San Diego State vs. UNLV: Keys to a Rebels Win, How to Watch, Odds, Prediction
The Rebels host SDSU looking for their third win in a row. Here’s how to watch the game and what to watch for against the Aztecs.
Are the Aztecs primed for an upset?
WEEK 12: #19 San Diego State Aztecs (9-1, 5-1 Mountain West) vs. UNLV Rebels (2-8, 2-4 Mountain West)
WHEN: Friday, November 19 — 8:30 PM PT/9:30 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 stream the UNLV radio 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 San Diego State broadcast can be found on either XTRA 1360 AM or 101.5 FM (KGB).
SERIES RECORD: San Diego State leads the all-time series, 20-10. In the last meeting on October 24, 2020, the Aztecs defeated the Rebels, 34-6, in Carson.
LAST WEEK: UNLV won at home against Hawaii, 27-13, while San Diego State defeated Nevada at home, 23-21.
ODDS (as of 11/18, via Vegas Insider): San Diego State -11
SP+ PROJECTION: San Diego State by 18.9
FEI PROJECTION: San Diego State by 9.2
PARKER FLEMING PROJECTION: San Diego State 62.84% win probability
The UNLV Rebels have a winning streak on their hands for the first time since the end of the 2019 season. Making it three in a row won’t be easy, though, as the San Diego State Aztecs visit Allegiant Stadium on Friday night.
Brady Hoke’s Aztecs possess one of the nation’s best defenses and have been tested all year long, though there may be a temptation to look past the improving Rebels to a critical Thanksgiving weekend clash against Boise State. Is UNLV in a position to spoil San Diego State’s dream season?
Here’s how the Rebels can beat the Aztecs.
Three Keys to a UNLV Victory
1. Play a turnover-free game.
It may not come as a surprise to learn that UNLV has only played one game this season in which they did not turn the ball over, but that has to be priority number one in this game because, frankly, the Aztecs defense doesn’t need much help to succeed.
Much of this falls on freshman quarterback Cameron Friel, who’s improved by some measures — his current 63.4% completion rate would be a new program record if the season ended today — but has shown, even during the current winning streak, that there’s still plenty he has to learn. At the moment, Friel sports a 4.7% interception rate and lost a fumble last week against Hawaii, both of which are going to have to improve on Friday if the Rebels want any chance of pulling an upset.
2. Put the clamps on the Aztecs ground game.
Believe it or not, teams have found it increasingly difficult to run the ball against Peter Hansen’s defense as the season has progressed. After picking up just 16 tackles for loss in the team’s first five games, UNLV has 38 in the last five and that goes a long way toward explaining why the Rebels now rank 12th nationally by line yards per carry allowed on standard downs ((first down, second-and-7 or fewer, third-and-4 or fewer, fourth-and-4 or fewer), 18th by opportunity rate allowed, 14th by power success rate allowed, and 8th in defensive stuff rate.
That newfound prowess is going to come in handy against a San Diego State offense that knows exactly what it wants to do… even if its successes come and go. The Aztecs currently rank 106th in Expected Points Added on early downs despite running the ball nearly 60% of the time on first and second downs, which provides context to the reality that they’ve only moved the chains 35% of the time on third downs. San Diego State feasts in short-yardage situations, though, with a 83.3% power success rate that ranks seventh in the country, so how well the Rebels can force, say, 3rd-and-5 rather than 3rd-and-3 could make a substantial difference in their upset bid.
3. Don’t let Lucas Johnson escape the pocket.
UNLV has struggled for most of the year to contain mobile quarterbacks, with Arizona State’s Jayden Daniels and San Jose State’s Nick Nash being the most prominent examples of this, so while Aztecs quarterback Lucas Johnson isn’t asked to run all that often with a legion of talented running backs to shoulder that load, he could do some damage if the Rebels pass rush loses containment.
Without adjusting for sacks, Johnson has averaged 4.68 yards per carry to date this season and the Aztecs do like to get him on the move with designed bootlegs, so it will be on UNLV’s linebackers to keep him bottled up.
In spite of their obvious strengths, the Aztecs have flirted quite a bit with disaster all season long, piling up five wins by seven or fewer points to date. Combined with UNLV’s big improvements since midseason, it seems obvious that an upset alert is in order.
What seems likely to hold the Rebels back is turnovers, which is a problem that has lingered despite the improved momentum. All else being equal, this is a game that will probably be a lot closer than many would suspect, but that element of the game will be what enables the Aztecs to keep UNLV at arm’s length and stay in control of the West division race.
San Diego State 27, UNLV 17