Boise State vs. UNLV: Three Keys to a Rebels Win
The Rebels get their toughest draw yet in hosting Boise State. Here’s our preview of how UNLV can beat the Broncos.
UNLV faces Goliath.
WEEK 14: Boise State Broncos (4-1, 4-0 Mountain West) vs. UNLV Rebels (0-5)
WHEN: Friday, December 4 — 6:30 PM PT/7:30 PM MT
WHERE: Allegiant Stadium; Las Vegas, NV
TV: CBS Sports Network
STREAMING: Fans can sign up to receive a free one-week trial of Fubo, which includes CBSSN, 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 Boise State broadcast can be found throughout Idaho on the affiliates of the Bronco Radio Network, including flagship 670 AM (KBOI) in Boise.
SERIES RECORD: Boise State leads the series 8-3. In the last meeting on October 5, 2019, the Broncos defeated the Rebels in Laramie, 53-17.
LAST WEEK: UNLV lost at home to Wyoming, 45-14, while Boise State had its home matchup against San Jose State canceled because of COVID-19 concerns.
ODDS (as of 12/1, via Vegas Insider): Boise State -27
SP+ PROJECTION: to be determined
FEI PROJECTION: to be determined
In one of the last scheduling quirks of 2020, the UNLV Rebels welcome the Boise State Broncos back to Las Vegas for the second straight year on Friday night.
Things haven’t gone as planned for Marcus Arroyo and the Rebels this fall, who now sport the worst point differential in the Mountain West after their latest loss to the Wyoming Cowboys, which makes facing the conference-leading Broncos at this juncture feel at least a little unfair. Though it appears like a mismatch on paper, never say never.
Here’s how UNLV can beat Boise State.
Three Keys to a UNLV Victory
1. Test Boise’s biggest concern early.
Boise State had to scrap their home game against SJSU last week thanks to a dreadful surplus of injuries and COVID-19 protocols, though the aftermath may have provided a glimpse of something that UNLV can exploit. KTVB’s Will Hall quoted Broncos head coach Bryan Harsin as saying “our trenches are thin” while laying out the scope of just how banged up the defensive line, in particular, has become. With no Demetri Washington, no Sam Whitney, and potentially limited availability from the likes of Scale Igiehon and Jackson Cravens, can the Rebels finally get their ground game running consistently?
After adjusting for sacks, UNLV has averaged a healthy 5.03 yards per carry, but Charles Williams hasn’t been as big a part of that as you might think. Though he has 11 runs of ten or more yards, he’s still only managed 3.69 YPC himself on a team-high 96 carries, meaning it’s been a lot more bust than boom in five games. The Rebels still have the size on their offensive line, however, despite potentially starting two freshmen (Tiger Shanks and Leif Fautanu), to make testing just how thin the Broncos are up front a worthwhile venture.
2. See what more of the young guys can offer.
Despite the mounting losses, UNLV has had some individual success stories. Wide receiver Kyle Williams, with 25 catches for 282 yards, is one of the most productive freshman pass catchers anywhere in the country while Zyell Griffin has flashed as a downfield threat. Sophomore defensive end Jacoby Windmon has five sacks, the most by any Rebels defender since 2014.
It appears that Arroyo is prepared to let more of his young guys ride, some by necessity and others by choice, which will be a fascinating narrative thread to follow if nothing else. LaShaun Bell had already been listed as a defensive end for at least the last few weeks but now he’s joined by Brennon Scott as a backup, which puts the top two recruits in the 2020 class in a position to get more playing time. Shanks made his first start at left tackle last week while sophomore Naki Fahina started in place of the injured Kolo Uasike. Doug Brumfield saw time at quarterback in place of Gilliam, and one true freshman (Ricky Johnson) looks like he may replace another (Sir Oliver Everett) as a starting cornerback.
This doesn’t necessarily mean overhauling the entire system on either side of the ball, either. It may just mean, for instance, finding more opportunities to incorporate redshirt freshman Courtney Reese as a pass-catching option out of the backfield since he has at least two catches in the last three games or utilizing zone reads when Brumfield is in the game with Williams. Finding out what works and what may not can have a long-term impact.
3. Sell out to stop Hank Bachmeier.
Windmon has been the front seven’s best weapon, but help around him has been uneven at best. Fellow defensive end Adam Plant has looked good with 2.5 sacks and six tackles for loss himself, but Eliel Ehimare has been the only other disruptive presence of note and he’s been mostly quiet on that front since the Nevada loss in October.
Making the Broncos quarterback make plays to stay on the field is probably UNLV’s best chance to hang around, though, and even that is a tough ask. Though Boise State has allowed a 9.3% sack rate on passing downs, Bachmeier has converted 17-of-30 third down opportunities. If the Rebels are going to play the underdog role to the hilt, though, bringing a lot of blitzes when the situation arises is a good way to ensure you’re at least going down swinging.
Boise State has managed to soldier on despite its ongoing COVID-19 issues, but there isn’t much to suggest that the Rebels are better suited to take advantage of the situation than Colorado State or Hawaii were. The Broncos offense, in particular, has looked strong all year when its been closer to full strength, so this should be a long evening for UNLV.
Boise State 49, UNLV 17