San Diego State vs. UNLV: Three Keys to a Rebels Win
The Rebels hope to get back on track at home against the Aztecs. Here’s our game preview of how UNLV can upset SDSU.
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How will the Rebels solve an elite defense?
WEEK 9: UNLV Rebels (2-5, 0-3 Mountain West) vs. San Diego State Aztecs (6-1, 3-1 MW)
WHEN: Saturday, October 26 — 7:30 PM PT/8:00 PM MT
WHERE: Sam Boyd Stadium; Las Vegas, Nevada (35,500)
TV: CBS Sports Network
STREAMING: You can get a free seven-day trial of FuboTV by clicking here. You can also find the audio broadcast on TuneIn.
RADIO: The UNLV broadcast can be found in and around Las Vegas on 1100 AM and 100.9 FM, while the San Diego State broadcast can be found on 101.5 FM (KGB), XTRA 1360 AM, and Fox Sports Inland Empire (1350 AM).
SERIES RECORD: San Diego State leads the series 18-10. In the last meeting on November 10, 2018, the Rebels defeated the Aztecs, 27-24, in San Diego.
LAST WEEK: UNLV dropped its third conference game of the season in a 56-27 defeat at Fresno State. San Diego State won on the road at San Jose State, 27-17.
WEBSITES: GoAztecs.com, the official San Diego State athletics website | UNLVRebels.com, the official UNLV athletics website
GAME NOTES (PDF): San Diego State | UNLV
ODDS (via OddsShark): San Diego State -13.5
SP+ PROJECTION: San Diego State by 14.6 (80% win probability)
FEI PROJECTION: San Diego State by 13.3
As if suffering a 29-point loss against one West division contender wasn’t enough, things are about to get much tougher for the UNLV Rebels when they host the San Diego State Aztecs on Saturday night.
Rocky Long’s squad has improved seemingly every week, but most of the challenge will revolve around finding answers against a defense that has a convincing case as the best in the Group of 5. It’s been done before — the Rebels beat the Aztecs just last year, after all — but the margin of error in securing bowl eligibility is razor thin at this point.
Here’s how the Rebels can score their third win of the season by defeating the Aztecs.
Three Keys to a UNLV Victory
1. Do not lose the turnover battle.
The wheels didn’t really fall off for UNLV last week until late in the third quarter, when the Rebels offense had four straight drives that finished like this: Fumble, turnover on downs, interception, interception. Obviously, they can’t have that kind of performance again, especially against a defense that is currently second in the Mountain West with 14 takeaways.
On the other side of the ball, the UNLV defense has the difficult task of making their own breaks against a SDSU offense that doesn’t often make serious mistakes. The Aztecs currently rank second among all FBS teams with just three giveaways this season, but they may also have benefited from a little bit of fumble luck because they’ve lost just one of five fumbles. If they get the ball to bounce their way, the Rebels absolutely must cash in.
2. Don’t let the Aztecs’ running game get a head of steam.
San Diego State’s new-look offense hasn’t made them any less eager to establish the run — they still run the ball about 60% of the time, as they did in 2018 — but an offensive line that was expected to remain a strength hasn’t been consistently up to snuff. Without adjusting for sacks, the Aztecs average 3.32 yards per carry and own a Stuff Rate of 23.9% (115th nationally) and an Opportunity Rate of just 43% (108th).
Of course, UNLV hasn’t been very good by those same measures on defense, with a below-average Stuff Rate and Opportunity Rate allowed. Juwan Washington is all but guaranteed to get at least 20 touches, but 80 yards rushing is going to help the Rebels’ cause a whole lot more than 100 or 120 and the defensive line is going to have a lot of say in whether that happens or not.
3. Keep Noah Bean involved in the passing game.
Most teams haven’t reached the halfway point of conference play just yet, but no receiver in the conference has done more damage per opportunity than UNLV’s sophomore tight end. Though he has just five catches in three games against the Mountain West, he is currently averaging a conference-high 29.4 yards per catch, including a 60-yard touchdown last week at Fresno State.
A big target like Bean between the seams could do a lot to help soften up a pass defense that has allowed just 17 plays of more than 20 yards through the air, the second-best figure in the conference.
In last year’s upset, UNLV caught San Diego State at a bad time. The defense had begun to slip for the first time, and the shuffling between Christian Chapman and Ryan Agnew at quarterback threw the offense into disarray. This time around, Agnew appears to have grown more comfortable in the starting role and the stifling defense is playing better than it has in at least a calendar year.
Suffice it to say, don’t expect anything more than business as usual for the Aztecs.
San Diego State 31, UNLV 10