Aggies look to get back on track against the struggling Rebels
WEEK 7: Utah State Aggies (3-2) vs. UNLV Rebels (0-5)
WHEN: Saturday, October 16th, 2021 – 5:00 PM MT/4:00 PM PT
WHERE: Allegiant Stadium; Las Vegas, Nevada (72,000)
TV: CBS Sports Network
STREAMING: FuboTV – Get a 7-day free trial
RADIO: Utah State radio broadcast on 1280 the zone (1280 AM), 1280thezone.com / Tunein.com
SERIES RECORD: Utah State leads the all-time series, 17-7. In the last meeting on October 13th, 2018, the Aggies defeated the Rebels, 59-28, in Logan.
ODDS (via ESPN): Utah State -7
SP+ PROJECTION: Utah State by 2.4
FEI PROJECTION: Utah State by 7.6
Utah State is coming off a desperately needed bye week after suffering consecutive losses. They’ll face a winless UNLV team that is hungry for their first win of the season. Though the Rebels haven’t won yet, they’ve been competitive in most of their games and have enough talent on the offensive side of the ball to put a scare into the Aggies. There will be no easy victory in Las Vegas and it will be a fight to the bitter end.
Three Keys to an Aggie Victory
1. Establish a better run defense
The Aggies’ run defense has been lackluster through five games. USU is currently giving up 204.2 yards per game, which is near the bottom of college football. Against BYU, the Aggies gave up several huge runs to RB Tyler Allgeier and squandered their chance at pulling the upset late in the game. This happened right after the Aggie offense scored a touchdown to pull within one score of the Cougs, too.
With a chance to put the team on its back, this defense has come up short more than once this season. And when matching up against a desperate opponent like UNLV, this is not a good calculus for winning unless something big changes.
Superstar RB Charles Williams is going to have a field day for the Rebels if USU doesn’t find a way to counter his offensive prowess. The senior back is highly experienced and dynamic. Sporting a healthy rush average of 4.3 ypc, Williams single-handedly kept UNLV competitive against a then-ranked Fresno State team in Fresno. His size is notable and he’s both fast and powerful. He effortlessly ripped off numerous screen runs versus the Bulldogs and bullied whoever got in his way.
Even if it means exposing themselves to the pass, USU would be smart to commit one extra defender in the box to spy Williams. It’s highly doubtful USU can stop him, but frustrating him and slowing him down is the next best option.
— UNLV Football (@unlvfootball) September 25, 2021
2. Light up UNLV’s secondary
The Rebels, like the Aggies, have major weaknesses on defense. The fewest points UNLV has allowed this year was against UTSA, in which they held the Roadrunners to 24 points. Every other team UNLV has played has scored 30 or more. Fresno State scored 38 points and Iowa State netted 48 points. With a weak defense of their own, USU needs to do everything it can to put as many points on the board as possible to avoid a letdown.
Arguably, the biggest weakness USU can take advantage of is UNLV’s secondary. The Rebels are currently giving up a staggering 299.8 yards per game through the air. With the weapons the Aggies boast in the slot, players like Brandon Bowling and Deven Thompkins should have career games versus the Rebels. Their defenders allow huge chunk plays and opponents are garnering almost 12 yards per pass completion. UNLV’s defense hasn’t measurably improved from game to game and if USU can avoid being one-dimensional, they should have their way with this defense.
3. Keep Logan Bonner upright
USU is going to have a tougher time in this contest unless they can protect their QB.
It’s no secret that Logan Bonner has been playing banged up for much of the season. He sustained a deep thigh bruise against Wazzu and he took a major backside hit against Air Force. On top of these big hits, he has been running the ball with the read-option to keep defenses honest. While it’s debatable how effective of a runner he is, it’s obvious he has been hobbled at a few crucial junctures in games this season. Even in just the last game against BYU, he suffered a knee hyperextension and Andrew Peasley had to play the rest of the game.
By all reports, head coach Blake Anderson has been clear that Bonner is as healthy as he has been since the beginning of fall camp. He has stated Bonner will be ready to start against the Rebels. Nevertheless, there have been some alarming trends that can’t be ignored.
ICYMI, @CHbanderson joined Hans and Scotty G on Wednesday to discuss the Aggies' bye week and the upcoming game at UNLV.
— USU Football (@USUFootball) October 13, 2021
Bonner is running more often than is needed. His primary strengths as a QB are making fast decisions and using his quick release to counter blitzes from defenses. UNLV’s defense is weak enough that Bonner can rely on USU’s running back corps to do some heavy offensive lifting on the ground. This will then free Bonner up to spread the ball to the many receivers USU should employ against a terrible secondary. Doing otherwise may not only make for an ineffective game plan but also put the quarterback in physical danger.
Establishing offensive rhythm should be a priority for USU this week after back-to-back weak showings. If Bonner gets hurt again, having to rely on Andrew Peasley may mask some of UNLV’s pass defense struggles since they’ll be tempted to load the box and force Peasley away from his primary strengths as a QB. In a game that will be a slugfest, USU needs to maximize production through the air, which is something Peasley has struggled doing consistently.
On paper, this is supposed to be an easy win for the Aggies. In practice, UNLV is going to give them everything can handle.
For whatever talent UNLV lacks on defense, they sure have plenty on offense to help make up for it. The Rebels may not stop the Aggies, but they’ll make sure USU has a dilly of a time trying to stymie them in return. With both squads sporting extremely flawed defenses, this game has the makings of a classic shootout.
The simplest way USU can walk away from Las Vegas with their fourth victory of the season is to get superior production from Bonner. The Rebels have a QB situation that is anything but settled and this can help USU’s defense with opportunities to frustrate any offensive rhythm UNLV may get. If the Rebels are taking higher risks and trying different plays with varied signal callers, USU needs to force the issue and try and force a turnover or two, even if they give up yardage in the process.
USU 42, UNLV 27