Eastern Washington vs. UNLV: Game Preview, How to Watch, Odds, Prediction
The Rebels will open 2021 against a strong FCS foe in the Eastern Washington Eagles. Here’s how to watch and what to watch for.
How can UNLV begin the year with a win?
WEEK 1: Eastern Washington Eagles vs. UNLV Rebels
WHEN: Thursday, September 2 — 7:00 PM PT/8:00 PM MT
WHERE: Allegiant Stadium; Las Vegas, NV
STREAMING: Fans can sign up to receive a free one-week trial of Fubo, which includes Stadium, by following this link.
You can also find the audio broadcast on LVSportsNetwork.com.
RADIO: The UNLV broadcast can be found in and around Las Vegas on ESPN 1100 AM and 100.9 FM. The Eastern Washington broadcast can be found in Cheney on ESPN 700 AM and in Spokane on 105.3 FM.
SERIES RECORD: This is the first meeting between UNLV and Eastern Washington.
GAME NOTES (PDF): Eastern Washington | UNLV
ODDS: to be determined
SP+ PROJECTION: UNLV by 5.4
The UNLV Rebels will turn the page on a winless campaign last fall by hosting the Eastern Washington Eagles in their season opener on Thursday night.
EWU is the first opponent in a rigorous non-conference schedule and the Rebels could find themselves on perilous ground against a FCS title contender if they aren’t prepared to hit the ground running. How can Marcus Arroyo and company avoid what has been tabbed as one of the year’s most likely FCS-over-FBS upsets?
Here’s how the Rebels can get 2021 underway with a win against the Eagles.
Three Keys to a UNLV Victory
1. Don’t let Eric Barriere get into a rhythm.
One element of the game that could devolve into a serious mismatch will depend on how much UNLV has fixed last year’s issues with defending against the pass. The Rebels got picked on by both Carson Strong and Nick Starkel last fall and while Eric Barriere may not have the same immediate name recognition, the Walton Payton Award runner-up is plenty capable of doing damage.
A preseason All-American and the Big Sky’s pick as preseason offensive player of the year, Barriere has proven he can shoulder a heavy workload, averaging 42.2 pass attempts per game and 8.2 yards per attempt with 19 touchdowns in seven spring football games earlier this year.
The new trio of expected contributors at defensive end, transfers Connor Murphy and Kylan Wilborn and highly touted freshman Leshaun Bell, will need to generate consistent pressure since both Adam Plant and Jacoby Windmon could be further from the line of scrimmage more often and, well, can’t do it all themselves. EWU can pick the Rebels apart through the air if they don’t.
2. Set up and win manageable third and fourth downs.
One element of the game that often worked against the Rebels in 2020 is that they found themselves behind the eight-ball way too often when it came to moving the chains. When garbage time is filtered out, UNLV’s average third-down distance was 7.93 yards, which ranked 116th in the country.
Some of that challenge was offset by Marcus Arroyo’s willingness to go for it on fourth down — they converted 10-of-15 tries in six games — but winning more often on early downs, especially if they can get improved play from whomever is under center, will be critical.
3. Get the Chuck Wagon some early momentum.
Statistically, Charles Williams had a down year in 2020 but there’s every reason to give him a mulligan and believe both he and the offensive line will rebound. The only question is from where the improvement will come.
One possibility? Set a tone on first down. That’s when Williams has received the lion’s share of carries in his career and been most productive, especially in 2018 and 2019 when he averaged a combined 6.17 yards per carry across the two seasons. That average dropped by nearly two full yards in 2020 but against an explosive EWU offense, don’t be shocked if they utilize Williams to set a tone.
In spite of the lingering uncertainty at quarterback, UNLV should be prepared to match the dangerous Eagles after a normal off-season to prepare for this game and beyond. It won’t be easy, though perhaps a hard-fought victory is precisely what Marcus Arroyo wants to establish a culture of winning.
UNLV 35, Eastern Washington 31