UNLV vs. San Diego State: Three Keys to a Rebels Win
Marcus Arroyo and the Rebels get their 2020 football season underway on the road against SDSU. Here’s how UNLV can defeat the Aztecs.
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The Rebels will face a tough defense right away.
WEEK 8: UNLV Rebels vs. San Diego State Aztecs
WHEN: Saturday, October 24 — 7:30 PM PT/8:30 PM MT
WHERE: Dignity Health Sports Park; Carson, California
TV: CBS Sports Network
STREAMING: Fans can sign up to receive a free one-week trial of Fubo, which includes FS1, by following this link.
You can also find the audio broadcast on TuneIn.
RADIO: The UNLV broadcast can be found in and around Las Vegas on ESPN 1100 AM and 100.9 FM. The San Diego State broadcast can be found in and around San Diego on 101.5 FM (KGB) and XTRA 1360 AM.
SERIES RECORD: San Diego State leads the series 19-10. In the last meeting on October 26, 2019, the Aztecs defeated the Rebels, 20-17, in Las Vegas.
WEBSITES: UNLVRebels.com, the official UNLV athletics website | GoAztecs.com, the official San Diego State athletics website
GAME NOTES (PDF): UNLV | San Diego State
ODDS (as of 10/22, via Vegas Insider): San Diego State -14.5
SP+ PROJECTION: San Diego State by 17.6 (85% win probability)
FEI PROJECTION: San Diego State by 17.4
After busting last fall in their attempt to get back to a bowl game for the first time since 2013, the UNLV Rebels will finally get back into action after a prolonged off-season when they hit the road to face the San Diego State Aztecs.
There’s no doubt that a new energy has been instilled in the program under new head coach Marcus Arroyo but a host of uncertainties, some foreseen and some not, could make things challenging right away. To start, they’ll get to deal with the newest iteration of what is annually one of the nation’s toughest defenses while wrestling with potential personnel losses that can be pinned on the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Here’s how UNLV can begin 2020 with an upset over San Diego State.
Three Keys to a UNLV Victory
1. Whoever the quarterback is, stick with him.
If you haven’t taken a look at UNLV’s depth chart, one thing to note right away is that Arroyo hasn’t minded being coy about who will get the start under center. In his own words to the Las Vegas Sun earlier this week, he noted that it is “probably closer to three guys” — Kenyon Oblad, Max Gilliam, and TCU transfer Justin Rogers — but beginning his tenure with the kind of rotation that, in part, sunk previous head coach Tony Sanchez is something he’ll want to avoid.
For my money, Oblad should get the start because of his familiarity with the personnel around him and, of the three, we know that he can hold his own against a stingy secondary like the Aztecs. Last year, he completed 21-of-39 passes for 255 yards and two touchdowns against San Diego State, marking one of the few times an opponent avoided killer mistakes against them all year long. That kind of care will be important.
2. Get production from the wide receivers.
One problem that whomever ends up as QB1 will have to contend with is the fact that, at least for one week, the Rebels will be without many of their most experienced players at wide receiver. Brandon Pressley, Mekhi Stevenson and Randal Grimes are all MIA from the initial depth chart and it’s the last name that could have the biggest impact. In last year’s close loss to the Aztecs, Grimes had five catches for 121 yards and a touchdown.
The replacements, most notably Tyleek Collins and Steve Jenkins, have flashed at times over the past two years, but they’ll need to bring their A-game in order to keep SDSU from focusing all of their attention on stopping Charles Williams. It’ll be especially helpful if the Rebels can create chunk plays against a secondary that allowed just 35 passes of 20 or more yards last fall.
3. Make Carson Baker uncomfortable.
The Aztecs have already named their starting quarterback but one challenge that remains to be resolved is whether UNLV can generate a consistent pass rush. They were one of the worst defenses in the country on that front last fall, as their 3% sack rate ranked 128th among FBS teams, and it’s not immediately clear who will step up to spearhead the renewed effort in the new-look 4-2-5 unit. Jacoby Windmon? Adam Plant? Jalen Graves? Your guess is as good as mine.
In particular, the quartet of defensive ends on the two-deep will be under a lot of pressure to win against a pair of tackles, Zachary Thomas and Kyle Spalding, that will have anywhere from 50 to 80 pounds on most of them. If they get stonewalled often, it could be a long night.
After nearly a decade of lopsided losses, the Rebels have been able to play the Aztecs close over the last couple seasons and, given the questions that surround how effective the San Diego State offense will be this fall, it seems reasonable to suggest that UNLV will be able to hang around once again.
The biggest concerns, as I see it, are that the Rebels will need to score touchdowns and avoid killer mistakes in order to keep the Aztecs on their heels. I’d wager the former will be a bigger challenge than the latter despite the quarterback mystery, but while it seems like easy money to expect them to cover the large spread, UNLV will probably get more frustrated by a strong Aztecs defense than they want to be.
San Diego State 21, UNLV 13