Air Force vs UNLV: Keys to a Rebels Win, How to Watch, Odds, Prediction
Air Force meets UNLV, both 4-2, for the Rebels’ Homecoming
The Rebels, and Falcons face off to remain in MWC contention
WEEK 7: Air Force Falcons at UNLV Rebels
WHERE: Allegiant Stadium, Las Vegas, Nevada
WHEN: Saturday, October 15, 2022 – 10:30pm EST (7:30pm PST)
TV: CBS Sports Network
STREAMING: Fans can sign up to receive a free one-week trial of Fubo, by following this link.
RADIO: ESPN 1100AM & 100.9 FM
SERIES RECORD: This will be the 24th meeting between Air Force and UNLV. The Falcons have won 17 of the matchups, including the last four meetings going back to 2014.
ODDS: Air Force Falcons by 10.0
SP+ PROJECTION: Air Force Falcons by 4.5
FEI PROJECTION: Air Force Falcons by 16.0
PARKER FLEMING PROJECTION: Air Force Falcons by 10.2
Midway through the college football season, the prospects for many teams become clear. From the proverbial contenders and pretenders to the aspirations of a bowl game, teams are realizing what’s at stake for the second half of the season and prepare accordingly. For some, however, like Air Force and UNLV, the midpoint of the season can be cause for concern, where unexpected stumbles can derail momentum and goals for the season are tested.
Both the Falcons and Rebels are coming into Saturday night’s game with winning records, albeit coming off tough losses. The Falcons fell on the road to a resilient Utah State team, on a late surge by the Aggies to put Air Force at 4-2 on the season. UNLV, meanwhile, trailed San Jose State from start to finish, losing starting quarterback Doug Brumfield to injury in the first half and losing by the final score of 40-7.
This year’s Air Force team brings a ton of experience in its returning starters and the nation’s top rated rushing offense, at 352.2 yards per game. Quarterback Haaziq Daniels is a three-year starter, and Brad Roberts heads into this contest with 709 rushing yards and 8 touchdowns through six games. Daniels has also proven effective, going for more than 270 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. And behind an experienced offensive line, the Rebels will have their work on defense cut out for them.
For the Rebels, while Doug Brumfield is listed as day to day, Cameron Friel is expected to get the start. Friel started eight games for the Rebels last year, including UNLV’s two wins over New Mexico and Hawaii. A full week of practice with the starting offense will help acclimate Friel to the tempo and expectations the Rebels have set on offense, with abilities to mix in quick throws with big plays downfield and a running game that has struggled to re-establish itself in recent weeks.
As has been the case thus far for UNLV, the Rebels once again face a step up in competition this Saturday night in Allegiant Stadium. And to come away with the win, in the Rebels’ 2022 Homecoming no less, here are a few keys to what the Rebels will need to do:
No Surprise – Prepare for the Run
At the risk of stating the obvious, Air Force will look to run, rinse, and repeat. Daniels can throw the ball if necessary, but through six games, he’s only attempted 47 passes. The Falcons will likely aim to repeat last year’s performance, a 48-14 defeat of the Rebels in which they ran for a dominating 511 rushing yards and six touchdowns while holding the ball for more than forty minutes.
This year, an improving UNLV defense will once again be challenged by a mobile quarterback and a strong running game. Earlier this year against North Texas, once the Rebels’ offense built a lead that forced the Mean Green into more passing downs, UNLV was able to force turnovers and hold its own and seal the victory. That type of effort will be needed to force the Falcons into passing downs, possibly at times taking chances to bring pressure from the edges to contain this rushing attack.
In recent weeks, mobile quarterbacks Miles Kendrick and Chevan Cordeiro were able to get the Rebels’ defense into trouble early, building first quarter leads for New Mexico and San Jose State, respectively. Against New Mexico, UNLV was able to adjust and regain the lead for the eventual victory; facing the Spartans, the Rebels could not stop Cordeiro and the lead only grew as the game went on. The outcome we see this week will depend on how well the Rebels can stack against the run early in the game, then counter Air Force’s attack as they open up the passing game or commit further to the run.
Look for 50-50 on Offense
The Rebels have proven to be potent offense when they can start with a strong running game behind Aidan Robbins, then open up the passing game, whether it be with short passes in space or longer throws downfield. Ultimately, their victories have leaned on an almost 50-50 mix of run and pass, until the running game can finish off an opponent and consume the clock. A similar effort this week would go a long way towards a UNLV victory.
The key here will be to get Robbins going early, but without being predictable. Even though Robbins has had success on first down, often leaving second-and-short for the offense to convert, the step up in opponent makes that more difficult. And as defenses key on Robbins, especially with Brumfield likely to not see the field, the Rebels will need to employ new formations or possibly a few trick plays to give themselves an opportunity to win.
Make no mistake, it will be a challenge either way against this Falcons defense, ranked 18th nationally while giving up only 301.3 yards per game. But that lofty rank is also due in no small part to its offense, which controls the clock and leaves its opponents with limited time to work. If the Rebels can utilize its wide receivers – and Kyle Williams is expected back this week – and rely on Robbins on second or third downs, this UNLV offense can move against the Falcons and find the end zone enough for a victory.
Who Wins Time of Possession?
Last week, the Rebels were expected to be in a back-and-forth affair with San Jose State, where the team with the ball last would very well have a chance to win the game. For a variety of reasons that didn’t happen last week, but this week’s matchup again brings two teams looking to control the clock, keep their offenses on the field and wear down a defense over four quarters.
Given their potent running game, Air Force has controlled the ball and established itself as one of the leading teams in time of possession; only Navy and Minnesota have more time of possession this season. If the Rebels can make the most of their possessions, and the Falcons need to score quickly to keep pace, it could put Air Force in an uncomfortable position and create unforced errors for the Rebels to seize control of.
It might also be noteworthy that Air Force is 5-1 in time of possession against its opponents this season; the one game they trailed in was an Air Force loss, to Wyoming, in Week 3.
Will the Intangibles Matter?
While Air Force will likely represent the Rebels’ toughest opponent to date, and UNLV comes in as a substantial underdog, there are a variety of factors that favor the home team Rebels. It’s Homecoming week and, unlike previous years, there is meaningful talk of how this has been a special season already, and a bowl game could be well within reach. Special teams continue to be efficient and effective, as Daniel Gutierrez has remained one of the conference’s strong kickers on the year. (No, I won’t mention the stats, for any superstitious folks out there. But trust me, he’s been good.)
The Rebels know they’ve achieved a lot already, but there is a poise and a measured response in how this team responds each week that should not be overlooked. The Rebels are not taking their early success for granted and know that the focus needs to be one week at a time.
It might be too early to say, but these two teams know who they are at this point in the season. Air Force will continue to run the ball, look to control the clock, and aim to play stout defense, controlling the lines on both sides of the ball. For the Rebels, a capable offense needs to reignite its running game, get its receivers in space and overall continue to take advantage of big plays, both offensively and defensively.
UNLV will need to take Haaziq Daniels out of the running game, as mobile quarterbacks have proven too damaging against this defense and force the Falcons into relying on a big game from Brad Roberts. If the Rebels can limit the Falcons running game in any way, that will be one big step towards victory.
Offensively, the Rebels must adapt the playbook to what Cameron Friel is most comfortable and capable with, without disrupting the flow of the offense altogether. Aidan Robbins can help that transition with a strong running game, but the Rebels will need to mix in more plays and formations to avoid being predictable or revealing too much of a reliance on one aspect of the offense.
For the Rebels’ Homecoming, it would be quite the upset if UNLV could get the win against an experienced Air Force squad. The Rebels will bring a determined effort, and possibly get Air Force to play from behind early but expect the Falcons will win this one late. UNLV’s better games, and bigger wins, lie ahead this season.
Air Force 38, UNLV 27