This is a series of in depth looks at the opponents the Utah State football team will be facing this season. The series will use Athlon Sports Top 130 pre-season rankings to consider where opponents are at on a national level and each week will preview a different opponent.
Week 6: at UNLV (October 16th)
Record in 2020: 0-6
Record in 2019: 4-8 (2-6)
Record vs USU: 7-17
Athlon Ranking: 120
Key Losses: Max Gilliam (QB), Tanner Brown (P), Jacob Gasser (WR)
Key Players Back: (Get Ready)... Charles Williams (HB), Courtney Reese (HB), Williams Kyle (WR), Tyleek Collins (WR), Zyell Griffin (WR), Giovanni Fauolo Sr. (WR), Noah Bean (TE), Bryce Jackson (DB), Tre Caine (DB), Nohl Williams (DB), Aaron Lewis (DB), Jacoby Windmon (ILB), Vic Viramontes (ILB), Malakai Salu (LB), Adam Plant Jr. (DL), Tavis Malakius (DL)
UNLV has struggled on offense since 2015 but the transfer addition of Tate Martell from Miami and the return of leading rusher Charles Williams (116 attempts, 526 yards; four TDs) certainly helps. Kyle Williams, who had 426 receiving yards and two touchdowns returns as well as Tyleek Collins (146 yards two touchdowns), Steve Jenkins (79 yards, two touchdowns), Zyell Griffin (118 yards) and tight ends Giovanni Fauolo Sr. (108 yards) and Noah Bean (103 yards).
Last season, UNLV ranked 108th in total offense (330.5 yards per game), 119th in scoring offense (17.3 points per game), 106th in passing offense (185.8 yards per game), 82nd in rushing offense (144.7 yards per game), 92nd in third down conversions (34 conversions, 92 attempts; 37%), tied for 88th in red zone offense (15 scores, 19 attempts; 78.9%), and tied for 24th in turnovers lost (five fumbles, four interceptions; nine total).
The best category by far for UNLV was that they ranked near the top of the nation in taking care of the football, however remember that UNLV only played six games. The other categories are very worrisome, especially the scoring offense. UNLV needs to find ways to get more players involved and create explosive plays. The addition of Tate Martell as what should be a stable quarterback is huge. If Martell can shine early, UNLV should be able to improve on numbers such as the scoring offense and passing offense, even the running offense if more of a balance is created.
The Rebels bring back significant talent on defense in players such as defensive back Bryce Jackson (42 tackles, two breakups, one recovered fumble), inside linebacker Jacoby Windmon (39 tackles, six tackles for loss, five sacks, two pass breakups, and a forced fumble), defensive back Tre Caine (34 tackles, two tackles for loss, an interception, and two pass breakups, defensive lineman Adam Plant Jr. (31 tackles, two pass breakups), inside linebacker Vic Varamontes (31 tackles, two pass breakups), linebacker Malakai Salu (28 tackles) and defensive back Nohl Williams (28 tackles, one interception, one breakup, and one fumble recovery. Additions of transfers defensive lineman Conner Murphy (USC) and Kylan Wilborn (Arizona) will be significant to helping UNLV make plays on defense as both transfers are eligible immediately.
The Rebels ranked 119th in total defense (482.2 yards per game), tied for 113th in scoring defense (38 points per game), 58th in passing yards allowed (227.2 yards per game), 122nd in rushing yards allowed (255 yards per game), 109th in third down defense (77 attempts, 36 conversions; 46.8%), and tied for 113th in red zone defense (33 attempts, 30 scores; 90.9% conversion rate).
The Rebels, by looking at the statistics, were not very good last year defensively but will have a chance to be better this year. They bring back experienced talent, some impact transfers, and it should be a more normal year than last year which means team will have a better means of preparation.
As many players as UNLV brings back, it is still going to be a very difficult road for UNLV. The Rebels haven’t managed to get to a winning season since their 7-6 (5-3) season in 2013. That’s going to be a long road of improvement for UNLV and it isn’t going to happen in one season. UNLV may certainly be better than the past few seasons as they bring players back, but there may not be a lot of consistent play makers on offense to call upon.
This game might be close late in the first half but I’d expect Utah State to score just before halftime to pull away and continue that trend in the second half. Aggies should get their second win of the season off the bye week and build confidence going into games against Colorado State and Hawaii.