UNLV caps off its 2018 season Saturday when Reno comes to Las Vegas
Rebels. Wolf Pack. The Fremont Cannon. They do it every year.
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A win against Nevada on Saturday would be a pick-me-up in an otherwise disappointing season for UNLV Rebels football.h2>
Mercifully, the 2018 UNLV Rebels football season will come to an end on Saturday.
Any joy that returned to the hearts of the Scarlet and Gray faithful after UNLV’s 27-24 win over San Diego State on November 10th was promptly ripped away last week at Hawaii. The Rainbow Warriors stormed back from a 15 point fourth quarter deficit to stun the Rebels, 35-28.
So before a winter that is sure to bring with it considerable debate regarding head coach Tony Sanchez’s future with the university, UNLV limps into the Cannon game as two touchdown home underdogs. The Battle for Nevada will cap the fifth consecutive season without a bowl game for the Rebels. Reno will look to improve upon its 7-4 record before turning its attention to postseason play. Here’s what the Rebels need to do if they’re to claim the Fremont Cannon for just the third time in the last 14 seasons.
Slow the game down
Easier said than done. The Wolf Pack have a top three offense in the Mountain West Conference. They mostly do it through the air. Reno quarterback Ty Gangi will likely top 3,000 passing yards on the season.
And the UNLV secondary isn’t great. The Rebs yield 265 passing yards a game. That’s third worst in the MWC.
But there’s hope. Gangi is prone to the less than spectacular game. Last week the senior signal caller completed 19 passes, his fewest in conference play this season, as UNR squeaked by 1-10 San Jose State. Two weeks prior, against San Diego State, he had arguably his worst MWC game this year. Gangi completed 23 of 43 passes for 235 yards.
Gangi has all the tools to torch the Rebels on Saturday, but he’s far from flawless. Best to keep the ball out of his hands as much as possible.
Let everyone run
At this point it’s difficult to say who should be throwing the ball. Neither Armani Rogers or Max Gilliam inspire a lot of confidence. But I think I know who I want running the ball. As many Rebels as possible.
Yes that includes Rogers. While he didn’t shatter any records against Hawaii with his eight carry, 31 yard performance, I still think he’s closer to the guy that rushed 26 times for 181 yards against Arkansas State on September 22nd.
Lexington Thomas is a no-brainer. He’s already on the short list of greatest UNLV running backs ever, and he’ll touch the ball plenty in his final game against the Wolf Pack on Saturday.
But I’d like to see plenty of Charles Williams as well. The future of the Rebels backfield has only carried the ball nine times since his 16 carry, 121 yard effort against Fresno State on November 3rd.
Throw Evan Owens and Xzaviar Campbell in there as well. The former could be especially motivated in the final game of his college career. The latter has shown occasional flashes of brilliance during his time in Las Vegas. Perhaps he can recapture some of that magic.
I can play up the importance of bringing the Fremont Cannon back to southern Nevada as well as the next guy, but the reality is that most UNLV fans expect to lose on Saturday.
Regardless of the outcome, locals will view 2018 as a step back for Rebel football. This will be the first time since Sanchez arrived at UNLV that he has not increased his win total from the season prior. After a five-win campaign in 2017, fans expected the Rebels to compete for a bowl game this year. Those hopes were mostly dashed by mid-October.
Knocking off Reno will never not feel good, but it will do little to mask the disappointment 2018 has brought. Expectations in Vegas were very reasonable. And fans changed their expectations, slightly, after the Rogers injury. And again, a little hope was restored after the SDSU win. But that loss at Hawaii just makes many want the season to come to an end.
I guess that’s not particularly motivating. On Saturday the Rebels should play for themselves and have fun. There’s no pressure there.