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Nevada Wolf Pack vs. UNLV Rebels Prediction and Preview

Nevada Wolf Pack vs. UNLV Rebels Prediction and Preview

Nevada Wolf Pack vs. UNLV Rebels Prediction and Preview

One of the most unique trophies in college football is on the line on Saturday as Nevada and UNLV battle each other for the Fremont Cannon. The winner of the Cannon, which is one of the heaviest trophies in college football (nearly 550 pounds), gets to paint it in their school colors.

The Wolf Pack (7-4, 5-2 MW) had a knock-down, drag-out fight against San Jose State on Saturday in a narrow 21-12 win over the Spartans. Quarterback Ty Gangi threw for 314 yards with one touchdown pass and an interception. Toa Taua complemented the passing game with 121 rushing yards on 29 carries and a touchdown. Lucas Weber led a dominant defensive performance by Nevada with a pair of sacks and three tackles for a loss, as San Jose State was able to muster only 200 yards of total offense.

It was a wild trip over to the islands for UNLV. The Rebels (3-8, 1-6) got off to a great start against Hawaii at Aloha Stadium on Saturday night, but they weren't able to put the Rainbows away and paid the price with a 35-28 loss. Lexington Thomas had another big game on the ground, rushing for 129 yards on 28 carries with two touchdowns. Quarterback Armani Rogers returned after missing six games due to a toe injury and was inconsistent throwing the ball, completing 5-of-15 passes for 60 yards and a touchdown.

Blown coverages in the fourth quarter cost the Rebels defensively, as freshman Chevan Cordeiro was lights out for Hawaii throwing the football taking over for the benched Cole McDonald. Getting UNLV back on track mentally to finish the season strong will be a huge test for head coach Tony Sanchez and his staff this week.

Nevada at UNLV

Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 24 at 9:30 p.m. ET


Spread: Wolfpack -13

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Three Things to Watch

1. Battle of the ground games

The ability to control the clock by running the ball effectively is going to be a critical key to victory for both teams. Nevada is averaging 156.5 yards per game on the ground and 4.7 yards per carry. Toa Taua is closing in on a 1,000-yard season, as he has 832 yards to this point, and if he gets 25 carries on Saturday, he should easily pass the century mark against UNLV. As for the Rebels, it will be up to the duo of Rogers and Thomas to keep the chains moving with a mix of designed quarterback runs and getting Thomas his touches early and often so he can impose his will on the Wolf Pack defense. Controlling the line of scrimmage will be key for both offensive lines to set up the running game, and Nevada has been more consistent up front all season long.

2. Wolf Pack defense

Nevada enters this rivalry game on a nice roll defensively, having allowed only 22 points over its last two games. Linebacker Malik Reed has had a very good 2018 season so far with seven sacks, 13 tackles for a loss and four forced fumbles. Gabe Sewell is the leading tackler for the Wolf Pack with 77, and he also has three sacks and six tackles for a loss on the season. Defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel will turn his defense loose against UNLV to force the Rebels into a one-dimensional passing offense, as they have struggled all year to throw it consistently. This will be an interesting chess match to watch for four quarters.

3. Nevada wide receivers vs. UNLV secondary

Head coach Jay Norvell and his offensive staff need to exploit their advantages against the Rebels secondary early and often. You have a quarterback in Gangi, who has thrown a touchdown pass in 25 straight games and has a couple of dangerous weapons to throw the ball to. McLane Mannix has been a big-play receiver for the Wolf Pack with 44 receptions for 803 yards and six touchdowns. Kaleb Fossum has caught 62 passes for 667 yards and a touchdown. Fossum’s best performances have come against Toledo and Fresno State (a combined 27 receptions). Look for Nevada to try to hit an early deep ball to Mannix, which would then open up Fossum in the middle of the field to go to work against a Rebel secondary that is susceptible to allowing big plays.

Final Analysis

You can throw out the records when in-state rivals get together for their annual hate fest on the football field. Nevada has controlled the rivalry in recent years, winning 11 out of the last 13 meetings against UNLV. The Rebels need to keep the game close and get into the fourth quarter with a chance to win a one-score game. For the Wolf Pack, they have the better quarterback in Gangi and the better defense, but if they turn the ball over, it will turn this game into a toss-up. Overall, look for Nevada to hang on to the Fremont Cannon for the third year in a row, but UNLV will keep it close enough to cover the nearly two-touchdown point spread.

College Football Rankings: Nevada

Prediction: Nevada 30, UNLV 21

— Written by Scott Whittum, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @ScottWhittum.