It’s here! It’s finally here!
Even though both teams will not be bowl eligible for the first time since 2017, the battle for the nation’s largest trophy — the Fremont Cannon — still takes forth! The Nevada Wolf Pack will travel down south to take on instrastate rival, the UNLV Rebels, on Saturday to cap off the 2022 regular season.
The Wolf Pack have lost nine straight after starting the season 2-0 over New Mexico State and Texas State. UNLV, meanwhile, has looked better than it was expected to, but still sits at 4-7 and will not make a bowl for its 10th straight season.
Nevada has won 13 of the last 17 meetings between the two programs, including two straight, and hope to keep the cannon blue on Saturday — will it be able to get the job done? Let’s dive into the matchup preview and find out!
Week 13: Nevada (2-9, 0-7 MWC) vs. UNLV (6-4, 2-5 MWC)
When: Saturday, Nov. 26 at 3:00 p.m. PT
Where: Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, Nev.
TV: Nevada Sports Net
Spread: UNLV -12.5
Series History: Nevada leads 28-19
Last Meeting: Nevada won 51-20 (Oct. 29, 2021)
When UNLV is on offense:
UNLV has been one of the better offenses in the Mountain West this year, ranking No. 4 in the Mountain West in ESPN’s SP+ offensively, No. 5 in scoring offense, No. 3 in passing offense and No. 7 in scoring offense.
Their improved aerial attack is led by southpaw signal caller Doug Brumfield, whi’s completed 65.1 percent of his passes for 1,898 yards, 10 touchdowns and five interceptions on the season. Last week against Hawai’i, he went 23-37 for 288 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
Brumfield adds dual threat ability and is especially a threat near the goal-line, having logged six rushing touchdowns on the season. UNLV’s top tailback, however, is Aidan Robbins, who’s rushed for 100-plus yards in three separate games, two coming within his last three gmaes.
On the season, he’s recorded 922 rushing yards — the 6th-most in the Mountain West — on 4.9 yards per carry with nine rushing touchdowns, the fourth-most. Behind him is Courtney Reese and Jordan Younge-Humphrey, though they’ll primarily use the former, as he’s racked up 51 carries for 370 yards through 11 games.
Brumfield’s favorite target is former Michigan State transfer Ricky White, who has hauled in 50 catches for 623 yards and four touchdowns, which ties a team-high. He 14 more catches and over 160 more yards than the next-best Rebel, Kyle Williams, who has been another solid beneficiary in the pass game for UNLV this season.
It will be up against a Pack defense that’s had a rollar coaster of a season.
Up front, UNLV will be tasked with slowing down Dom Peterson, who will be playing his final game with the Pack (among several others). Peterson is one of the most disruptive defensive tackles in Mountain West, totaling 31 tackles, 11.5 tackles-for-loss and five sacks.
Joining him up front is James Hansen and Louis Cresto, who have combined for 26 tackles with three for loss. The linebacker unit features multiple up-and-coming contributors in Drue Watts, Chris Smalley and Marcel Walker.
Watts is second on the team in tackles behind the line of scrimmage with eight, adding three sacks with 53 combined tackles. Walker’s totaled 21 tackles with five for loss while Smalley has just 11 tackles this season.
Perhaps Nevada’s strongest unit resides in the secondary, led by leading tacklers Tyson Williams and Bentlee Sanders.
Sanders top the squad with 75 tackles, including five for loss. He also has a conference-most five interceptions — including one pick-six — with four pass deflections and three forced fumbles. Williams has 63 tackles, 6.5 tackles-for-loss, one sack, one interceptions, two other pass deflections and a pair of forced fumbles as well.
When Nevada is on offense:
It’s not a secret that Nevada’s offense has been one of the worst in the Mountain West this season. They have the third-worst total offense and rushing offense, the fifth-worst passing offense, the second-worst yards per play mark and fourth-fewest first downs recorded per game.
They’ve flipped-flopped quarterbacks throughout the season due to injury and inconsistent play. If I were a betting man, I’d expect senior Nate Cox to start, when he’s been the better quarterback throughout 2022.
He’s completed 51.2 percent of his attempts for 1,118 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions. Shane Illingworth, a former Oklahoma State transfer, has completed 57.9 percent of his attempt sfor 761 yards, two touchdowns to three interceptions.
Regardless of who’s behind center, the bread-and-butter of the Pack offense will be made on the ground with Toa Taua and possible Devonte Lee, who’s battled injury over the team’s last four games.
Taua’s recorded 767 rushing yards with 10 touchdowns over his 11 games, while Lee’s posted 233 yards with five touchdowns. Taua has also been a reliable option for both Cox and Illingworth in the passing game, adding 35 catches for 277 yards and one score.
UNLV’s defense is led by its two stalwarts along the front seven in defensive end Adam Plant Jr. and linebacker Austin Ajiake.
Both Plant and Ajiake have logged double-digit tackles-for-loss, with 12.5 and 11, respectively. Ajiake leads the team in tackles with a Mountain West-most 120 tackles with four sacks, two interceptions and a fumble recovery.
Their experienced front also features Elijah Shelton, Kyle Beaudry and Jerrae Williams, all of whom are top-10 in the team in tackles. Williams has 4.5 tackles-for-loss with a sack and Shelton has a pair of sacks with five tackles-for-loss.
Its secondary of Nohl Williams, Cameron Olliver and Jordyn Morgan have combined for 12 pass deflections and eight of the team’s 13 interceptions. Williams and Oliver lead UNLV with three inerceptions apiece, while Morgan has just two. They have caused fits for opposing receivers at times this season.
In the past, I’ve made jokes about, no matter the circumstances, that Nevada head coach Ken Wilson would have the inability to lose to UNLV because of how blue his heart is deep down. But this is another unfavorable matchup for the Wolf Pack. UNLV has had three wretched offensive performances against Air Force, San Diego State and San Jose State, but has averaged 30 points over its other conference games against Utah State, New Mexico, Fresno State and Hawai’i. Nevada, meanwhile, has scored just 20 points in two of its last eight games, while allowing at least 23 points in all but one of those eight. If its defense can keep them in the game, then they have a shot. But I just don’t see that happening on the road. UNLV 34 Nevada 17 (Record: 8-3, ATS: 5-6)