UNLV vs. Colorado State: Three Keys To A Rebels Win
UNLV looks for its first win of 2020 against Colorado State. Here’s our preview of how the Rebels can upset the Rams.
Can the Rebels keep the Rams reeling?
WEEK 12: UNLV Rebels (0-4) vs. Colorado State Rams (1-2)
WHEN: Saturday, November 21 — 3:30 PM MT/2:30 PM PT
WHERE: Canvas Stadium; Fort Collins, CO
STREAMING: Fans can sign up to receive a free one-week trial of Fubo, which includes FS2, 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 Colorado State broadcast can be found on 102.9 FM (KARS) in and around Fort Collins.
For satellite radio consumers, the game can also be found on SiriusXM channel 972.
SERIES RECORD: Colorado State leads the series 17-6-1. In the last meeting on November 2, 2019, the Rams defeated the Rebels, 37-17, in Fort Collins.
LAST WEEK: UNLV lost on the road to San Jose State, 34-17, while Colorado State lost on the road to Boise State, 52-21.
ODDS (as of 11/17, via Vegas Insider): Colorado State -16
SP+ PROJECTION: Colorado State by 15.2 (81% win probability)
FEI PROJECTION: Colorado State by 10.2
In one of the more overlooked scheduling quirks of the 2020 Mountain West football season, the UNLV Rebels will travel to Fort Collins for the second year in a row to face off with the Colorado State Rams.
The outlook has improved for Marcus Arroyo’s Rebels over the last few weeks, though sloppy penalties and a work-in-progress defense have held them back in closer-than-expected losses to Fresno State and San Jose State over the past couple of weeks. Hitting the road to face a Colorado State team that got blown out in an unpredictable way won’t make things any easier, though Steve Addazio’s Rams still have plenty of questions of their own to answer after the season’s first half.
Here’s how UNLV can finally get in the win column with an upset against the Rams.
Three Keys to a UNLV Victory
1. Make the Rams pay for waffling at quarterback.
On the surface, Colorado State’s Patrick O’Brien has had an okay year to this point, sporting a 60.7% completion rate while averaging 8.5 yards on his 66 attempts with three touchdowns and just one interception. However, he’s struggled mightily on third downs, converting on just four of 18 situations, and he has only played one full game in three weeks.
That’s because Temple transfer Todd Centeio started the season opener against Fresno State, then took over in the second half last week against Boise State after O’Brien completed just 9-of-20 passes while the game got away from them.
The insistence on putting Centeio in the game, though, is more than a little reminiscent of former CSU head coach Mike Bobo’s infatuation with Faton Bauta a few years ago. He hasn’t really shown himself to be any kind of passing threat, completing just 12-of-32 attempts in two appearances, and the element of his game that O’Brien doesn’t have, running ability, didn’t make much of a difference last week against the Broncos.
UNLV has been burned by running quarterbacks a couple of times in 2020 — Fresno State’s Jake Haener had a long touchdown run and San Jose State’s Nick Nash had 94 rushing yards on just eight carries — but it shouldn’t be much of a secret what the Rams want to do if Centeio is in the backfield. Slow that down when it happens and it could make life easier for the offense as the game progresses.
2. Improve against the run.
In the “something’s gotta give” department, this game features the worst rushing offense in the Mountain West against the worst run defense. Without adjusting for sacks, Colorado State is averaging only 3.18 yards per carry while UNLV allows 6.18, a disparity that translates to advanced metrics, too: The Rams are a bottom-ten team in the FBS by line yards per carry, opportunity rate, and power success rate, while UNLV isn’t much better on the defensive side of those numbers.
Needless to say, Addazio and offensive coordinator Joey Lynch might be sorely tempted to feature Centeio and running backs Marcus McElroy and A’jon Vivens as a way to soften up the Rebels before attacking through the air. Linemen like Kolo Uasike and Eliel Elimare winning up front would be a huge boost to their upset chances.
3. Find ways to get rid of the ball quickly.
One potentially significant mismatch in this game will revolve around how well the Rebels can protect the quarterback. Whether it’s been Max Gilliam or Justin Rogers under center, UNLV has taken a step backwards in that regard because their 13.7% sack rate allowed ranks 123rd in the country. That number is even worse on passing downs, where it balloons to 20.5%, which makes Colorado State’s 11.6% sack rate on defense (fourth-best in the country) all the more concerning.
Scott Patchan has been the tip of the spear on that front for the Rams, tallying a team-high 3.5 sacks so far while ranking in the top five nationally by quarterback pressure percentage, but he’s hardly alone since four other CSU defenders have at least 1.5 sacks, as well. Rather than rolling the dice on developing plays down the field, UNLV might be better served with implementing more running back or tight end screens and quick hits to freshmen receivers Kyle Williams and Zyell Griffin, letting them try to win one-on-one in space.
There’s no doubt that UNLV has shored up a lot of what ailed them in the first couple of weeks, but the Rams could pose one too many problems for them. Even if the defense can bottle up CSU’s running game, will the secondary also be able to contain Dante Wright and Trey McBride in the passing game? What happens if Charles Williams scuffles to just four yards per carry once again? Will the ongoing quarterback rotation of Rogers and Gilliam be an asset or a hindrance against a strong pass rush?
This probably won’t be a blowout, but if the Rams don’t get too cute on offense, they should win comfortably.
Colorado State 31, UNLV 21