UNLV vs. Fresno State: Game Preview, Kick Time, TV & Radio Schedule, Odds, Prediction
The Rebels look to build off last week’s surprise win while the Bulldogs hope to rebound at home. Here’s how to watch and what to watch for.
Both teams have issues to resolve.
WEEK 8: UNLV Rebels (2-4, 0-2 Mountain West) vs. Fresno State Bulldogs (2-3, 0-1 MW)
WHEN: Friday, October 18 — 7:00 PM PT/8:00 PM MT
WHERE: Bulldog Stadium; Fresno, California (40,737)
TV: CBS Sports Network
RADIO: The Fresno State broadcast can be found around the Central Valley on ESPN 940 AM, while the UNLV broadcast can be found on 1100 AM and 100.9 FM.
SERIES RECORD: Fresno State leads the series 14-7. In the last meeting on November 3, 2018, the Bulldogs defeated the Rebels, 48-3, in Las Vegas.
LAST WEEK: Fresno State suffered a 43-24 defeat on the road against Air Force, while UNLV beat Vanderbilt on the road 34-10.
ODDS (via OddsShark): Fresno State -16
SP+ PROJECTION: Fresno State by 17.3 (84% win probability)
FEI PROJECTION: Fresno State by 13.5
Fresno State, to be frank, is not having the year it expected to have.
The disappointments of non-conference play were hardly in the rear view before Air Force pounded the Bulldogs with their punishing ground game and saddled them with a conference loss, a shocking setback for the defending champs. How much bounce-back will Jeff Tedford and his team have against another conference foe prepared to do the same thing?
UNLV, meanwhile, comes into the game off of what might be the most surprising win by any Mountain West team this year, trouncing Vanderbilt on their own turf, having rediscovered their offensive strength while getting tougher on defense. The odds would seem to be stacked against Tony Sanchez, but it will all depend on what Rebels team shows up on Friday night.
Here are the keys to a victory for both Fresno State and UNLV.
Three Keys to a UNLV Victory
1. Don’t let the Bulldogs out of being pinned down on offense.
Fresno State has been pretty good about converting long drives into points, averaging 2.22 points on drives that begin inside their own 20-yard line, but that’s also been a relative strength of the Rebels defense, as well. UNLV has allowed just 0.75 points when facing the same opportunities, so winning the first few plays of a given drive will be crucial for them, especially since that could tilt field position in their favor as the game progresses.
2. Get some big plays from the defensive line for once.
The Rebels have been remarkably consistent about generating tackles for loss, collecting four in four straight games before earning five TFLs at Vanderbilt, but nearly all of that production has come from beyond the first line of defense. Seven different UNLV defenders have at least two TFLs, but end Nick Dehdashtian leads the defensive line with just 1.5.
It’s no wonder, then, that UNLV ranks 92nd in Defensive Stuff Rate. Fresno State doesn’t have the most dynamic running game, but Nate Neal, Dominion Ezinwa, and company must do more to take that element away if the Rebels want to bolster their upset bid.
3. Avoid the temptation to get cute on offense.
Air Force had a tremendous amount of success running between the tackles against the Bulldogs last week, which is a lesson that offensive Garin Justice could take to heart. The Rebels have thrown the ball 51% of the time in 2019, but they got back to basics and ran it three quarters of the time in their win at Vanderbilt, leaning on Chad Magyar and Charles Williams to set up the passing game.
The Bulldogs defensive line has been lackluster in a lot of respects, as they rank 99th in the FBS by Stuff Rate, 108th in Power Success Rate, and 116th in Opportunity Rate. In other words, if Williams and Magyar haven’t accounted for 35-40 combined touches in this game, something has gone terrible wrong.
Three Keys to a Fresno State Victory
1. Keep Ronnie Rivers involved.
Considering the plague of injuries suffered behind him at the running back position and his explosive finish to the 2018 season, it has to be somewhat curious that the junior running back is averaging just 14.5 touches per game to this point. UNLV’s front seven isn’t great — the Rebels are 114th in Line Yards Per Carry allowed and 106th in Defensive Opportunity Rate — so there should be opportunities for him to put up his best numbers of the year.
Failing that, though, offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb may want to utilize more RPOs or play action to at least give the impression Rivers will be heavily involved, even if it’s something as simple as a screen or a swing pass.
2. Make Kenyon Oblad uncomfortable.
Do the Bulldogs have a consistent pass rush? It’s difficult to say, but their overall sack rate on defense, 5.5%, is slightly below the FBS average and would suggest they don’t. It’ll be important, though, since that hasn’t really been a strength for UNLV.
Their 9.6% sack rate on offense ranks 113th nationally, so all Fresno State needs to do is split the difference between Vanderbilt, who had zero sacks last Saturday, and Boise State, who had five sacks by himself against the Rebels. They may not get a litany of big plays from the front, but the ‘Dogs cannot get shut out.
3. If UNLV threatens to score, get stops in the red zone.
This could be easier said than done. Fresno State is next-to-last in the Mountain West in the percentage of touchdowns allowed on opponents’ red zone drives, giving up six points on 16 of 22 chances, while UNLV has made the most of their limited opportunities, scoring 13 touchdowns on a conference-low 18 red zone drives.
This will probably end up as the kind of result where no one is happy: The Rebels miss their shot to topple a teetering conference foe, and the Bulldogs fail again to overwhelm what should be a beatable opponent.
Fresno State 31, UNLV 21