UNLV and Hawaii meet in the second installment of the Island Showdown on Saturday
Rebels, Rainbow Warriors, and a giant golden pineapple this weekend in Hawai’i
– Contact/Follow @BSUKeith
Here’s what UNLV has to do if they’re to survive Hawaii and retain the giant golden pineapple for another year
Often Mountain West Conference football doesn’t make any damn sense.
That was my primary takeaway last week when the UNLV Rebels inexplicably left San Diego State with a win over the Aztecs. It was UNLV’s first win in nearly two months and only victory of the conference season. It provided a glimmer of positivity in what has otherwise been a wildly underwhelming season in Las Vegas.
Hawaii is up next for Tony Sanchez’s bunch, and a win against the Rainbow Warriors would go a long way towards talking Rebels fans off the cliff. Postseason hopes were forgotten about some time ago, but a win on Saturday and another in the season finale against Reno, and the Rebs can enter the offseason feeling like they didn’t take a significant step back in 2018. For whatever that’s worth.
In early October Hawaii was a sexy pick to challenge Fresno State and San Diego State in the MWC West Division. Since then they’ve dropped four straight. UNLV’s catching them at the right time. Here’s what the Rebels will have to do to leave Hawaii with its fourth win of the season.
Don’t let Cole McDonald beat you
Because he will.
Hawaii’s sophomore quarterback filled up the stat page the first six games of the season. McDonald averaged 350 passing in those six games, including shredding Colorado State for 418 yards and three scores in the season opener.
McDonald missed the October 6th game against Wyoming due to injury. Since returning the Rainbow Warriors are 0-4 and Hawaii’s starting signal caller is averaging just 265 yards through the air. In last week’s 56-17 loss against Utah State, McDonald completed just 18 of his 45 pass attempts.
This might shock you, but UNLV has on occasion given up big games to opposing quarterbacks. McDonald has the tools to torch the Rebs. He gets rolling, and this one is over early.
It has been an up and down and largely unpredictable football season for UNLV in 2018. Mostly bad. A little good.
When that’s the climate you’re dealing with, I like to rely on sure things. And when it comes to UNLV football, Lexington Thomas is as sure as it gets.
Before last week’s game against San Diego State, Thomas had been in a bit of a slump. Between September 22nd and November 3rd, Thomas averaged just 63 yards on the ground, this after averaging 127 yards in the three games to open the year.
Arguably his finest effort of 2018 came last week against the Aztecs. Thomas carried the ball 21 times for 133 yards and two touchdowns. He also caught three passes for 34 yards. All this against the MWC’s top rushing defense.
Why this offensive explosion? Who knows. Maybe he read my article last week about giving the ball to Charles Williams a little more. Maybe not. Best not to overthink it. Thomas should get 20 carries on Saturday.
This might surprise you, no I guarantee this will surprise you, the UNLV Rebels commit the fewest penalties of any team in the Mountain West Conference.
Yeah, they might get blown off the field with regularity, but it’s not a result of too many yellow flags. The Rebels are the most disciplined team in the league, coughing up just 41 yards a game due to infractions.
But no team gets the worst of you like Hawaii. Maybe it’s the weather. Maybe it’s the travel. In any event, teams rack up over 68 yards a game in penalties against the Rainbow Warriors, the top mark in the league. The next closest team, Reno, goads teams into 61.6 yards a game in penalties.
Particularly for a team that relies on the run, as UNLV will on Saturday, avoiding third and long will be paramount to staying competitive.
Last week I gave the Rebels no chance of beating the Aztecs. Seriously, I was emphatic about it. The superstitious part of me wants to make that prediction again in hopes that we see a similar result on Saturday, a UNLV victory. But I’m not superstitious. Just a little stitious.
UNLV: 35 Hawaii: 31