Upset-Minded UNLV Travels To Utah State
The Rebels face the Aggies on Saturday as huge underdogs. Here’s what UNLV has to do to pull the upset against Utah State.
UNLV has to play its best game to upset Utah State. That still might not be enough.
UNLV could not be meeting Utah State at a worse time.
Indeed, Saturday’s matchup features a pair of teams headed in vastly opposite directions. The Rebels, entering their second game without injured quarterback Armani Rogers, were crushed at home against New Mexico, 50-14 on Saturday. It was the second straight loss for a UNLV squad that is rapidly seeing its bowl hopes evaporate.
Utah State, on the other hand, is rolling. The Aggies captured headlines last weekend with a 45-20 rout of BYU in Provo. USU improved to 4-1 on the season and look every bit the part of a team that will challenge Boise State for the top spot in the MWC Mountain Division.
UNLV is going to need a lot of things to break in their direction if they’re to pull would be a significant upset in conference play. As of mid-week Vegas has Utah State favored by more than three touchdowns. But the Mountain West is a weird conference. So let’s get weird. Here are the three keys to a UNLV victory.
Don’t throw the ball
Look, just don’t. And that doesn’t mean that I don’t have faith in Max Gilliam in the future. But to air it out 35 times against Utah State, as he did against New Mexico, would spell certain disaster. The Aggies have the third best pass defense in the MWC. Limiting turnovers and controlling possession is the only way UNLV is going to keep this one close.
I know that doesn’t do a lot for Gilliam’s confidence. Let him get confident next week against Air Force. For now, stick with the sure thing. Lots of Lexington Thomas. Plenty of Charles Williams. Some Xzaviar Campbell would even be fine.
I know that those three didn’t play particularly well against New Mexico. Nobody played well against New Mexico. Best not to stray from known commodities against a superior opponent, though. Stick with what you usually do well.
Make Darwin Thompson beat you
Better the slow death administered by the USU running game than the quick strike that Aggies’ quarterback Jordan Love possesses. Love will torch the Rebels if not contained, he threw for 356 yards against his most recent Mountain West opponent, Air Force, two weeks ago.
The Utah State ground game is potent as well, but that’s where the Rebs have more of a fighting chance. Darwin Thompson is having a very impressive season thus far, but it’s the big passing play that felled UNLV last week. The Rebels gave up touchdown passes of 74 and 26 yards with less than three minutes remaining in the second quarter. That stretched the lead to 29-0 and effectively ended the game at the half.
Remember Fresno State
It wasn’t long ago that UNLV entered a conference game against an opponent as a significant underdog, only to shock the MWC world. Less than a year ago the Rebels traveled to Fresno State and dealt the Bulldogs what would be their only loss in league play, 26-16.
Perhaps more encouraging is that UNLV was able to pull that upset without its starting QB. Johnny Stanton stepped in for the injured Rogers, threw for 155 yards and managed not to turn the ball over. It was easily the Rebels’ most impressive win of the season.
It’s not apples to apples but UNLV was more than a two-touchdown dog against Fresno State last year. Obviously, there will be plenty of players on the field Saturday who made significant contributions to last season’s upset. Including Lexington Thomas. Head coach Tony Sanchez would be wise to squeeze as much motivation out of that game as possible.