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Friday Night Lights: Aztecs Look to Escape Upset As They Visit UNLV

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NCAA Football: Nevada at San Diego State Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

#23 SAN DIEGO STATE (9-1, 5-1) vs UNLV REBELS (2-8, 2-5)

WHEN: Friday, November 19th. Kick off at 8:30pm PT

WHERE: Allegiant Stadium, Las Vegas, Nevada

HOW TO WATCH: CBS Sports Network

HEAD TO HEAD: The Aztecs have won the last two meetings in a row with UNLV, and they have an overall record of 20-10. In their latest meeting, SDSU beat the Rebels 34-6 on Oct. 24th in the shortened season of 2020.

SDSU is coming off a big conference win after beating the Nevada Wolf Pack at home last week, 23-21, putting them in first place in the West Division. They also re-entered the College Football AP Poll at number 23 and reached the number 19 spot of the College Football Playoff Ranking.

The UNLV Rebels have had tough season, going 2-8 in their first 10 games. They were previously 0-8 before beating University of New Mexico and Hawaii in the last two weeks, giving them some hope as they finish the year.

Don’t count out the Rebels as they have played well in their last two games, but also have to give respect to the Aztecs who have proven to be a top team in the Mountain West and a top 25 team in the nation.

KEYS TO VICTORY FOR SDSU

In order to escape the upset, the Aztecs will have to be exceptional offense. The depth of running backs on this team is one of the best in the country and will have to be at their best, especially with the UNLV defense allow the second-most yards per game to opposing offenses.

Senior RB Greg Bell has been their number 1 guy out of the backfield, rushing for 849 yards on the year and 7 touchdowns. He his ranked 3rd among running backs in the Mountain West Conference and will need to be used wisely to gain ground and find the endzone.

All of Aztec rushers have accumulated 192.8 yards per game, the second best in the Mountain West behind Air Force. The rushing attack will need to come at full force for the Aztecs in order to get their 10th win on the season.

Not only will the running game need to be on point, the defense will need to make stops early and frequently. With the number one defense in the Mountain West, the Aztecs allow just 83 yards per game on the ground and 222.8 yards per game through the air. This will have to be proven against a UNLV offense that averages just 313.9 yards of offense per game.

KEYS TO VICYORY FOR UNLV

The Rebels give up an average of 31.8 points per game, which is the worst in the Mountain West and the main reason they lost their first 8 games of the season. In order for UNLV to squeak out an upset, they will need to find ways to make stops on defense.

Although losing by just 8 points to the No. 22 ranked Fresno State Bulldogs back in week 4, there’s a slight chance they can pull it off. Back in 2018, the Rebels upset the Aztecs in San Diego.

On top of those chances, this game will be played in the dome of Allegiant Stadium (home of NFL’s Las Vegas Raiders) which is where UNLV football calls home. With the help of a home crowd for their final game, and senior night, don’t count out the Rebels.

It is known that SDSU has the best rushing defense in the conference and top 5 in the country. That means freshman QB Cameron Friel will likely look to air often in this one.

That won’t be anything new, though, as Friel has thrown for over 220 passing yards in 3 of his last 4 games, including the first two wins of the season. He’ll be looking for WR Kyle Williams who has received for 594 yards this season with 2 touchdowns.

If that connection can be made consistently and find the endzone, the Rebels will keep up with the Aztecs. Making stops on defense will be huge as well for UNLV if they want to pull off an upset.

PREDICTION

Despite the upset history UNLV has had in the past with SDSU, the Rebels have a longshot chance to win even at home. The Aztec defense is ruthless and will force UNLV to pass, which may result in mistakes since SDSU secondary has intercepted opposing quarterbacks 10 times on the year, the third best in the Mountain West.

The Aztecs have too much at stake to lose this one, but the Rebels have nothing to lose so they will be playing with a chip on their shoulder ready for anything. If the offense can’t get going early and the defense doesn’t show up, it’ll be another loss for the Rebels.

As the 11.0 point favorite with a 79% chance to win according to ESPN’s Football Power Index, SDSU will look to put away the Rebels and get one step closer to a Mountain West Championship.

SCORE

SDSU: 27, UNLV: 13