The BYU Cougars and the UNLV Rebels will face off Saturday evening at Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas. The two teams enter the contest headed in opposite directions.
BYU is coming off back to back comfortable home victories. Head coach Bronco Mendenhall has the team playing well. The offense has moved the ball effectively; the defense has held their own. The Cougars appear poised to compete for the MWC championship.
UNLV is coming off back to back embarrassing road losses. Head coach Mike Sanford has the fans calling for his head. The offense is putting points on the board; the defense isn’t putting up a fight. The Rebels appear doomed to fight off a last place finish.
The Cougars will be looking to build momentum.
The Rebels are hoping it’s not too late.
To be honest, it doesn’t look good for UNLV. Based on recent performance, this is a complete mismatch. However, the Rebels are desperate to prove that the disaster in Reno was a fluke. A visit from a nationally ranked opponent provides the perfect opportunity to do so.
Keys to the Game:
A Winning Mindset
Before they ever take the field, the Rebels must repair their shattered psyche. Last week, they were humiliated. They cannot let that sensation linger.
Somehow, UNLV must regain their confidence, and they must play like they expect to win. A tentative or half-hearted effort will have the Rebels struggling through another long, painful defeat.
Home Field Advantage?
While the scoreboard may indicate that BYU are the visitors, the atmosphere will provide a different feeling. Sam Boyd Stadium is truly the Cougars second home.
Though it may disgust local Rebel fans, there will be more blue at Sam Boyd than red. Ironic as it may seem, “sin city” is replete with BYU supporters. Factor in the six hour drive down from Provo (which thousands of the Cougar faithful will make) and the result is essentially a neutral environment.
UNLV played poorly in the first half of each of their first three home games. If they allow BYU to get rolling early, the Cougar fans will be loud, rowdy, and raucous.
After the last two weeks, should the Rebels come out sluggish, some of their own will turn on them.
Take it Away
Max Hall leads the nation in interceptions thrown (10). Only six defenses have intercepted fewer passes (two) than UNLV.
Something has to give.
Odds are it will be the home team. The Rebels two interceptions both came on fourth down with the offense forced to throw down field into coverage.
Despite his turnover struggles, Hall is an experienced and talented QB. Less experienced, less talented QBs have shredded the Rebels this year.
UNLV must force turnovers, and when they do, they must cash them in. If the Rebels lose the turnover battle, they’ll lose the game.
The "Bleach"er Report
The Cougars will be wearing their snowy-white, road jerseys. For the Rebels to win, Max Hall’s crisp, milky, white jersey needs to end up stained green, brown, and red.
UNLV needs to see to it that Hall gets acquainted with the Sam Boyd turf early and often. They have to make him feel the heat.
If Hall feels calm and comfortable in the pocket, he will destroy the secondary.
If Hall has time to survey the field, diagnose the coverage, and make confident throws, freshman punter Riley Stephenson may never need to put on his helmet.
Cross Your Fingers
Each and every UNLV player needs to wake up early, put on lucky socks, find a lucky penny, eat an entire box of Lucky Charms, and pick a four leaf clover. From there, they should help an old woman across the street, rescue a cat from a tree, and help a kindergartner tie his shoes.
The Rebels need to play their best, but they also are going to need a little help. Be it good luck, good karma, good fortune; UNLV needs the outside forces to smile on their sideline on Saturday.
A game changing tipped pass, a defender slipping and falling on a key play, or a terrible penalty at a crucial moment could be just the nudge the Rebels need to emerge victorious.
BYU is playing well. UNLV is in panic mode. The Rebels will put up a fight, because frankly, they need this one. However, too much has to go right for them to pull the upset.
Harvey Unga will have a big day, Max Hall will get the job done, and the Cougars will pull away in the second half.
Final score: BYU 45 UNLV 29