For the first time in its 51-year history, the Battle for the Fremont Cannon will be played on the Nevada Day Weekend. Boom! And it'll be played for the first time at the amazing new Allegiant Field in Las Vegas. Boom! Boom!
Meeting on the anniversary of the Silver State's admission to the Union on Oct. 31, 1864, gives the annual in-state rivalry between the Nevada Wolf Pack and UNLV Rebels a little extra oomph when they take the field late Saturday, but even more special is the fact that it'll be the new stadium's first game played before fans.
"This is a big deal for the community," UNLV first-year head coach Marcus Arroyo told reporters. "This is a big deal for the two cities, this is a big deal for the university, the alumni..."
It's also a big deal because it's a game that's usually played in late-November, but in a strange 2020, the schools get this one early. And that's fine by Nevada, which can't wait to avenge last year's 33-30 overtime loss in Reno.
"I think it's great that we don't have to wait to play them to be honest with you," Wolf Pack head coach Jay Norvell told NevadaSportsNet.com. "We've been wanting to play them since last year when the game was over with. We're like elephants. We don't forget. We don't forget the feeling of walking off the field last year. And whenever you lose that game, it stings and it hurts."
The Wolf Pack head in already building off an impressive win, having stepped up to bounce Mountain West contender Wyoming 37-34 in overtime last Saturday during the conference's season-opening weekend.
And a 2-0 start for Nevada seems to be in the cards in Vegas since the Rebels scuffled to a 4-8 record a year ago and looked listless to open this fall in a 34-6 road loss to San Diego State a week back. Arroyo, however, is hoping the rivalry match jump-starts his UNLV charges.
"It's an important game because it is a rivalry game, and yes, there is some pride to be taken within the state, and that's good," Arroyo told reporters. "That's fun — that's what makes college football college football. But you've got to make sure … you don't make it all or nothing."
The Rebels have been victors in four of the past seven matchups, but the Wolf Pack hold an advantage in the series, 26-19.
Nevada at UNLV
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 31 at 10:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Nevada -14
When Nevada Has the Ball
The Wolf Pack got the start last Saturday they were looking for, thanks mostly to an offense that lived up to the pre-season hype.
The Air Raid went to work on Wyoming to put up 496 yards, led by quarterback Carson Strong's career day. The sophomore completed 39-of-52 attempts for 420 yards and four touchdowns. It was one of the school's best-ever quarterback performances, and Strong's now tossed 203 passes without being intercepted, which is the longest streak in the country.
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Nevada is likely to get star running back Toa Taua back in action after he missed the opener for undisclosed reasons. In 2019, the junior had 196 carries for 807 yards and six touchdowns and also caught 52 passes for 387 yards and a touchdown, giving him 1,679 yards and 12 touchdowns in his first two years with the program. So he'll be a welcome return if he plays.
But a shoulder injury could sideline starting receiver Elijah Cooks, who grabbed just two balls from Strong last Saturday, but one was a highlight-reel catch. Tight end Cole Turner made a sweet grab, too, on a nine-yard touchdown strike and finished with a team-high 119 receiving yards on seven catches. Fellow junior Romeo Doubs also cracked 100 yards (117) on 12 passes and pulled in a nine-yard touchdown connection for the winning points in OT.
Nevada could see similar success against a UNLV squad that allowed 424 yards, including 287 along the ground, in Week 8. Although plenty has changed under the new coaching staff, the Rebels did finish 105th in total defense last season (442.3 ypg).
When UNLV Has the Ball
There's nowhere to go but up for the UNLV offense in the second week of Mountain West action. It amassed just 186 total yards last week, thanks in part to an ugly 1-for-14 stat on third down. In the first half of the loss to San Diego State, the Rebels were held to just 25 yards.
Arroyo hopes they can learn from it.
"True competitors are going to be hurt after a loss, and that's OK... that's human nature," Arroyo told reporters. "We're trying to establish a bigger picture, as well. You've got to make sure you're attentive to what happened, and you've got to be willing to invest mentally to not go through it again or make it feel different next time. Then you move on."
So the Rebels are moving on from a bad start that saw the only points scored on a Max Gilliam four-yard pass to receiver Steve Jenkins. The senior Gilliam needs to be better — if he gets the start — than the 105 yards he passed for in the loss. Gilliam found true freshman Kyle Williams on three passes for 33 yards. Meanwhile, Charles Williams paced the Rebels in the ground game with 80 yards on 20 carries.
"They all did some things they can build on," Arroyo told reporters. "We're going to force the competition. We're not going to be casual in our approach at any position. The expectations are high. The standards are set. We're not willing to bend those or break those and over the long haul that will be able to get us where we really want to get with this program."
UNLV gets a break against the Nevada defense, at least for the first half, as the Wolf Pack's starting strong safety Tyson Williams sits it out for a targeting penalty incurred last game. Williams had 85 tackles last fall and recorded seven in the first three quarters against Wyoming before being ejected.
Nevada came into the season billed as a team on the rise. So far so good after the big win over Wyoming. Now, it's a rivalry spot where revenge is on their minds to keep the Wolf Pack's focus high for the visit to Vegas.
"This is a game where we've fallen short the last two years," Norvell told NevadaSportsNet.com. "We get to go on the road and play them earlier in the season. I think that's a great thing. And to go play in their new stadium? There's a lot of excitement in the state about this game. I think it's great after all this downtime and the lack of sports that we get a game like this in the state of Nevada at this time. It's very exciting for us. We know the importance of this game. We talk about it and emphasize it."
Plus they're playing a foe that's sure to struggle this season. It's a rivalry game, sure. But it won't be close.
Prediction: Nevada 40, UNLV 13
Podcast: Week 9 Preview and Predictions
(Charles Williams photo courtesy of UNLV Athletics)