UNLV vs. Wyoming: Three Keys to a Rebels Win
The Rebels open Mountain West football play on the road against the Cowboys. How can UNLV secure a victory?
This might be a must-win for the Rebels.
WEEK 5: UNLV Rebels (1-2) vs. Wyoming Cowboys (3-1)
WHEN: Saturday, September 28 — 5:00 PM PT/6:00 PM MT
WHERE: War Memorial Stadium; Laramie, Wyoming (29,181)
STREAMING: You can use a free seven-day trial of FuboTV by clicking here.
RADIO: The UNLV broadcast can be found on ESPN 1100 AM and 100.9 FM, while the Wyoming broadcast can be found in and around Cheyenne on 1240 AM (KFBC), the flagship of the Cowboys Sports Network. The game can also be streamed through TuneIn.
SERIES RECORD: Wyoming leads the overall series 12-11. In the last meeting on November 12, 2016, the Rebels won the highest-scoring game in Mountain West history, 69-66, in triple overtime.
LAST WEEK: UNLV sat out Week 4 with a bye after losing on the road against Northwestern the week before. Wyoming suffered its first loss of the year on the road against Tulsa, 24-21.
ODDS (via OddsShark): Wyoming -9.5
SP+ PROJECTION: Wyoming by 9.7 (71% win probability)
FEI PROJECTION: Wyoming by 12.4
After a frustrating few weeks of non-conference play, the UNLV Rebels begin their Mountain West football schedule on the road against the Wyoming Cowboys.
UNLV head coach Tony Sanchez is in dire need of a win, though he’d surely prefer one without the pyrotechnics that made the last meeting between these teams one of the most memorable in conference history. The Cowboys won’t make it easy, though, as they’ve leaned hard on their usual stolid defense and a good enough running game to overcome painful shortcomings and score three wins in non-conference play.
The Rebels haven’t won in Laramie since 2003, either, but here’s how they can overcome that recent history and defeat Wyoming.
Three Keys to a UNLV Victory
1. Force Sean Chambers to make plays with his arm.
Among Mountain West quarterbacks who have thrown at least 60 passes, the only one with a lower passer rating than Wyoming’s sophomore is… Armani Rogers. The situational splits don’t even reveal any upsides, either, as Chambers has simply gotten worse in more obvious passing situations, so the first goal of this upset bid will be to make the Cowboys one-dimensional.
One advantage they’ll have in this regard is Wyoming’s injury list: Xazavian Valladay is still atop the depth chart, but he isn’t 100%. Freshman running back Titus Swen may not be, either, and Trey Smith will be out for 4-6 weeks. The other advantage is that UNLV’s linebackers, particularly Rayshad Jackson and Javin White, have keyed some overall improvement in defending the run, allowing just 4.09 yards per carry (before adjusting for sacks). If they can keep Wyoming from reaching its season average on the ground, 5.04 YPC, that could be big even after losing free safety Drew Tejchman for the rest of the year to injury.
2. Hold the line if Wyoming gets moving on offense.
UNLV still doesn’t have a great defense by any stretch, but they have improved a bit on a per-drive basis when it comes to keeping opponents out of the end zone, allowing 2.74 points per drive. Wyoming, by contrast, has been simply average when it comes to turning drives into points, but they have been at their best in the toughest situations, averaging 1.25 PPD (77th nationally) when starting inside their own 20-yard line. That figure might be higher, but the Cowboys have struggled with converting their best chances into points.
Cooper Rothe came into the season generally regarded as the best kicker in the conference, but he has already missed four field goals this season, as many as he missed in 2017 and 2018 combined. Granted, three of those missed kicks were from beyond 40 yards, but if he’s no longer automatic, playing well enough from the 40 to the 20, to limit Wyoming to three points, could make a huge impact.
3. Do not feel compelled to throw the ball deep.
Charles Williams has carried the ball 15, 19 and 16 times in UNLV’s first three games, including just 14 second-half carries where he’s averaged… 8.64 yards per game. He’s clearly the best weapon in this offense, and we all saw what happened two weeks ago when they took the ball out of his hands against Northwestern. If the Rebels don’t pound the rock, it’s probably a bad sign for their chances.
If you’re willing to take Tony Sanchez at his word regarding the approach to this game, it could be a long afternoon for the Rebels at War Memorial. The Cowboys have proven themselves stingy against the run, but the secondary has remained dangerous, despite missing key players for both personal and health reasons, so far, too. Unless UNLV is willing to commit to its strengths, don’t expect this one to be too competitive.
Wyoming 28, UNLV 17