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Boise State vs. UNLV: Game Info, Preview and Prediction for the Mountain West Championship

The journey has been hard, unexpected, and rocky. But, in a twist of fate, the most inconsistent season in recent memory has brought the Broncos one win away from conference glory.

NCAA Football: Air Force at Boise State Brian Losness-USA TODAY Sports

BOISE STATE VS. UNLV

Location: Las Vegas, Nevada (Allegiant Stadium)

Date/Time: Saturday, December 2nd at 1:00 p.m. (Mountain Time)

Television: FOX

Streaming: FOX Sports app

Radio: KBOI 670 AM/KBOI 93.1 FM (Bronco Radio Network)

Head-to-Head: Boise State leads the all-time series 8-3. In fact, the Broncos have won all five matchups that have happened in the 21st century.

The three UNLV wins?

1973, 1974, and 1976.

Tale of the Tape

OFFENSE

  • The Broncos were able to muster a much-improved performance through the air against Air Force last weekend. Statistically, Boise State actually had more passing yards than rushing yards (228 to 181). Granted, this was due in large part to a masterful performance by Ashton Jeanty. The dynamic halfback torched Air Force for 107 rushing yards, along with 118 receiving yards. This included a 75-yard receiving touchdown on a perfectly timed screen pass by Taylen Green.
  • Even though the receiving core has looked better in recent weeks, the group is still wildly inconsistent. The leading pass catcher on senior day outside of Jeanty was Matt Lauter with two receptions for 36 yards. The future may be bright with Austin Bolt and Prince Strachan in the fold, but offensive coordinator Bush Hamden will need to rely on the trio of Taylen Green, Ashton Jeanty and George Holani to dictate the pace of play.
  • They may not be brought up a lot, but the offensive line has been tremendous in 2023. Led by coach Tim Keane, all five starters have stayed relatively healthy and productive. It doesn't hurt to have a mobile quarterback like Green to cover up any potential miscues. However, those instances have been far and few between.
  • For Barry Odom and the UNLV rebels, they are led by quarterback Jayden Maiava. The local redshirt freshman has passed for over 2,600 yards, but has a 14-6 touchdown to interception ratio. There is no doubt that Maiava can sling it with the best of them. His arm strength pops off the screen and he has the ability to beat you with his legs if needed.
  • At running back, the Rebels have relied on the duo of Jai’Den Thomas and Donavyn Lester. The two have combined for 950 yards and 21 touchdowns on the ground.
  • Looking at the Rebels’ wide receivers, there is one man that jumps off the page in Ricky White. The Georgia native has been an absolute star this season. He has put up 1,300 receiving yards, seven touchdowns, and has a season long of 82 yards.

The next closest receiver?

Jacob De Jesus with 456 yards and two touchdowns.

  • Overall, UNLV ranks 54th in total passing yards (236.6 per game) and 25th in total rushing yards (187.8 per game).

DEFENSE

  • Massive kudos to the Bronco defense for limiting the Air Force triple option attack to only 206 rushing yards. Despite the Falcons being a bit banged up, it is never easy to face a team that runs the ball 50 to 60 times a game. Other than the third quarter, Boise State held Troy Calhoun's squad to only six points over the course of three quarters.

Spencer Danielson has noted in recent weeks that Boise State's defense has been inching closer and closer to having a full performance from kickoff to when the clock hits triple zeroes.

This would be the week where you would hope Boise State can put out a solid defensive performance for all 60 minutes.

  • Defensive end Ahmed Hassenein continues to show out here in 2023. He was able to maintain his consecutive game sack streak and was deservedly honored with an All-Mountain West selection. The Egyptian freight train will play a pivotal role come 2024.
  • While Alexander Teubner had a terrific outing against Air Force, I don't believe that will be repeatable come Saturday in Las Vegas. The Seaside, Oregon, native thrives against the ground game, but has had his share of difficulties when defending the deep ball this season.
  • UNLV has a fine defense.

Not bad, but not spectacular.

As a team, they rank 91st in pass yards allowed, 67th in rushing yards allowed, and 61st in total points allowed.

  • Individually, linebacker Jackson Woodard leads all Rebels with 104 total tackles and is second on the team with six tackles for loss. The current sack leader, Jerrae Williams, has been out since late September due to a foot injury and will not play in this game. In his absence, Alexander Whitmore has attempted to work overtime with 2.5 sacks to his name. The pass rush has been a group effort with four Rebels totaling two sacks each during the 2023 campaign.
  • In the secondary, three Rebels have registered multiple interceptions. Leading the pack is Jaxen Turner with four, followed by Cameron Oliver and Johnathan Baldwin with three and two, respectively.
  • Turnover-wise, UNLV has had favorable results this season, posing a +8 margin.

The Broncos?

A lowly -3 margin that places them outside the top 85.

SPECIAL TEAMS

  • A travesty has occurred.

James Ferguson-Reynolds, the Broncos’ superb punter, was not named a finalist for the Ray Guy award.

All three nominees come from Power Five programs.

Take that for what you will.

Ferguson-Reynolds is arguably Boise State’s best player and in that same conversation is kicker Jonah Dalmas. Both have played a pivotal role in flipping the field and saving drives that have stalled.

  • For once, the Broncos’ opponent has a staunch pair of players in their own right at kicker and punter. Marshall Nichols ranks 11th in the nation with an average of 46.27 yards per punt, only four yards less then Ferguson-Reynolds. As for kicking duties, Jose Pizano is the man and he has been fantastic for the Rebels. This season, he is 23-25 with a long of 52 yards.

Why UNLV Will Win

To put it bluntly, the Rebels will prove that the Mountain West and the rest of the nation have overlooked UNLV. Many of us, including myself, would never have thought that the Rebels would be hosting a Mountain West Championship game in 2023. The early portion of the schedule didn't give us a lot to glean from. A thrashing by Michigan at the Big House may have led us astray. However, a win against Vanderbilt showed that this program had already taken a step forward during the offseason. It wasn't until their bouts with Fresno State, Wyoming, Air Force and San Jose State that I began to believe that UNLV could take the Mountain West crown.

To beat the Broncos Saturday afternoon, they need to beat the secondary...soundly. Boise State has been put into precarious situations this season due to the up and down personality of the back line. With his ability to launch the football down the sideline, Jayden Maiava has the opportunity to blow this game wide open with his arm. It is uncertain how many Rebel fans will be in attendance this Saturday, but they have to show out with this type of opportunity on the line.

Force the Broncos to throw early and often, and the UNLV Rebels have a legit chance to win their first-ever Mountain West title.

Why Boise State Will Win

Sometimes, we scoff at the so called “football gods”.

These last two weeks have made me reconsider.

Spencer Danielson has rekindled and patched a locker room that seemed unfixable. College football is full of rallying cries for teammates that have fallen, rivalries that are near an end, and the ability to represent the university sewn onto their uniform.

This team is fighting for Spencer Danielson.

Nearly every player that has had a microphone put in front of them has voiced their desire for SD to become “the guy”.

Emotion can be an overplayed facet of a team's success. Not in this case. The heart and sheer passion that every Bronco on the sideline is playing with cannot be taught.

It cannot be coached.

It is an internal decision that each player makes when they put on their helmets and cleats prior to kickoff.

With the transfer portal opening on Monday and an expected announcement on the coaching search after the conclusion of Saturday's game, this is the last time the 2023 Boise State Broncos will be able to link arms and play together before the business of college football forces its way into the spotlight.

DraftKings Odds

Spread: Boise State -2.5 (-112), UNLV +2.5 (-108)

Total: 60.5 points (-112 for the over and -108 for the under)

Straight Up Money Line: Boise State -135, UNLV +114

Prediction

The fact that Boise State is in this position is remarkable after all the turmoil these Broncos have endured.

National reporters have begun to speak about the vacant head coach position, saying that a win on Saturday would make it difficult for Jeramiah Dickey to not hire Spencer Danielson.

But Danielson isn’t focused on anything beyond what lies ahead of him and his players at Allegiant Stadium. I alluded to this season forming into a fairytale a week ago.

The computers have allowed this final chapter to continue being written.

I can’t envision the players not finding a way to win tomorrow afternoon.

The momentum, the emotion, the possibilities.

This is a “Win one for the Gipper” moment.

The Broncos will have to fight, but Spencer Danielson will raise the Craig Thompson Championship Trophy alongside the players that trusted him during the toughest of times.

BOISE STATE BRONCOS 42

UNLV REBELS 35