UNLV vs. San Jose State: Spartans Game Preview, How To Watch, Odds, Prediction
San Jose State plays host to UNLV in a crucial Mountain West showdown
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Week 6: UNLV Rebels (4-1, 2-0) @ San Jose State Spartans (3-1, 1-0)
When: Friday, October 7th – 7:30 PST
Where: CEFCU Stadium; San Jose, CA
TV: CBS Sports Network
Odds: San Jose State -7 Over/Under 53
Who would’ve thunk it? First place on the line in a battle between UNLV and San Jose State? It may not be bringing College Gameday to campus like the surprise showdown in Lawrence, Kansas, but don’t be fooled; what’s at stake Friday night at CEFCU Stadium is enormous – the inside track to a berth in the Mountain West Conference Championship game on December 3rd. For the Spartans, it will require their most complete effort of the season against a Rebels squad brimming with confidence.
The resumés of UNLV and San Jose State look remarkably similar, with the exception being an extra game played by the Rebels, who sit at 4-1 overall and 2-0 in conference, compared to a 3-1, 1-0 split for the Spartans. They each own a win over an FBS team, their losses are on the road to middling Power 5 competition (UNLV at Cal, San Jose State at Auburn), and they both have an impressive road win in conference play. Of all the similarities though, it would be foolish to look beyond the most important position on the field–quarterback.
Both Doug Brumfield for the Rebels and Chevan Cordeiro of the Spartans have been at the top of their game leading the respective offenses. They are also equally difficult to prepare for because they are dual threat QBs, able to evade an oncoming pass rush and scramble for a first down as easily as they can fire a dart 20 yards down the field to a streaking wide receiver. San Jose State will need to contain Brumfield (he is playing too well to expect a complete shutdown), to put themselves in position for the W.
The San Jose State defense has been up to the task all season, allowing an average of less than 16 points per game. With the exception of the second half at Auburn, when a combination of the Tigers SEC depth and the southern humidity wore down the Spartans, they have gotten stronger as the games progress as well. If there is one area they have struggled with though, it has been handling running quarterbacks. Going all the way back to week 1 against FCS Portland State, Dante Chachere ran for 83 yards on 14 carries/scrambles. Auburn’s mobile QB Robby Ashford gained 64 yards on just 7 carries while getting less than half the reps in the week 2 matchup. On Saturday, Wyoming’s Andrew Peasley totaled 93 yards on 7 rushes, including a 61 yard scamper that led to a 3rd quarter touchdown. Beyond the yards though, there were several plays in which Peasley was under pressure, but he kept the play alive with his feet before finding a receiver. This is worrisome because Peasley is not known as a dual threat QB in the mold of Cordeiro or Brumfield. The Spartans front seven will need to not only get pressure on Brumfield, but tackle well when they have him in their grasp. Otherwise the tall, lanky 6’5” QB will be extending drives and keeping the defense on the field.
That defense will be challenged up front as well, from a bruising Rebels running game spearheaded by Aidan Robbins, who averages over 100 yards a game. Robbins has 8 rushing TD’s on the year to go along with one through the air, ranking 2nd in the country for running backs. Brumfield’s primary target in the passing game is Ricky White, and while the Rebels 2nd and 3rd leading receivers both missed last week’s contest, others stepped up in their absence. The Spartans back seven should be prepared for plenty of short and intermediate routes, which seems to be UNLV’s bread and butter as opposed to taking deep shots down the field. This was super effective last week in the come-from-behind victory over New Mexico and is highlighted by Brumfield’s ridiculous 70.5 completion percentage. Again, the tackling will need to be on point to prevent yards after the catch and make the Rebels dink and dunk their way down the field.
When the Spartans have the ball, they will hope for the improved offensive line play to continue against a fairly stout UNLV run defense. Kairee Robinson had his first career 100 yard game for San Jose State and had some room to run against a good Wyoming front seven. However, while Cordeiro has also looked better each week, what makes the Spartans so dangerous on offense is an immensely talented receiving core that has multiple weapons and is proving difficult for any team in the conference to handle. If the silky smooth QB continues to get better pass protection and have time in the pocket, there is no reason to think he won’t continue to pick apart mediocre secondaries.
Elijah Cooks is proving the NFL draft prospect chatter to be accurate and is coming off an 8 catch 177 yard game Saturday night. He seems to have develop into Cordeiro’s security blanket when he needs a completion, mainly because Cooks has proven to be sure handed. Don’t sleep on Justin Lockhart or Charles Ross though, each is over 200 yards receiving on the season. At first glance, it may seem the Rebels will present a stiff challenge for Cordeiro and his targets as they have an incredible 11 interceptions thus far, 2nd in the nation to USC’s 12. But a deeper look shows the UNLV secondary is in the bottom third in the country in passing yards allowed per game, and this is against a slate of opponents not exactly among college football’s elite throwing the football. Also to note is that Cordeiro has not thrown an INT all year. If he can keep a clean sheet for a 5th straight contest, this is the Spartans game to win.
There are a few intangibles to keep an eye on. Both teams rank in the top 20 in the country in red zone defense, but while the Rebels are fairly high in red zone offense, the Spartans are bottom 10 in the nation. That gives a slight edge to UNLV. And if indeed drives for both teams bog down near the end zone and it becomes a kicking contest, the Rebels look to have a much bigger edge here. Daniel Gutierrez was just named MWC Special Teams player of the week, after booting field goals of 41, 47, and 50 yards in Friday’s win over New Mexico. Meanwhile, the Spartans Taren Schive missed short kicks of 26 and 29 yards on Saturday. San Jose State will need to capitalize on their opportunities and not leave points on the field.
Then, there is the close relationship between the two head coaches. Rebels head man Marcus Arroyo starred at QB for San Jose State from 1998-2002 and then began his coaching career with the Spartans, including multiple years on the same staff as current Spartans boss Brent Brennan. The two remain good friends, though that will be set aside for 60 minutes on Friday night. Still, each staff will be fully prepared for anything that comes their way due to the familiarity. The only surprise will be if someone pulls a surprise.
Recent history in the series favors San Jose State. Since the formation of the current Mountain West Conference, the Spartans are 7-2 against UNLV, winning all four meetings at home. They also defeated the Rebels 27-20 in Vegas last season. As mentioned in the open, the winner will have a hammerlock on the West division due to owning the head-to-head tiebreaker. Fresno State may have something to say about that once star QB Jake Haener returns from injury, but coming off a loss to woeful UConn, the Bulldogs have more pressing concerns. For now, these are clearly the two most complete teams in their half of the conference.
How is this one likely to play out? The Spartans are trending the right way and have a good look about them. UNLV almost got caught with their pants down last week, spotting an overmatched New Mexico team a 17-0 lead before rallying to pick up the win. They will not get away with that type of start this week. It’s also not likely to happen. Both teams know the importance of this matchup, early October or not. Expect an intense, hard hitting, 60 minute effort by each squad. The Rebels have one other slight edge, an extra day of rest, having played Friday last week, and that just might cancel out the home field advantage of San Jose State. There are playmakers all over the field, none more important than the quarterbacks. Whoever is able to make more plays, either with their arm or their legs, is going to lead their team to victory. And, while the red zone discrepancies and kicking game are edges for UNLV, the Spartans have more experience in big games–some from the 2020 season here in San Jose, and many others with various programs last year. This is such a tough game to call, the only thing that would be shocking is if one team lays an egg and we have a non-competitive game. After multiple flip-flops, it says here Cordeiro pulls the last rabbit out of his hat and leads the Spartans to a thrilling come-from-behind win.
Prediction: San Jose State 30 UNLV 26
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