Three Keys To A UNLV victory vs. San Jose State
Here’s what the UNLV Rebels have to do on Saturday if they are going to score their first win of the conference season against winless San Jose State.
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It is must see TV. It is UNLV at San Jose State on Saturday afternoon.
Saturday marks the midway point of the Mountain West Conference Season for the UNLV Rebels and San Jose State Spartans. Hopes of bowl eligibility have vanished for SJSU. They exist for UNLV, but only mathematically.
But that does not mean that this weekend’s battle in Northern California is without drama. For both squads this is the most winnable game remaining on their schedules, and may very well determine who will occupy the basement of the MWC’s West Division for 2018.
I’m not saying it’s going to be pretty. I’m not even saying it’s going to be fun. But UNLV at San Jose State is going to happen on Saturday. Here are the three keys to a Rebels victory.
Don’t underestimate the Spartans
San Jose State is winless on the season. UNLV hasn’t tasted victory in well over a month. But not all gigantic losing streaks are created equal.
During the Rebels’ four-game skid, only once have they entered the fourth quarter within a score of their opponent. That was in September when they held a one-point lead against Arkansas State before ultimately falling 27-20 in Jonesboro.
San Jose State has looked much more competitive. Last week they played San Diego State to within a field goal. October 6th they held a lead against Colorado State entering the fourth quarter, and a week before that MWC darling Hawaii needed five overtimes to outlast the Spartans.
This game opened with UNLV favored by a point. That line now has the Rebels as three-point dogs. There’s a reason for that. This might be the only conference game UNLV wins this season. They should just go ahead and treat this like their bowl game.
Air it out
Obviously, when you’re 0-7 things are going to look bad by virtually any statistical measure.
So it should come as no surprise that UNLV can feel comfortable opening up the playbook and allowing quarterback Max Gilliam to throw all over the field. For a couple of reasons.
First, the obvious. The San Jose secondary leaves plenty to be desired. The Spartans yield north of 260 yards a game through the air, third from the bottom in the Mountain West. And Gilliam is coming around throwing the ball. The sophomore had a rocky start filling in for injured QB Armani Rogers but looked impressive last week against Air Force. Gilliam completed 26 of 38 passes for 261 yards and three scores.
Secondly, this is probably the best opportunity remaining to get a look at Gilliam as a passer. If the Rebels are to stay competitive against Fresno State, San Diego State, or Hawaii, the next three opponents on their schedule, expect a much more run heavy game plan than what we will see against SJSU. They close the season with Nevada, who has a pass defense similar to the Spartans, but by then we should see Rogers back under center. Let Gilliam throw 40+ times.
Rush the quarterback
The San Jose State ground game isn’t going to beat the Rebels. The irrelevance of the Spartans’ rushing attack cannot go understated. They average 52 yards a contest. That’s easily the worst in the MWC, less than half of the next closest team. They average 1.6 yards a carry, dead last. They’ve totaled 364 yards on the season, last by nearly 600 yards.
So to put it lightly, the Rebels should focus on harassing San Jose quarterback Josh Love. The SJSU offensive line should be accommodating. The Spartans have given up 29 sacks this season, good for 203 yards, both most in the league.
It’s asking a lot of the Rebels. They’ve totaled just eleven sacks and a single interception on the season. But they are looking at a very one-dimensional offense in San Jose State. UNLV is the better team on paper, so simplifying things should work to the Rebels’ benefit.
If I don’t think UNLV can score its first win of the conference season in late October against a winless San Jose State squad, why am I even still watching?
UNLV: 33 San Jose State: 28