No one is giving UNLV much of a chance on Saturday night (8:30 p.m. MT, CBS Sports Network), which is kind of nice because a lot of us wanted to watch that LSU - Alabama game anyway. The Rebels are 40-point underdogs and overmatched at every position. Is there any way they can pull an upset or, at the very least, keep it within three scores?
Join me after the jump for a look at the UNLV - Boise State matchup and some keys to the game, and then feel free to add your thoughts in the comments.
No. 5 Boise State vs. UNLV
- When to watch: Saturday, November 5, 8:30 p.m. MT kickoff
- Where to watch: Sam Boyd Stadium, Las Vegas, Nev. (Capacity: 36,800)
- How to watch: Live on CBS Sports Network with James Bates, Aaron Taylor, and Brooke Collins
- How to find CBS Sports Network: CableOne channel 332, DirecTV channel 613, and Dish Network channel 152
- What to wager: Boise State by 41 points, combined score over/under 59.5 points
- What to wear: Forecast calls for clear skies, high of 57, zero percent chance of precipitation
Keys to the game
Part of the newness of the Mountain West was that the Broncos would be playing teams and traveling to places that were completely foreign to them. Not so much this week against UNLV. The Broncos played in Sam Boyd Stadium last year in the Las Vegas Bowl, and UNLV is basically a less feisty version of Utah State. Plus, Bronco fans will be traveling en masse to Sin City because it is convenient and a lot more fun than Fort Collins. Vegas Vacation, everybody!
In actual football matters, big plays in the passing game will be a key for both teams on Saturday. In recent weeks, Boise State has been solid in creating big passing plays (yay, Tyler Shoemaker!) and giving up big passing plays (boo, miscommunication!). The Runnin' Rebs may not set the world on fire with their passing prowess, but even QB Caleb Herring can hit open receivers at least 50 percent of the time. UNLV's top offensive threat, senior wideout Phillip Payne, holds the career TD record at UNLV. All he does is catch touchdowns! No seriously, that may be all he does. Not counting a 175-yard game against Southern Utah, Payne has 16 catches for 210 yards on the season.
Speaking of the passing game, UNLV's defense would rather we not. The Rebs are the country's fourth worst team in pass efficiency defense and the third worst in scoring defense. The UNLV front is aggressive and problematic, but it hasn't faced a team like Boise State yet. The UNLV defense versus the Boise State offense has blowout written all over it, in giant magic marker, and all CAPS. The only way around it is if Boise State moves the ball and doesn't score touchdowns. Not likely. UNLV is 81st in the country in allowing red zone touchdowns.
It's not all bad news for the Rebels, though. At least, it's not all bad news until Saturday. UNLV is coming off a big (for them) win over Colorado State where they ran for a four-year high of 244 yards. The running game has been working. True freshman Dionza Bradford has 100-yard games in back-to-back weeks. And that's all going to end on Saturday, most likely. UNLV has feasted on the 116th- and 109th-ranked run defense the last two weeks. Boise State ranks 60 spots higher. Like pretty much every other facet of the game on Saturday, this one favors the Broncos.
Visual evidence of UNLV beating someone
The Runnin' Rebs topped Colorado State 38-35 last week to move to 1-1 in conference play and 2-1 at home. If I'm using my deductive powers correctly, Boise State beat Colorado State by 50, UNLV beat Colorado State by 3, so Boise State should beat UNLV by 47. Logic WIN.
Miscellaneous keys for Boise State
- Let Caleb Herring beat himself. The UNLV quarterback lost his starting job after an awful month of play, culminating in a three-pick-six effort against Southern Utah and a single completion against Nevada (seriously). He gained the job back last week, and as a reward, he gets to face a Boise State defense who makes all quarterbacks look like Garo Yepremian. Good luck with that.
- Win the turnover battle. /obligatory mention
- Block that kick. Colorado State blocked a kick late in the game that led to a go-ahead score, and the Broncos have been kick block pros in recent weeks. I wouldn't be surprised if BSU got at least one on Saturday, and I wouldn't be surprised if Hunter White was the one who got it.
- Don't look ahead to next week's TCU game.
- Improve on third down defense. UNLV is no Air Force, thank goodness.
Miscellaneous keys for UNLV
- Don't let Caleb Herring beat you. If UNLV gets the sense that their quarterback is a danger to himself and others, Bobby Hauck can't be too slow to give him the hook and throw Sean Reilly out there. No, Reilly is not demonstrably better, but there comes a point where you have to do something even if that something might get you the same result.
- Win the turnover battle. /obligatory mention
- No, seriously, win the turnover battle. The USA Today agrees with me.
- Get a big play on special teams. Good luck with that. Maybe try blocking a field goal or something. Those usually come off Dan Goodale's foot at a 45-degree angle to the ground.
Other things that may matter
- Bye week. The Broncos have had 14 days to prepare for the Rebels, and they probably only needed three or four. Chris Petersen and his staff are so good at game planning over long breaks (see recent season openers and bowl games) that I cringe to think what might happen to UNLV. (Or maybe the coaches spent the extra time on TCU, which would have been prudent.)
- Saturday is UNLV's homecoming. Note to UNLV: You're doing homecoming wrong.
- This will not matter in the outcome on the field, but it is worth noting nonetheless. UNLV and Boise State both had the privilege of Tony Knap roaming the sidelines as head coach. Knap passed away earlier this year. It would be great if some kind of tribute could be made at the game.
Does UNLV have any chance against Boise State? What do you expect to happen on Saturday? More concerned about finding a good casino buffet while you're in Vegas? Share your thoughts in the comments.