UNLV vs. Nevada: Three Keys to a Rebels Win
The Fremont Cannon is up for grabs in Tony Sanchez’s last game as head coach. Here’s how the Rebels can finish the season with a win.
How can the Rebels paint the cannon red this year?
WEEK 14: UNLV Rebels (3-8, 1-6 MW) vs. Nevada Wolf Pack (7-4, 4-3 MW)
WHEN: Saturday, November 30 — 12:00 PM PT/1:00 PM MT
WHERE: Mackay Stadium; Reno, Nevada (27,000)
TV: AT&T SportsNet
RADIO: The UNLV broadcast can be found in and around Las Vegas on ESPN 1100 AM and 100.9 FM, while the Nevada broadcast can be found in and around that town up north on ESPN 94.5 FM.
SERIES RECORD: Nevada leads the series 26-18. In the last meeting on November 24, 2018, UNLV defeated the Wolf Pack, 34-29, in Las Vegas.
LAST WEEK: UNLV won its final game at Sam Boyd Stadium over San Jose State, 38-35, while Nevada won on the road at Fresno State, 31-28.
ODDS (via OddsShark): Nevada -7
SP+ PROJECTION: Nevada by 9.7 (71% win probability)
FEI PROJECTION: Nevada by 1.9
One of the best rivalry trophies in college football is up for grabs on Saturday afternoon when the UNLV Rebels head to Reno to face the Nevada Wolf Pack.
The battle for the Fremont Cannon may be overshadowed, however, by the fact that Rebels head coach Tony Sanchez will be on the sideline for the last time, having been notified that he will be relieved of his duties no matter the result. He’s had the Wolf Pack’s number more than once, though, and he could leave the rivalry with a winning record if his Rebels emerge victorous.
Here’s our preview of how UNLV can beat the Wolf Pack and paint the cannon red.
Three Keys to a UNLV Victory
1. Don’t let the Wolf Pack ground game a head of steam.
Nevada’s outburst last week against Fresno State, in which they ran for 254 yards on 34 carries, was far and away their best ground performance of the year because they have otherwise averaged 2.7 yards per carry in Mountain West play. The latter figure is good news for the Rebels, who gave up 7.32 YPC over a four-game stretch through most of October but have improved to allowing just 4.57 YPC in the last four games.
One big reason for this is the emergence of linebacker Rayshad Jackson, who is averaging 10.5 tackles per game and has tallied seven tackles for loss over the last month. For a defense that has struggled to consistently disrupt, every little bit counts against a hard-running duo like Toa Taua and Devonte Lee.
2. Brother, can you spare a sack?
It’s not a stretch now to say that the Rebels own one of the worst pass rushes in college football: The only team in the country with a lower sack rate than UNLV’s 2.6% is Middle Tennessee State, and it doesn’t matter much whether you look at standard downs (128th) or passing downs (121st).
Can the Rebels, with zero sacks in four of the last five games, get any consistent pressure on Nevada quarterback Carson Strong? They absolutely must if they want to have a chance because he’s having a pretty solid November, completing 69.1% of his passes with six touchdowns and just one interception this month.
3. Win third downs on offense.
This is something that both teams actually have in common because they have both been miserable when it comes to moving the chains, and that is especially true in Mountain West play, where the Wolf Pack (36.3%) and Rebels (24.8%) are the two worst teams in the conference.
Don’t make the mistake, though, of thinking this doesn’t apply on defense, too. The difference is that both teams have been rock solid on that front against conference foes, with UNLV’s 37.5% ranking fourth and Nevada’s 37.9% ranking fifth.
One guy who could have an outsized influence on this is Kenyon Oblad, who has struggled mightily on third downs. Among FBS quarterbacks with more than 50 third-down pass attempts, Oblad has the lowest completion percentage, 38.1%, and only Northwestern’s Aidan Smith has a lower passer rating than his 69.52. In converting just 12-of-63 tries through the air, he’s been a major hindrance, but a one-week turnaround could make him a hero.
The Rebels don’t seem like they’ll be able to run the football like they did against San Jose State last week since Nevada’s defensive front is a much tougher one, and things haven’t gone particularly well when UNLV has been forced to put the game in their quarterback’s hands. It should be a close one overall, but look for the Wolf Pack to turn the cannon blue again.
Nevada 24, UNLV 20