to a Rebel Victory
Make Fresno One Dimensional
After a down year last season, Fresno State appears to be turning a corner and getting back to who they are. The Bulldogs have a potentially deadly combination with quarterback Jake Haener and running back Ronnie Rivers. It will be important for UNLV to try and contain one of those players and one of those options of attack for Fresno State. Rivers is both a great runner and solid pass catcher, so UNLV needs to utilize their defensive line and linebackers to keep Rivers in check. They need to be physical upfront and take away running lanes and be all over him to take away an option for Haener. It will be a tough task, but if the Rebel defense can make the Bulldogs one dimensional, they might have a chance.
Get Max In Rhythm
Max Gilliam showed improvement and confidence last week when he was listed as the number one starter entering the week and had a whole week of practice reps with the number ones. Now, with another week and another game under his belt, he should show more improvement. UNLV must keep a somewhat similar game plan to UNR, they need to establish the run early and often with Charles Williams. And when Gilliam has to throw, UNLV must get those short and intermediate plays going to get Gilliam’s confidence right. The receivers need to find holes in the Bulldogs coverage to help out Gilliam to get the passing game going.
It is clear that the Rebels are somewhat challenged at both sides of the ball due to the lack of practice and depth issues. So, it will be very important for the Rebels to try and steal a few extra possessions in today’s game. Not only is it key to get extra possessions for their offense so they could try and score but steal possessions away from the Bulldog offense. On offense, UNLV has struggled to get off quick drives, most of their scoring drives are 10 plays plus and take a significant amount of time. If UNLV can have more possessions that the Bulldogs, they could control the time of possession and keep Fresno State’s offense off the field, leave the Bulldogs defense on the field longer, and give the Rebel defense some rest, and it starts with getting turnovers and extra possessions.
UNLV will likely make another step-in improvement this game, but I do not think it will be enough to beat Fresno State. The Bulldogs have too much on offense and will likely give UNLV’s defense struggles that they have had all season so far. This might be closer than we think, because UNR and San Diego State might be better than Fresno State, but the Bulldogs are definitely better than the Rebels and they will take this game. My final score prediction is Fresno State 34, UNLV 23.