San Diego State looks to strengthen its hold on the Mountain West's West Division when the Aztecs take on UNLV in Las Vegas on Saturday night. SDSU (6-1, 3-1 MW) also will try and extend a three-game winning streak on the road, a situation the Aztecs have thrived in this season. San Diego State is 4-0 on the road this season, including a Week 2 victory in the Rose Bowl over UCLA.
UNLV (2-5, 0-3) came down to earth last week following its historic upset on the road against Vanderbilt, losing 56-27 at Fresno State. The Rebels had five turnovers in the loss, which was the focus of head coach Tony Sanchez afterward. "There are not many 29-point losses where watching the film is going to make me sick to my stomach like this," he said.
Things don't figure to get much easier for the Aztecs, who have won three in a row following a 27-17 victory over San Jose State last week and already have a two-game lead in the win column in the West Division standings.
This game also provides SDSU with the opportunity to get some payback after last season's 27-24 home loss to UNLV. Prior to that meeting, the Aztecs had defeated the Rebels four straight times by an average of 26.3 points per game.
San Diego State at UNLV
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 26, at 10:30 p.m. ET
Spread: San Diego -13.5
When San Diego State Has the Ball
The Rebels will need to be at their best defensively — and then some — against the Aztecs. The UNLV defense is allowing 36.1 points per game, ranking it 10th in the Mountain West and 121st out of 130 FBS teams.
Stopping teams on the ground has been a particular issue for the Rebels, who are allowing 216.9 rushing yards per game. That's not what you want to see going up against a San Diego State running game that is coming off of a 260-yard performance in the win over San Jose State.
The Aztecs certainly aren't afraid to run the ball, as the only team in the Mountain West with more rushing attempts this season (317) is option-oriented Air Force (402). Four different SDSU players have more than 200 yards on the ground, including senior Juwan Washington. He leads the team with 343 yards on 103 carries. Sophomore Chance Bell is next with 272 yards on 59 attempts. If there is one thing about the Aztecs' running game it's that it can be described as more methodical rather than explosive. San Diego State is averaging 3.3 yards per carry as a team and has seven rushing touchdowns in as many games.
The Aztecs don't throw the ball over the field either, as Ryan Agnew is averaging 177.4 passing yards per game. He's been efficient (64.3 completion rate) and has done a good job protecting the football with nine touchdowns and just two interceptions.
UNLV hasn't been carved up by opponents through the air (223.1 passing ypg allowed) but between the Rebels' inability to stop the run and create turnovers (5 total) that has made it difficult to prevent teams from moving the ball and scoring points. One player to watch on defense for UNLV is linebacker Javin White. He's among the Mountain West's leaders in tackles for a loss with 7.5 and he's also responsible for both of the Rebels' interceptions.
When UNLV Has the Ball
The Rebels' offense could get a boost with the return of quarterback Armani Rogers. Rogers has returned to practice for the first time since suffering a knee injury on Sept. 28. if he's able to play against San Diego State he'll add even more of a running element to UNLV's offense. Even though he's missed three games, he's second on the team with 204 rushing yards (4.1 ypc) and two touchdowns. As a passer, he's 41-of-79 for 393 yards, two touchdowns, and three interceptions.
The Rebels like to stay grounded and have Charles Williams to lead the way. He's second in the Mountain West in rushing with 680 yards and seven rushing touchdowns. His 97.1 rushing yards per game puts him among the top 30 in the nation. The problem for Williams and UNLV's offense is that San Diego State is third nationally against the run. The Aztecs are giving up just 62.6 rushing yards per game and 2.4 yards per carry. Wyoming (157 yards, 2 TDs on 39 attempts) is the only team that has had any success running the ball against SDSU.
If Rebels head coach Tony Sanchez wants to show the Aztecs something different, he can put freshman Kenyon Oblad in the game. Oblad is more of a drop-back passer compared to Rogers as he's thrown for 996 yards and eight touchdowns in six games. However, he's barely completing half of his passes (51.3 percent) and also has tossed six interceptions.
Whether it's through the air or on the ground, the sledding won't be easy for UNLV against one of the nation's top 10 defenses in both yards (270.3) and points (13.7) allowed per game.
The visit to Vegas puts San Diego State on the road for the fifth time in seven games. But with the kind of success away from home that the Aztecs have enjoyed, it's unlikely to be a problem for the visitors.
After all, UNLV hasn't lit the world afire and has only won one of five meetings with their rivals in recent years — that one being last year.
Rebels head coach Sanchez believes his team can handle the grinding ground game of San Diego State. But don't expect a replay of last year's outcome.
The Aztecs come into this game seemingly hitting on all cylinders and that should continue Saturday night.